Jo Blanden, Ellen Greaves, Paul Gregg, Lindsey Macmillan and Luke Sibieta
Published 30 September 2015
London is an educational success story, with especially good schooling results for more disadvantaged pupils. This is a dramatic reversal of fortunes. This paper uses a combination of administrative and survey data to document these improvements and understand more about why the performance of disadvantaged pupils in London has improved so much. First of all we consider the timing of the improvement. We show that the London advantage for poor children was present in primary and secondary schools from the mid-1990s, well before many recent policies that have previously been used to explain London’s success, such as the London Challenge or Academies programme. Differences in the ethnic mix of pupils can explain some of the higher level of performance, but only about one sixth of the growth over time. Instead, the majority is explained by rising prior attainment (pupils entering secondary school with better age 11 test scores) and a reduced negative contribution of having many disadvantaged children in school. Data from the Millennium Cohort shows that disadvantaged pupils in London have no advantage compared to those in the rest of England at age 5, but then show faster improvements between age 5 and 11 once they have started school. Taken together, our evidence suggests improvements in London’s schools seem to be mainly attributable to gradual improvements in school quality rather than differences or changes in the effects of pupil and family characteristics. Closer examination of the policies and practice in London from the mid to late 1990s could provide valuable lessons as to how educational performance can be boosted among disadvantaged groups.