Yorkshire schools need to copy “the London Challenge”

Call for a major project to improve results in Yorkshire schools.
Call for a major project to improve results in Yorkshire schools.
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AN EXAMS EXPERT has called for Yorkshire to try to repeat the success of the City Challlenge programme in London to transform the region’s exam results.

The programme has been credited with helping to reverse the fortunes of the capital’s schools which are now among the strongest performing in the country.

Professor Alan Smithers from the University of Buckingham.

Professor Alan Smithers from the University of Buckingham.

In London’s City Challenge education experts were given the job of supporting struggling schools with major cash backing from the Government.

It also encouraged collaboration between schools to help deliver improvements.

Now Professor Alan Smithers has become the latest to call for Yorkshire to do something on a similar scale to improve its school results.

Yorkshire councils have already launched a pilot school improvement programme - the Pathfinder Initiative - which involves around 50 schools but there are questions over how anything larger could be funded.

At its peak The City Challenge received £40m funding a year - with funding ‘in-kind’ packages of support for underperforming schools, jointly brokered by an expert adviser and officials in the Department for Education.The latest GCSE results show that despite improving Yorkshire still had the highest number of exams graded below a C of any region in England. There were 65.3 per cent of exams graded at A* to C.

Although this meant Yorkshire was the second most improved area in the country it also meant the region’s schools were collectively still the worst performers nationally.

Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show that in each of the last five years there have been fewer exams graded at C in Yorkshire than in any other region. Last week Tristram Hunt claimed the figures showed there was a continuing regional divide in school results which was leaving pupils in the North and Midlands behind.

Prof Smithers from Buckingham University’s Centre for Centre for Education and Employment Research said: “I think what Yorkshire needs is a concerted effort like the London Challenge which has made a real difference.”

Funding for the City Challenge was stopped by the coalition Government. However the programe which was started in the mid noughties has been credited with bringing about a step change in the results being achieved. And the standards being achieved in London schools has continued to be among the best in the country without the London Challenge funding continuing.

In 2006 pupils in inner London were achieving less well at GCSE than those in Yorkshire but for past the seven years fewer pupils in Yorkshire achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths than in inner London. Overall London has been one of the strongest performing areas in the country for several years.

The way in which secondary school performance is measured is set to change next year.

Instead of the benchmark facing schools being how many of its pupils achieved five A* to C passes including Engish and maths, they will instead be rated on how much progress pupils make across eight subjects

Prof Smithers said the new Progress 8 measure might impact on Yorkshire’s overall performance and show schools in a better light as it will measure the progress pupils make not their end results. However he said he did not think it would be a significant change. He said: “The way in which you transform results I think is not to change the way in which they are measured but to change the education. I think people in Yorkshire need to come together and look to produce their own London Challenge.”

Last year the 15 local education authorities in Yorkshire came together to look at raising school attainment. A pathfinder project has been launched which has seen schools which are judged to require improvement being grouped together to share ideas in order to move them to good ratings from Ofsted.

However it is only taking place on a relatively small scale. It is being expanded to another 30 schools this year.

The education expert leading the scheme, Prof Mel Ainscow, has warned that a much larger project will be needed to make a significant difference to the life chances of children across Yorkshire schools.