Educating Norfolk: How the London Challenge transformed education in the capital

Prof David Woods

Prof David Woods - Credit: Archant

In 1997, only 16% of London students gained five GCSEs at grade C or above. Now London boroughs make up half of the 20 highest performing local authorities in England.

The London Challenge has been credited with transforming education in the capital, and is a key inspiration for Norfolk County Council's own strategies to support school improvement.

For David Woods, a former history teacher and senior teacher training lecturer who later became chief education advisor for London, 'deprivation is not destiny'. 'For us it was a moral purpose, which was these children can do it, and they are being let down by the system,' he said.

The strategy emphasised challenge, collaboration, positivity and not accepting excuses for poor attainment.

Mr Woods said: 'Every school in London was put in a family simply based on prior attainment and deprivation. It knocked away the excuses we had in those days that 'How can we possibly do better because of the level of deprivation?'.

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'You have probably got some of that in Norfolk. If they have all got 70% on free school meals, and a school down the road has got twice the literacy, that knocks that argument away.'

He said the London Challenge had four arms: the London school, the London leader, the London teacher, and the London student. Schools that needed to improve were called 'keys to success', and given a challenge advisor and bespoke support, and Mr Woods said the programme's 'hard edge' came from academisation if schools did not turn themselves around within two years.

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He said the challenge focused on creating system leaders, so schools could offer each other help such as coaching or one-to-one support.

The belief that the success of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers led to the creation of training programmes to lift teachers from satisfactory to good, and good to excellent.

To improve morale and self-esteem, a Chartered London Teacher status was created, something Mr Woods said Norfolk could consider.

The Challenge also created a 10-point London Pupil Pledge, setting out what opportunities the city would give all secondary school students by the time they are 16, and awards and celebrations for pupils.

Mr Woods said differences with London during the Challenge and Norfolk now, such as greater distances between schools and the growth of academies that owe some loyalty to the chain they belong to, meant the county would have to find its own way of adapting lessons.

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