UK: London’s diverse ethnic population explains the success of its schools

londoneffect-articleLondon’s diverse ethnic population is the reason for its pupils achieving significantly better GCSE results than the rest of England, according to a new study published on 12 November.

This study from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation(CMPO) at the University of Bristol looked at GCSE data for the whole of England to understand what lies behind the ‘London Effect’ – a term used to describe the high levels of attainment and progress of pupils in the capital.

The London Effect is large: the report shows that pupils in London schools score about eight GCSE grade points higher than those in the rest of England, relative to their attainment at age 11. For example, this means achieving eight Cs rather than eight Ds, or eight As rather than eight Bs.

Evidence in the study shows that this is explained by the ethnic composition of pupils in London. Once ethnicity was taken into account in the analysis, the London Effect in pupil progress disappears.

Previous research from CMPO showed that white British pupils achieve the lowest GCSE scores relative to their attainment at age 11, which this study confirms for 2013. Combined with the fact that this group make up 34 per cent of Year 11 pupils in London compared to 84 per cent in the rest of England, researchers say the background to the result is clear.

Professor Simon Burgess, who carried out the research, said: “We know that ethnic minority pupils score more highly in GCSEs relative to their prior attainment than white British pupils. London simply has a lot more of these high-achieving pupils and so has a higher average GCSE score than the rest of the country.

“Many policy makers, school leaders and commentators enthuse about the major policy of the time, London Challenge, and view it as unambiguously improving schools in London. This unanimity carries weight, and no doubt London schools were improved in a number of ways. But so far at least, catching a reflection of this improvement in the attainment data is proving to be difficult.”

The report also looks at the role of the children of recent immigrants rather than ethnicity. Evidence shows that taking account of the number of pupils who are the children of immigrants also accounts for the London Effect.

Comparing Newcastle, where 11.8 per cent of the population was born abroad and arrived before the year 2000, with London, where the number is 34.7 per cent, yields a difference of about 15 GCSE grade points in pupil progress in London’s favour.

Looking back over the past decade, the study shows that there has been a London Effect in secondary school progress since at least 2004, and that it is accounted for by ethnic composition in each year.

Analysis of some different measures of attainment shows that a London Effect is much reduced once ethnicity is taken into account, but remains significant. These include measures that remove vocational qualifications (known as GCSE ‘equivalents’) from the total and measures of very high GCSE performance.

Professor Burgess added: “My interpretation of these results leads to a focus on pupil aspiration, ambition and engagement. There is nothing inherently different in the ability of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, but the children of relatively recent immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education, and are, on average, more likely to be engaged with their school work. This is not by chance of course. A key point about London is its attraction to migrants and those aspiring to a better life.

“London has a right to be pleased with itself in terms of the excellent GCSE performance of its pupils. These results help to explain the London Effect but they do not explain it away. The London Effect is a very positive thing, and much of the praise for this should be given to the pupils and parents of London for creating a successful
multi-ethnic school system.”


‘Understanding the success of London’s schools’ by Simon Burgess, CMPO Discussion Paper 14/333 published on 12 November.

Via Bristol University News

Articles regarding this study available in:

  •  BBC: Diversity ‘key to London GCSE success’
  • The Daily Mail : Ethnic diversity boost GCSE results: Cities with large numbers of children from immigrant backgrounds do better because they work harder
  • The Guardian: London’s GCSE success due to ethnic diversity in capital’s schools – report
  • The Independent: Hard-working ethnic minority pupils lifting schools’ results as ‘London effect’ takes hold
  • The Telegraph: Schools with large migrant intake ‘get better GSCE results’

Remember the young ones: Improving career opportunities for Britain’s young people

This report by the Institute of Public Policy Research looks at five critical elements of the school-to-work transition for young people – the role of employers, vocational education, apprenticeships, careers guidance, and the benefits system – and at lessons the UK can learn from European economies with better youth employment records.

A long period without work at a young age can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s life chances, leading to a higher future likelihood of unemployment and lower future earnings. For this reason, UK policymakers should be particularly worried about the present level of youth unemployment. There are currently 868,000 young people aged 16–24 unemployed in the UK, and 247,000 of them have been looking for work for over a year.

This is not simply due to the financial crash and recession. While the last six or seven years have been particularly tough for the latest generation of young people, even before the financial crisis many of those entering the labour market for the first time were struggling to compete with older workers for jobs. This suggests that even a full-blown economic recovery is unlikely to solve the problem of youth unemployment in the UK.

The report makes a series of recommendations to address five critical policy areas, each of which requires a focused response.

  • Employers are dissatisfied with the school-leavers who are applying to them for jobs, but a large part of the problem arises because employers are not prepared to be sufficiently involved in young people’s training to ensure that they develop meaningful, useful skills. The best way to increase employers’ engagement is to have them take a financial stake in the success of the system.
  • Vocational education in England needs to be reformed so that it is held in higher esteem by employers and young people alike. As a pathway into work, higher-level vocational education should be seen as a valid alternative to a university education.
  • Policy on apprenticeships in recent years has been dominated by a preoccupation with quantity, putting quality at risk. Apprenticeships should be seen by students and employers as a high-quality vocational route into work for young people.
  • In those European countries that have low rates of youth unemployment, careers education and guidance play a crucial role in ensuring a smooth transition from education to work. Our recommendations focus on embedding and resourcing careers advice in schools, particularly at key milestone moments when young people make vital decisions about their future.
  • The current benefits system fails to differentiate between the needs of younger unemployed people and older jobseekers, such as finishing basic education or receiving on-the-job work experience. We propose that a distinct work, training and benefits system should be established for young people.

