Javneet Ghuman, Senior Parliamentary and Public Affairs Officer, reports on the second session of the APPG on Social Mobility’s inquiry into the regional attainment gap – this time with a focus on the London Challenge and other examples of regional best practice.  

The London Challenge has been at the heart of the success story of London schools, with its impact having been debated rigorously in recent years. The school improvement programme, launched in 2003 under the then Labour Government, was initially implemented to improve London’s secondary schools. The initiative has often been cited as the reason that London now has some of the best schools in the country, and variations of the challenge have been implemented in other parts of the UK.

In recent years, the London Challenge has been seen as one of several factors that came together and contributed to the success of London schools. With this in mind, it was fitting that the second session of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility’s inquiry into the regional attainment gap, examined the London Challenge in more detail.

Officers of the APPG and members of the public heard from a range of speakers on the topic. Dame Sue John, Executive Director of Challenge Partners, had been heavily involved in the London Challenge from the beginning. She presented on the successes of the initiative given its initial focus on the most vulnerable schools in the city, and its ability to mobilise existing knowledge of best practice within some schools with schools that were struggling in other parts of the city.

She was followed by Dr Tim Coulson, Chair of the Norwich Opportunity Area Partnership Board. He presented on the work taking place in Norwich, outlining the big social mobility challenges that the area faces. He was optimistic that the successes of the London Challenge could be replicated in other parts of the country but reiterated the importance of focusing on what each local area needs in order to create success, saying that a sense of place was extremely important.

Simon Faull, Former Director of the Somerset Challenge, reflected on the situation in Somerset that led to the creation of a headteacher run partnership of 40 secondary schools to improve the outcomes of young people in the local area. He argued that the mindset in Somerset had been for schools to do something themselves to raise attainment rather than wait for it to be done to them and that during the period of the Challenge, schools saw some improvement. He argued that there needed to be more incentives for schools to collaborate to ensure effective knowledge sharing.

Patsy Kane, Executive Headteacher at the Education and Leadership Trust, gave the final presentation where she outlined the work that has been happening in Greater Manchester in order to improve attainment in schools in the city. Patsy focused on the collaborative way that schools in the local area work, regardless of the type of school that they are. She argued that the Manchester Challenge had worked well in part because of the trust that was given to those who were leading the initiative. Patsy also touched on the work that is happening within her academy trust chain, with schools putting students at the heart of everything that they do and encouraging the students to be leaders in their education.

After an interesting question and answer session, Chair Justin Madders MP bought the meeting to a close, highlighting the key themes of collaboration, community and commitment that were raised throughout the discussion. This session builds on the evidence heard by members of the APPG at the first session, and provided some interesting evidence on what practical steps have and can be taken to narrow the regional attainment gap.

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