Success of London schools down to primary schools not secondaries, argues IFS

Disadvantaged pupils  perform better in London due to earlier improvements in          primary schools

Disadvantaged pupils have higher academic attainment in London than in other regions        in England and have pulled even further ahead over the past        decade, particularly in inner London. This has often been        referred to as the ‘London effect’. In new IFS research        published today, we show that this higher level and improvement        in performance is unlikely to have been driven by improvements        in secondary schools. Instead, we argue that the roots of the        London effect lie much earlier, with rapid improvements in pupil        performance in London’s primary schools in the late 1990s and        early 2000s.

These        are amongst the findings a new report “Lessons from London          schools for attainment gaps and social mobility” written        by Ellen Greaves, Lindsey Macmillan and Luke Sibieta. This was        commissioned by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty (SMCP)        Commission, with support from the ESRC through the Centre for        the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at IFS.

Following        on from rapid improvements over the previous decade,        disadvantaged pupils in London currently achieve substantially        better exam results than those elsewhere in England:

  • In        inner London in 2012, 54% of pupils eligible for free schools        meals (FSM) achieved 5 or more GCSEs (or their equivalent) at        A*-C (including English and Maths) , compared with 47% in outer        London, 40% in the West Midlands and 30-35% in other regions        outside of London.
  • Disadvantaged pupils        in inner London are also substantially more likely to achieve        high results, with 13% of pupils eligible for FSM achieving 8 or more A*-Bs (including        English and Maths), compared with 3-6% in regions outside of        London.
  • This        higher level of attainment is then translated into higher levels        of participation in post-compulsory education.
  • To        date, many commentators have argued that the roots of London’s        success and improvements at GCSE lie in a range of policies and        initiatives targeted at London over the past decade, such as the        London Challenge. In        fact it looks like London’s better and improved performance        reflects two key factors: differences in the mix of pupils        attending London’s schools compared with other areas of the        country; and, improvements in the results achieved by pupils in        London when they were in primary school.

The        mix of pupils in Inner London and other large cities differs        from that in the rest of England, with a greater number of        pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds. Part of the better and        improving results can be accounted for by these differences.        However, most of the higher level and improved performance of        disadvantaged pupils in London can be explained by past        achievements in primary schools. For example:

  •  In        2012, pupils eligible for FSM in inner London were 21 percentage        points more likely to achieve 5 or more GCSEs (or their        equivalent) at A*-C (including English and Maths).
  • This        falls to 17 percentage points after accounting for pupil        characteristics and demographics.
  • After accounting        for prior attainment, this then falls even further to 6        percentage points.

London’secondary        schools do still perform better than those elsewhere in the        country after accounting for prior attainment and pupil        demographics, but the majority of the higher level of        performance can be accounted for by pupils entering secondary        schools with higher levels of achievement.

At        age 11 disadvantaged pupils in London, particularly Inner        London, perform significantly better at Key Stage 2 in both        English and maths than in other areas of England.

  •  There        was a big improvement in Key Stage 2 English scores for        disadvantaged pupils in London between 1999 and 2003. This is a        key reason why Key Stage 4 results in London subsequently        improved between 2004 and 2008.
  • Key        Stage 2 Maths results have remained consistently higher for        London compared with the rest of the country.

Disadvantaged pupils        in Manchester and Birmingham also have higher levels of        attainment in secondary school and have seen substantial        improvements over time relative to the rest of England. As in        London, this is largely explained by higher attainment of pupils        in these areas in primary schools. Higher levels of GCSE results        in Manchester and Birmingham do not translate into higher levels        of post-compulsory education, however, in contrast to London.

“The        higher level and improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in        secondary schools in London over the past decade is a remarkable        success story. Our work suggests that specific policies focussed        on London secondary schools, such as the London Challenge, may        not be the main reason for this improvement. Instead, it appears        to derive largely from improved performance in primary schools.  Success at primary schools        is clearly crucial.” says        Luke Sibieta, Programme Director at IFS and an author of the        report.


Notes        to Editors:


1.       For   copies of the report or other queries, contact the IFS press        office: 020 7291 4818 / 07730 667013,;

2.     The Social Mobility and Child        Poverty (SMCP) Commission monitors the progress of government        and others in improving social mobility and reducing child        poverty in the United Kingdom. Chaired by the Rt Hon Alan        Milburn, it is an advisory non-departmental public body of the        Department for Education, the Department for Work & Pensions        and the Cabinet Office. The Commission was established with a        remit to:

–         publish an annual report setting out progress made in        improving social mobility and reducing child poverty in Great        Britain;

–         provide published advice to ministers at their request on        social mobility and child poverty; and

–         act as an advocate for social mobility beyond government        by challenging employers, the professions and universities        amongst others to play their part in improving life chances.

Contact:        Simon Blake 020 7783 8449


3.      The Centre for the        Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy (CPP) at IFS

is funded by the Economic and Social Research        Council (ESRC). ESRC funds research into the big social and        economic questions facing us today.  It also develops and trains        the UK’s future social scientists. Its research informs public        policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other        organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real        difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent        organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded        mainly by the Government.


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