Pupils in London do better at school than the rest of the country, but why? Sam Freedman, who served as an advisor to former British education secretary Michael Gove and now heads an education charity, has called this “the biggest question in education policy.”
According to my research a big part of the answer—almost all of it in fact—lies in the ethnic composition of London’s pupils. And that comes down to higher pupil aspiration, ambition, and engagement among migrants.
There is nothing inherently different in the educational performance of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, but the children of relatively recent immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education and are, on average, more likely to be engaged with their school work. This is not by chance, of course; a key part of the “London effect” is the city’s attraction to migrants and those aspiring to a better life.
The best way to measure how a school, or a city-wide school system, fares is to look at pupil progress. This is what I do here, focusing on progress through secondary school. Progress is defined by comparing standardized test scores.
What do we see? First, there is a London premium in pupil progress of just over eight grade points on the United Kingdom's standardized test, where a grade point is the difference between A and B, or D and E. (For an international comparison, this is 9.8 percent of a standard deviation.) This is a huge number: the difference between say getting eight Cs rather than eight Ds.