It has been characterized as a tale of extraordinary success. As a consequence of enlightened and collaborative leadership unleashed by the New Labour-initiated London Challenge and the current government’s radical extension of Lord Adonis’ Academies policy, when it comes to our most disadvantaged children, inner London’s schools, after years of lagging behind, are now outperforming those found in the rest of the country.
In 2013, 48 per cent of children on free school meals in inner London obtained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE or their equivalent (including English and maths) – up from 22 per cent in 2002 – compared to just 26 per cent outside London – up from 17 per cent in 2002. It is indeed a considerable achievement.
But is it down to Labour’s London Challenge, the proliferation of academies or, as a report by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics suggests, a combination of factors, including the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority, gradual improvements in primary education since the mid-90s, more vigorous inspection regimes and greater parental choice enhanced by increased competition between schools?
Simon Burgess, an economics professor at Bristol University, doesn’t think so. He cites immigration and the ethnic makeup of inner London’s schools as the decisive factor. ‘The children of recent immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education,’ he argued in a Guardian comment piece back in November 2014.
As a teacher in an inner London, ethnically diverse and multicultural school – and having taught for most of my career in places outside London, where the white indigenous population still predominates – I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Burgess’ explanation.
Inner London’s schools have benefitted enormously from high levels of immigration. My school, for example, has large and increasing numbers of bright, highly motivated young migrants, most of whom are hardworking, courteous, unashamedly moral and desperate to succeed.
It has indeed been a welcome culture shock. I’m used to chairs flying past my nose, not pupils requesting extra homework; surly parents covered from head to toe in tattoos, arguing and swearing about how I pick on their faultless little angels, not respectable looking foreigners evincing their unqualified gratitude. It really is quite a pleasant surprise.
That said, I do fear for the future. In fact, I’m not a betting man, but I’d be willing to put money on the so-called London Effect not lasting. But you sounded so upbeat, I hear you say.
Well, regrettably, that’s where the good news ends. Just like other schools around the country, including my previous employers, our senior leaders continue to encourage pupils to challenge the authority of their teachers through crazy initiatives like ‘Restorative Justice’ and, as a consequence of a misguided commitment to moral relativism – a doctrine that makes virtues of excuse-making, low expectations for our most disadvantaged kids, ambiguity and inconsistency -, they’ve effectively abolished rules and promoted amorality. Our success is indeed entirely dependent on the cultural provenance of these fantastically committed kids. It’s nothing to do with the school, whose leaders continue to do everything in their power to subvert and extinguish the traditional values that make these pupils so successful.
And as our leaders continue to infect our newcomers with the values of a valueless, non-judgemental society, they too – just like their wretched white contemporaries who’ve been cruelly left to rot on the scrapheap of life – will eventually descend into an amoral abyss that inevitably leads to misery and failure.
Mark my words: the London Effect won’t last.