Lessons From London Schools

We investigate the claim that London’s schools have improved dramatically since 2000. In this report we review the evidence of change and explore possible reasons for the development in London’s schools.

Since the turn of the millenium, results indicate that schools in London have gone from being among the worst performing in any region of the country, to the very best. Judged by relative performance in examinations and in Ofsted inspections,

London schools now outperform schools in the rest of England, achieving the highest proportion of schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and the highest GCSE attainment for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The pattern of improvement in schools has been particularly marked in Inner London, which is impressive as it has a higher level of deprivation than Outer London. The dramatic rise has captured the imagination of policymakers and commentators alike.

If the claims made for educational improvement in London are true, they represent an important case study for urban school reform. There is a need, therefore, for an investigation of the nature and possible causes of the changes in London’s schools.

The project was guided by three questions:

  • Is the success of London’s schools as real as has been suggested?
  • If the success is real, in what ways have schools improved and for what reasons?
  • What can we learn for the future of school improvement, for London and beyond?

Key findings

Our research has generated five key findings:

  1. London schools have improved dramatically since 2000.
  2. The improvement cannot be explained in terms of the advantages that London has over the rest of England.
  3. The improvement was assisted by a set of factors that we describe as ‘enabling’, including issues relating to resourcing: finance, teacher recruitment and school building quality. Gain in these areas enabled improvements to flourish, but London’s success was not fundamentally caused by these factors.
  4. Four key school interventions provided the impetus for improvement – London Challenge, Teach First, the academies programme and improved support from local authorities. Our research identifies common features that link together all of these interventions.
  5. The improvement of London schools depended upon effective leadership at every level of the system.


This project was generously supported by