Why Are London's Schools So Good?

M@
By M@ Last edited 34 months ago
Why Are London's Schools So Good?

It is often said that London's schools are among the best in the country — this despite many factors that might work against academic excellence. Why should this be? The reasons are tricky to pin down and probably manifold. A new website helps us understand the phenomenon, with more data than you could shake a Gradgrindian cane at.

SchoolDash is the work of Timo Hannay, a father of three with a background in data geekery. He's collected together information from the Department for Education and fed it all into an easy-to-understand mapping interface. It's a statistician's dream, with over 250 different visualisations to explore, across different years and different school types. To take a few illustrative examples, you can view how ethnic diversity differs across the country; the geographical spread of pupils with five or more A*-C grades; the financial pressures on schools; or the percentage of pupils taking free school meals.

The site immediately throws up interesting results for London. Click through the gallery below to see some headline figures.

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London's schools are, on average, much larger than elsewhere in England -- a factor sometimes linked to poorer performance. See more.
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London's pupils show higher levels of social deprivation than most other regions, as measured here by the percentage eligible for free school meals. See more.
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Compared with the rest of the country, London's schools have a far higher proportion of pupils for whom English is an "additional language". See more.
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Yet they do very well academically, especially at Key Stage 2 (7-11 years old). For example, this map shows the proportion of pupils exceeding national expectations in reading, writing and maths. See more.
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And here's a map of the 'Value Add', a measure calculated by the DfE that takes into account pupils' prior performance, social deprivation levels and so on. London again shines. See more.
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We can see variation within London itself. Here we see Average Performance Score at Key Stage 2. Wealthier boroughs such as Kensington & Chelsea and Richmond perform the strongest. See more.
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One reason London pupils do so well is perhaps shown in the map of grant funding per pupil -- much higher in London than elsewhere. See more.
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And average teacher salaries are also higher in the capital than most other regions. See more.

The project is set to grow. Hannay will add further data sets and attempt to analyse the forest of data through the SchoolDash blog. He's particularly curious as to why London stands out positively in so many of the datasets — a phenomenon that is still poorly understood even by education experts. Is it all down to tangible factors such as school funding and teacher salary, or are cultural influences also at play?

London undoubtedly contains more extra-curricular goodness for children than many of the regions, from world-class museums to public events with an educational bent. Hannay also speculates that the city attracts more of a certain type of adult: "[It could be]...partly because London is full of aspirational people (including parents and teachers) egging each other on. This is especially true in some immigrant and minority communities, which may be why attainment seems to correlate positively with 'English as an additional language' status rather than negatively as one might naively expect."

Have a play with the data sets on SchoolDash and draw your own conclusions.

Last Updated 11 September 2015