Great piece from Nina Cave on New Labour Education policy and need to keep schools accountable for their pupils to improve outcomes for those that have have gone off the rails
One of the biggest downfalls of the Labour party in recent campaigning has been their failure to represent Britain and its diverse and idiosyncratic communities. Labour in 2019 lost Leigh, Great Grimsby and Newcastle-Under-Lyme (to name a few) to the Tories and thus crumbled its so-called ‘red wall’. These communities felt distanced from the party and criticised Labour’s focus on London.
Ironically I, recognising this, now write a series of articles focusing on London’s education system in order to draw conclusions about Britain’s education as a whole. This is because of my experience of working in London’s education system and I do not feel comfortable making comments about education outside of the city.
London is a city of contrasts. In 2018/19 17.4% of London’s children were eligible for Free School Meals, the second highest percentage of all UK areas after the North East.  London also contains most of the UKs most expensive properties, restaurants and shops, but the top 10% own 52% of the city’s wealth.
In 1997 London schools were the worst performing in the country, now the Greater London area is the highest performing in the country. Wonderful you think, the largest and most populated city in the UK has the best schools. I am unconvinced. My qualm lies with the fact that one of the highest contributors to London’s success is stricter behaviour policies in inner London schools which have left pupils with challenging backgrounds and special educational needs behind. The ‘London Challenge’ forced failing London schools to improve but at what cost?
The highest attaining schools for progress-8 in London include Michaela Community School and King Solomon Academy (which has the highest results of any school in the country with more than 30% of pupils on Free School Meals). Both these North London schools advocate a ‘no excuses’ behaviour policy. However, I argue that ‘no excuses’ policies lead to disengagement from education and it is difficult to tell to what extent they work.
An issue I have faced when doing my research for these articles is the lack of transparency from individual schools about rates of exclusion. There is a highlighted link in studies between zero tolerance behaviour policies and high exclusion rates and experts agree that zero tolerance behaviour policies lead to the exclusion of more vulnerable pupils. London has almost double the national average of students in PRU’s (Pupil Referral Units) - educational facilities for students who have been removed from mainstream education. Let us also not forget the prevalence of the difficult to track managed moves which I have seen being used as a means of keeping exclusion levels down.
Yes, many inner London schools have rocketed to the top of the league tables for Progress-8, but the question is: who has been forced out to get there?
Therefore, I praise Labour’s education policy from the 2019 election which aimed to make schools accountable for pupils who leave their rolls because off-rolling, managed moves and exclusions should not be a way for schools to boost their results. Tony Blair in 1997 advocated ‘for a new age of achievement in which all… not but a few can share’ and thus the frequency of these tactics to boost results is an insult to Estelle Morris (then education secretary)’s London Challenge which aimed for every child in London to have a good or better education.