Education & Skills

The London Intelligence – Issue 2

Education & Skills

London’s pupils continue to outperform the English average at Key Stage 4 – by almost half a grade per entry – but performance dips by the time they take A-Levels and other level 3 qualifications. Provisional figures show apprenticeship starts have fallen in London compared to last year, compounded by a low achievement rate for the capital.

Key Stage 4 Achievements

London schools are continuing to outperform the English average at Key Stage 4. Pupils are now assessed through ‘Attainment 8’ and ‘Progress 8’, measuring how they perform in eight different subjects, and how they are progressing compared to expectations (see technical appendix). The first year these are used in isolation shows the attainment gap persisting: London pupils score over 4 points better on the A8 measure than English pupils as a whole (equating to half a grade per exam).

Source: Department for Education

Progress 8 statistics also paint a positive picture- they are the only region where pupils progress significantly more than expected. A score of 0.22 contrasted to the national average of -0.03, although some boroughs, such as Lambeth and Lewisham, saw below expected progression.

Data from previous years suggest that pupils on free schools meals (i.e. those from disadvantaged backgrounds) underperform in terms of attainment and progress, but continue to do better in London schools than across England, and the same applied for pupils from black and ethnic minority communities.

The drop off in attainment for 2016/17 is largely due to the tougher GCSE exams introduced last year, and so not too much should be read into this. The headline story with education in the capital remains unchanged: poor, ethnic minority pupils do a bit better than elsewhere. This is partly due to the distinctive nature of immigration to London. And in part due to improvements in the city’s primary schools which began decades ago. Despite doing better than England, recent research shows London is mid-ranking compared to other education systems worldwide. So this data is no cause for complacency in the capital.

Sam Sims, Research Fellow at Education Datalab, and Associate at Centre for London

Key Stage 4 Destinations

Source: Department for Education

Data on what pupils do after Key Stage 4 show that many more London pupils (67 per cent) go on to sixth form study in schools or sixth form colleges, compared to England as a whole (52 per cent). Conversely, London pupils are less likely to go to further education colleges, or to take up apprenticeships, suggesting a bias in the capital towards academic rather than vocational pathways.

Key Stage 5 Achievements

London’s bias towards academic pathways may also be reflected in its slightly lower attainment at Key Stage 5. While London’s schools do better than the rest of the country at Key Stage 4, when students take A-Levels and similar qualifications (Level 3), the average point score of 32.05 for state-funded students is very close to the English average (32.12). A recent report suggested that this resulted from more London pupils pursuing A-Levels, rather than vocational qualifications, as well as lower entry requirements from sixth form colleges and school’s sixth forms. Most London boroughs have improved in performance over the past two years (previous data are not comparable due to grade reweighting), with Sutton being a notably high performer.

Source: Department for Education

Key Stage 5 Destinations

88 per cent of London’s school leavers from Key Stage 5 went on to ‘sustained’ (i.e. lasting two terms or more) education, employment or training, with women more likely to do so than men (90 vs 86 per cent). More Londoners go on to higher education institutions than the English average (61 vs 51 per cent), and fewer go into work (14 vs 23 per cent) or take up apprenticeships (4 vs 7 percent). Disadvantaged pupils are as likely to achieve a sustained outcome as other Londoners (which is a better result than nationally), and are even more likely to go on to further or higher education, but are less likely to go to a leading university. When compared to disadvantaged pupils across England, a higher proportion go to top third higher education institutions (19 vs 12 per cent) and Russell Group universities (9 vs 7 per cent).

Source: Department for Education


London’s offer to apprentices has changed over the last few years. Provisional data for 2016/17 starts suggests a slight fall (of 4.5 per cent) in the total number started, following rises over the past two years, mirroring the national trend. This drop was caused by a large fall in those starting intermediate level qualifications – advanced and higher ones both rose.

Source: Department for Education and Education and Skills Funding Agency

London has a poor completion rate of apprenticeships, however, with only just over half of those started in 2015/16 resulting in achievements. This was a few percentage points below the national average. The higher level qualifications were more likely to see young people dropping out.

Source: Department for Education and Education and Skills Funding Agency

Looking at subject areas, young Londoners pursuing apprenticeships are most likely to do so in  Business, Administration and Law (32.6 per cent), Health, Public Services and Care (29 per cent) and Retail and Commercial Enterprise (13.4 per cent). Looking more broadly over time, the numbers suggest a diversification in the apprenticeship offer for young people in London.

The new apprenticeship levy, introduced in April 2017, will likely impact the number of apprentices in London, especially in underrepresented industries.

The fact that London has lower apprenticeship participation rates than the rest of England isn’t necessarily a problem. But it is a major problem when there is a real mismatch between the London labour market’s skill needs, and the types of apprenticeship in play.

In a heavily graduate workforce, apprenticeships are most important in the areas where specific skills, learned practically, are both highly valued, and scarce. That means construction and IT above all. Sadly, these new figures confirm that very few London apprenticeships are in these areas: the two together amount to only 3,190 apprenticeship starts, which is only just over 20 per cent of the number in ‘business and administration’ (over 14,000), where graduates are in large supply, and lengthy, practical training isn’t a requirement.

Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College London

University: undergraduate characteristics

London has some world-leading higher education institutions (HEIs), as identified by global university rankings, and includes a diverse range of generalist and specialist institutions for students of all levels. London’s undergraduate population numbers nearly a quarter of a million, and has distinctive characteristics as compared to England as a whole. Just under 80 per cent are from the UK, with half of these from London.

Source: Higher Education Funding Council for England

Students in London’s HEIs are more ethnically diverse – only 45.2 per cent are white – than England as a whole, where the figure is over two thirds. They are also older, with 12 per cent over 30, and more likely to be female than the rest of England (58 vs 56 per cent). UCAS tariff points are used by many HEIs to specify entry requirements for students – London has a lower proportion of high and medium tariff entrants. This couples with a number of top universities not applying the tariff system, creating a wide range of opportunities for students of different abilities to study in the capital.

The Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) classification scheme identifies how likely young people are to go to university by area. A significantly lower proportion of London students are from the bottom category (POLAR 1; i.e. from areas least likely to send young people to university) – only 5.6 per cent compared to England’s 10.3 per cent. Conversely, a higher proportion of students are from POLAR 3,4 and 5 – areas with average and above average university attendance.

Source: Higher Education Funding Council for England

London HEIs offer a range of courses to their students – the three most popular are: subjects allied to medicine (14 per cent), creative arts and design (13.7 per cent) and business and administrative studies (13.2 per cent).