Children and Young Adults

Girls, boys, poor, not poor, white, BME – pupils do better in London schools

  • Published: Jun 19, 2012
  • Author: Anushree Parekh
  • Category: Children and Young Adults

Our new analysis of education statistics for London shows that children in London perform better than the English average at age 11 and 16. But what is striking is that this is true for a range of characteristics – for boys and girls, for those receiving free school meals and not receiving, and for those from White and non-White backgrounds. 

This is despite the fact that London has almost double the proportion of ‘poor’ children in primary and secondary schools compared to rest of England and that such children are known to have lower average levels of attainment. ‘Poor’ here refers to children receiving free school meals (FSM), which are given to children whose parents claim out of work benefits and are the best available proxy for low income in education statistics.

Our analysis here starts with 11 year olds. At age 11 pupils are expected to achieve Level 4 in the Key Stage 2 tests, generally taken in the final year of primary school. The graph below shows the proportion of childrennot reaching this level in English and maths. Here and further on we only consider maintained schools - so the high proportion of London pupils who are at independent schools (see the data here) are not included in the analysis. 

Graph 1 - Proportion of children not reaching level 4 in English and maths at KS2


 The lighter bar, representing London is lower than the darker one across the various categories. Overall, London has a lower proportion of children falling short of the expected level, around 24%, compared rest of the country (26%). 

This pattern also holds true for boys and girls. The difference is more remarkable when we consider pupils receiving FSM. 35% of pupils on FSM in London don’t reach Level 4, almost 10 percentage points lower than in rest of the country. 

The ‘London effect’ continues at age 16. The graph below shows the proportion of children not getting 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths, which is the preferred official measure of attainment at age 16.

Graph 2 - Proportion of children not getting 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths 

Overall 38% of children in London don’t get 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths, a lower proportion than the 42% in rest of the country. This is true for boys and girls and children from White and non-White ethnic backgrounds. 

As with 11 year olds, the difference is substantial when looking at the difference in attainment between FSM and non FSM pupils. 53% of FSM pupils in London don’t get the expected level, compared to 70% in the rest of the country. This in turn means that the attainment gaps between children in FSM and those not on FSM are smaller in London than elsewhere; making London a more equitable region as far as education is concerned. 

As was the case with 11 year olds, boys in London outperform boys in the rest of England and girls in London outperform other girls. White pupils in London do better than white pupils elsewhere. BME pupils in London do better than BME pupils elsewhere. 

The analysis here groups all non White ethnic groups together, which is obviously a simplification. But if we were to look more closely, the overall finding would still be true – for any given ethnic group, pupils in London do better than the English average. 

It is worth noting that this persists even when one looks at the various combinations of these characteristics; for any given combination of gender and FSM status and ethnicity and FSM status, 16 year olds in London do better than their counterparts in rest of the country (see here and here for more) . 

Our research presents the evidence to show that London performs better than the rest of the country; others have attempted to explore the reasons underpinning this effect. A report by Centreforum suggests that school-specific factors, pupil-specific factors and London-specific Government initiatives could have contributed to this advantage. Chris Cook of the Financial Times points to a range of possible factors, including London having the best academy chains in the country. One could also speculate that London has the right kind of population density and transport links to make such academy chains work. 

And for all the focus on early years education, it is worth noting that London’s pre-school children do not appear be faring better when compared with rest of England. In terms of early years development, London’s 5 year olds appear to score slightly lower than the national average . The gap opens up between pupils in London and the rest of the country by the time children reach age 11. This suggests that the improvements can be attributed to schools rather than inherent intelligence or other family advantages.

A lot of our research in the London Poverty Profile often shows that London fares worse than other parts of the country. It has high poverty rates, high levels of homelessness and higher than average levels of unemployment. What is clear is that amidst all of this, state education in London is a definite success story.

See more of  the indicators and analysis at

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