Read online


Read also the McKinsey and Company report Education to employment: Getting Europe’s Youth into Work

Teacher training programs in the UK discriminate against students of immigrant descent

Via The GuardianAn annual statistical report on post-graduate teacher training shows that students with a migration background are much less likely to be accepted as trainee teachers. Only 17 percent of black African and 29 percent of Black Caribbean applicants were successful, compared to a 47 percent acceptance rate of white candidates. In addition, the report demonstrates that numbers of minority applicants are already much lower; 30 students of African descent applied for a postgraduate degree in teaching history compared to more than 500 white applicants. The report has sparked criticism about institutional racism in British schools and universities, urging the Department of Education to rethink its current practices in teacher training and recruitment.

Via The Guardian

United Kingdom: ‘Greater emphasis needed on vocational education’

Dr Anthony Seldon is an impressive and irrepressible headmaster. His contributions to the debate about social mobility in the UK and its relationship to the divide between independent and state schools have been extensive and are always thought provoking.

His vision of education is enriched by his broad scholarship and his experiences in both the state and independent sector. If every head in the country were as public spirited and energetic as Dr Seldon, our country’s lacklustre educational performance would be greatly improved.

His latest call for reform, a report he co-authored for the Social Market Foundation entitled “Schools United-Ending the Independent – State School Divide” reflects the emphasis of educational reformers in the last decade by focusing more on school funding and school governance than on curriculum.

The report’s policy solutions are intended to reverse the onset of social sclerosis and educational inequality by making all schools more like successful independent schools.

The report suggests changing the admissions policies and funding of successful state and independent schools. For Dr Seldon, as for Peter Lampl at the Sutton Trust, and as for Michael Gove, lack of social mobility is confirmed by the grip that independent schools and their alumni have on the top universities, the professions and the establishment.

The persistent educational inequalities of opportunity and lack of access of poorer children to our country’s most selective institutions and most desirable professions are indeed a problem and the authors prescribe radical means to make things better, but the solution of these problems would not come close to solving the problem of social mobility in the UK.

The authors appear to forget that, by definition, most people will not attend Oxbridge or the most selective Russell Group Universities. Social mobility in the UK is primarily hampered by a failure to prepare the vast number of young people who may not be going to university with the confidence, skills, qualifications and love of learning to enable them to pursue careers which provide stability, a decent income, and professional or occupational pride and status.

In order to do this, we should not only look at the prospects of very bright poor young people, we should look at countries which focus effectively on the education of those who are not going to university.

Countries where politicians and educators stress the importance of non-university pathways are more socially mobile and more equal. Countries with strong traditions of technical education at secondary level deliver more social mobility. In short, we should begin to worry much more about the confidence, life skills, technical and vocational skills of huge majorities of our young people who are either unable to or uninterested in attending selective universities.

The secondary school curriculum in England and Wales compels all children to study for the same maths and English examinations and imposes a broadly similar curriculum until the age of 16.

The introduction of the Ebacc has imposed a traditional grammar school curriculum on many pupils and has tilted the way we measure and develop the aptitudes of young people decisively in favour of the most academically able and away from those with other abilities and interests, thus strengthening not reducing the inequalities of the status quo.

In countries with higher levels of social mobility like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, pupils are offered technical and vocational pathways which are respected by employers, delivered by schools, and which do not carry the label of “second best”.

Politicians and educational leaders in these countries emphasise the importance and rigour of these alternative curricula, and they invest time, political capital and resources in developing appropriate curricula to develop the different aptitudes of young people.

A brief glance at the relative chaos of our apprenticeship system, the alphabet soup of qualifications and providers, and the failure thus far to create a UCAS system for pathways other than university, reveals that our fixation remains on a minority of pupils, when social mobility can only be substantially enhanced if we work hard on the curricula and pathways of all pupils.

It is in this area of technical and vocational education where the independent sector, and I include Dr Seldon and myself in the sector, has virtually nothing to offer. Independent schools in Britain are, as we say in my native USA, Prep Schools, in this case for university.

Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the report defines success and education exactly according to the parameters set by independent schools and universities As such, despite its seemingly radical, well meant and headline producing suggestions, it actually offers more of the same.

Without serious curricular reform and a shift in our approach to the value and of technical and vocational education, we will continue to fail a large number of young people and fall short of our goal of a fairer and more equal society.

Hans van Mourik Broekman (author) is Principal of Liverpool College

Via The Telegraph 

Read the summary of the SIRIUS Stakeholder meeting on Vocational Education and Training to counter social exclusion.

Read also the recent European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) publication on Keeping Young People in (vocational) education: what works?