The capital has come a long way in the three R’s department. A decade ago, London schools were among the worst performing in the country, failing to properly equip young people with the skills they needed in an increasingly highly skilled, globalised economy.
Since then, the turnaround has been dramatic. London is now the top performing region at GCSE level and the second best at A level. Sustained funding, as well as better partnership working between teachers, schools, parents and local authorities drove this improvement, and continues to do so.
However, we cannot be complacent about the improvement in London schools. A third of our young people still do not achieve five good GCSEs (including Maths and English), and as any parent who has had to make the tough decision about where their child will go to school knows, it is getting harder and harder to get your first choice school.
At a recent meeting of the London Assembly Education Panel, we heard first-hand about the challenge that the capital faces in providing good quality school places for its young people.
According to the latest projections from London Councils, up to 110,000 new school places will be needed in London between 2016/17 and 2021/22 to meet forecast demand. This will include roughly 60,000 primary places and 47,000 secondary places.
London has done incredibly well in meeting the dramatic rise in the school age population. Over 174,000 additional school places were created between May 2011 and May 2015, representing a 33 per cent share of the total capacity increase in England.
Inevitably, this will be a harder task for local authorities in the future, who maintain the statutory duty to provide school places, but increasingly do not have control over where new schools open or how they expand. Some of the ‘easy wins’ in terms of bulge classrooms and accessible sites for new builds are now gone. The Education Funding Agency, which controls the funding for new free schools, does not automatically take into account the views of local authorities, which hampers strategic planning for schools in London.
The ongoing places crisis is exacerbated by the increasing challenge of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in the capital. The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing are driving experienced teachers out of London, and hampering continued efforts to improve attainment among young people.
London’s teachers led the charge in transforming our schools – we now face the problem of losing this valuable resource to other regions.
Both of these issues are linked by concerns over reductions in school funding. Simply put, sustained funding is key to improving attainment. Most worrying for London schools is the view of Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of Ark Academies, that the “golden age of school funding” is ending, putting at risk the gains that London has achieved over the last ten years.
The Panel heard that the Government’s proposed National Funding Formula is likely to move funds out of some London schools to other parts of the country. While our schools are well funded in comparison to other regions, the price of a good education system is higher in the capital. The Assembly, along with the Mayor, London Councils and other stakeholders will lobby to ensure London receives a fair funding settlement under the new system.
While the Greater London Authority (GLA) does not have a statutory role in education, we recognise that a high quality education sector is the foundation stone for a strong economy and improved social mobility and cohesion. The Panel supported the work of the previous Mayor to create a role for the GLA to help bring stakeholders together, to share best practice and fund innovative ideas.
We are pleased to see that our new Mayor will continue some of this work, as well as look to improve teacher recruitment and retention, particularly at higher grades. The creation of the Getting Ahead programme, which aims to create a new generation of London’s headteachers, is a good start. The Education Panel will continue to scrutinise this work, as well as some of the larger strategic issues facing London’s schools during the Mayor’s term of office; such as the provision of effective careers advice and changes to our Further Education sector.
The lesson we’ve learnt having seen London’s improvement over the past decade is that well-funded and well-resourced schools deliver for young people. We must continue to make the case to ensure that every young person is given the best start possible.
Jennette Arnold OBE AM is Chair of the London Assembly Education Panel
Find out more about the London Assembly Education Panel