In the late 1990s, London’s state schools, particularly those in inner-city areas, were, in general, attaining very poor learning outcomes for their pupils. Gang culture, drugs, violence and radicalism were rife in many of these schools. The subsequent implementation of school quality initiatives on the basis of findings made by school effectiveness research saw London’s schools improve to the point that they now outperform those elsewhere in England:
Within the last 20 years, numerous London schools improved strongly. Today, London has the highest proportion of state schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and the best performance in the GCSE exams by pupils from disadvantaged families (Lenon, 2017). This phenomenon attracted worldwide notice as the ‘London Effect’.
The SQTE project is carrying out research at schools in London which improved substantially in the context of the London effect. The research includes interviews with the protagonists of improvement initiatives, asking them, among other things, to identify the central levers for the improvements to quality that have taken place in their schools and describe how they organise their schools, their core leadership values, the CPD undertaken by teachers at their schools, and how they ensure the high quality of lessons.
One of the schools visited was the St. Paul’s Way Trust School, located in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. 65 % of the school’s pupils are considered disadvantaged as measured by the Free School Meal Score, and, according to the school’s most recent figures, 81,8 % have a first language other than English (current figures of the school).
In 2009, Ofsted inspected the school and rated it “inadequate” (2009 inspection report). Subsequently, under a new headteacher, the school improved dramatically within a short period of time, attaining an “outstanding” rating in 2013 (2013 inspection report). One of the assumptions from which the SQTE project proceeds is that interviewing heads of schools which have undertaken this type of journey is an eminently suitable way of gaining a greater and more practically relevant understanding of school development.