Updated: Dec 21, 2017
This piece first appeared in City AM on Wednesday 20 December 2017.
Successful schools, whatever their socio-economic catchment, insist on a professional approach.
Economics is the gloomy science, but we can end the year on a cheery note.
Newham Collegiate Sixth Form College is in one of the most deprived and ethnically mixed areas of the country, with high numbers of immigrants. Yet the example set by Mouhssin Ismail, the headteacher, is inspirational.
At the start of every year, all the students are taken to Cambridge, to raise their aspirations. There is a minimum three hours of homework every night, and five a day at weekends.
The effort pays off. This year, 190 out of 200 students were offered places at the Russell Group universities. Nine were offered Oxbridge places, with one student destined for MIT in the US.
Of course, there is an element of self-selection in the success of the school. Young people unwilling to submit to the rigours demanded are unlikely to apply.
But even though Newham is riddled with poverty, there is no shortage of aspiration.
In Crumpsall, a rather run-down area just to the north of Manchester city centre, King David High School is consistently ranked in the top 10 state schools in the country. This year, over 50 per cent of the A-level results were at grade A or A*.
The school’s ethos is based on respect for parents, teachers, elders, fellow people, standards, and discipline.
Rochdale Sixth Form College, located in a poor former mill town, began to insist on “high expectations within a ‘you can do it culture’”. As a result, for the first time in years, students from the area are going to Oxbridge.
London’s secondary schools in general have been turned around in recent years. From being one of the worst performing regions in the country, they are now the best. The attitude of the Schools Inspectorate has been crucial. Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, insists that disadvantaged children cannot be used as an excuse for consistently underperforming schools.
The quality and attitude of teachers is also important. This has been established in the academic literature for a considerable time.
The importance of a scientific paper is judged by the number of times other academics cite it in their work. Very few papers in any subject get more than 1,000 citations. Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford carried out a study based on educational outcomes in American schools in 1993/94, which has nearly 6,000.
She found that “teacher certification and preparation are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics”. In other words, the better qualified the teaching staff, the better will be the results of a school.
But there is more to it than that. It is the “preparation” which teachers carry out which is also key. Again, successful schools, whatever their socio-economic catchment, insist on a professional approach.
Far more than money – the perennial “solution” of the Left – social norms are decisive in delivering good education. Traditional values of hard work and discipline pay off.
North Korea has nuclear missiles, the Brexit talks falter – but here is something to feel good about.
Written by Paul Ormerod, Cowry's Chief Economist and a visiting professor at University College, London, and author of Positive Linking: How Networks can Revolutionise the World.
Image: Old Fashioned Education via Wikimedia is licensed under CC by 0.0