Byline: Andrew Neather
The Future of London Schools Evening Standard debate THESE are challenging times for London's schools but exciting ones too. Many primary schools face a growing spaces shortage a crunch that is already starting to feed through to secondaries. Around a quarter of children leave primary without reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths, while there are poorly performing secondary schools in almost every borough.
Yet at the same time, there has been a significant improvement in standards: London now outperforms the rest of the country in exam results. And the ferment caused by the explosion of free schools and academies is starting to throw up new innovations too.
Some of the new schools offer a bold new approach: a longer school day; all-through schooling from four- to 18-year-olds under one roof; or a focus on particular subjects, such as rhetoric. Other, established schools offer no less daring innovations, such as Durand Academy's planned boarding school for 13- to 18-year-olds.
Such schools achieve results despite the fact that most work with intakes that would be considered challenging elsewhere in the country: high numbers of poorer pupils on free school meals, as well as many with the additional challenge of speaking English as a second language.
The schools the Standard talked to are achieving good results in a range of settings both primary and secondary, free schools and those with closer ties to the local authority. But in all of them, there is a relentless focus on standards and a determination to improve.
BOARDING NOW DURAND ACADEMY, STOCKWELL Sir Greg Martin's record as a tough and ambitious primary school head was this year rewarded with a knighthood but he is not standing still. Last year he added a middle school to cover years seven and eight; now he is piloting Durand's most ambitious project yet, a boarding school for pupils aged 13-18 at a site in Stedham, West Sussex.
Durand is applying for planning permission to refurbish a disused private school there, despite a row over one local councillor's dire predictions about the school's "Pakistanis". In fact, Durand is 96 per cent African or Afro-Caribbean; 50 per cent of its pupils qualify for free school meals (two and half times the national average).
The boarding plan is intended to answer a problem raised by other heads: the disruption caused by the transition from primary to secondary school "like plunging children into deep, freezing water," says Martin. But Durand already has an extended day of 8.30am-5.30pm.
The boarding school is evidently a more ambitious innovation than that. "It's very much modelled on the private schools," says Martin. "It's about them learning to speak well and present themselves well too: those children have such huge confidence, and I want to replicate that."
ALL-THROUGH SCHOOL REACH ACADEMY, FELTHAM Reach Academy head Ed Vainker says that when he was a comprehensive school French teacher, he would teach around 400 different pupils a week far too many to develop any real relationship with. His solution, with a group of other teachers, was a small free school, offering a friendlier environment and an all-through school from ages four-18, cutting out the disruption of transition.
"We wanted to create a transformational school," says Vainker, who takes some of his inspiration from US charter schools working in poor neighbourhoods.
Reach evidently started without a track record: "It was very much 'trust us'," says Vainker although the school is already oversubscribed. Its ambitious aim is to ensure that all get good A-levels and the chance to continue to university.
Reach is now in its second year of operation. It takes in two forms a year and now has classes at reception and years one, seven and eight but even when full it will have only around 840 children.
Although a free school, it has answered a local shortage one of the reasons its founders picked Hounslow and it is fully integrated into the borough-wide admissions system. …