One Trick Pony

So Ofsted identify an issue with a  ‘North-South’ divide in school performance. Out rush the answers. The foremost solution on people lips of course being “What area-X needs, of course, is its own London Challenge”.

“The London Challenge” – the mythical solution to all education problems.

Let’s leave aside the lack of agreement as to why the London Challenge worked. Or even if it actually did. I just want to explain why it is unlikely to work in the areas Sir Michael Wilshaw has identified.

The most commonly suggested reason for the success of the London Challenge is collaboration between schools. If this is correct we can suggest a couple of pre-requisites for that effect. Two of these, i suggest, would be proximity of schools and capacity. And the capacity needs to be in schools that can provide positive support, i.e. there would need to be a cohort of good/outstanding schools to draw that support from.

A little test.

Pick a random school. Use the DfE performance tables page to search a five mile radius around that school for other schools. See how many get returned in the list.

Heres the results.

A random school in London will return at least 100 other secondary  schools.

The same search in one of Wilshaws midland or northern ‘satellite’ towns will return less than fifty, usually many less, often in single figures. They also tend to be smaller schools.

So in a London school you are likely to have between 8,000 and 15,000 other teachers in fairly close proximity. In the areas Wilshaw is interested in we are looking at between 1,000 and 5,000. So there is a clear issue with capacity.

Also remember, these are areas that have been identified as having less schools that meet the Ofsted ‘Good’ standard. So as well as numerical capacity there is likely to be an issue of there being a quality capacity.

If both these areas of capacity are lacking then effective collaboration becomes problematic.

Which brings in the third dimension of capacity – time. Yes, there are other schools if we spread our net further. The problem with this is that the further we spread the net the more time we suck out of the system. Which reduces capacity. Not just capacity to improve, but the capacity to keep the existing show on the road.

As an aside, if you conduct the same test on coastal areas then the results are even more stark. Most coastal areas have single figure numbers of neighbours, at best.

So simply put, if the key to the success of the London Challenge is collaboration then transplanting the same approach to the identified areas is unlikely to succeed.

Because geography.