Foreword - Lessons from London

  • By Peter John OBE

We must never forget that London’s children and young people face very tough challenges growing up and when they leave school they enter a world of employment where they will compete against some of the world’s best, not just the best from our city.

The education system which supports them in doing so has transformed itself out of all recognition over the past 25 years. It consistently outperforms all other regions in the country against national performance indicators. The scale of that transformation is staggering. As Professor Tim Brighouse points out in his essay, in 1989, the year before the boroughs took over their responsibility from the Inner London Education Authority, less than 9 per cent of pupils in inner London secondary schools achieved 5 or more higher grades at GCSE compared to 17 per cent nationally. Today the comparable figures are 70.5 per cent for London, and 63.8 per cent nationally.

The new challenge for everyone with a stake in London’s education – the boroughs, businesses, parents, teachers, the Mayor of London and central government. – is to transform London’s education system again.

It is not good enough that London’s children are better served than their parents were. They need schools which equip them to survive and thrive in the environment they find themselves in today.

Like all global cities, London presents challenges as well as opportunities to its young people. My own borough of Southwark is not unlike others in London. The lives of the children and young people are characterised by high concentrations of deprivation, a high proportion of workless households and a high number of families with English as a second language.

Despite this, disadvantaged children and young people in London are more likely than their peers outside of London to do well at key stage 2 and key stage 4 and our schools are now seen as the destination of choice for parents across the income spectrum, including the Prime Minister himself.

The transformation and success of the London education system is a subject of great interest for researchers, policy makers and political parties all of whom are looking for the mystery ingredients.

London Councils commissioned this collection of articles from a range of education experts to delve deeper into the role played by the London boroughs. It is not a policy document. Rather it offers insights into the local leadership provided by London boroughs and other partners to improve the education system. We hope that by doing so it offers lessons as to how London might transform its education system again to meet
the challenges of today.

These articles remind us of the importance of local leadership across the education system and what has worked well for London. Although the theme of this publication is unashamedly local, I hope we have avoided the pitfall of producing an inward looking and retrospective collection. Instead, we have brought together contributions from key players from the classroom to Whitehall, all of whom write freely about their experience and lessons learned from their involvement in the improvement journey. We have also looked forward to the challenges we have not yet overcome.

At the same time, system leaders must also adapt to external changes whether they be government reforms, parental expectations or stiffening international competition for jobs, the type of leadership needed must evolve too, to meet the emerging challenges. In many respects, London must also measure itself by a different standard, and our achievements to date mustn’t diminish our determination to do even better for our children and young people who are competing for opportunity in an ever expanding pool of global talent.

To be at the forefront of this debate, the publication sets out not only what has worked well, but how this can be built on going forwards to support the London education system to continue to be the education powerhouse of England and equip our young people to be a success in the 21st Century.


Peter John OBE

Peter John is London Councils’ Executive Member for Children, Skills and Employment. He has been the Leader of Southwark Council since May 2010. He was first elected to the council in 2002 and has been the Leader of Southwark Labour Group since 2004.