City Matters: London schools are on the up – but we must raise standards even further

Mark Boleat
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THIS week, teenagers across the country will receive their A-level results, and embark on the next stage of their academic and professional lives.

Young Londoners have more reason than most to look forward to this exciting period. Only a couple of decades ago, the capital’s schools were among the worst in the country. Since then, hard work and strategic reform has transformed them into the nation’s best state schools, with students from less privileged backgrounds closing the social divide and achieving higher grades than their non-London counterparts.

This tremendous success needs to be built upon, as Andrew Adonis outlined in his recent book on education reform. Education is key to a successful career, whether in the traditional City financial and professional services sectors, or in fast developing industries like digital and social media, clustered in Tech City. Indeed, some of today’s A-level cohort may go on to found the next Google – or to work in industries that don’t even exist today.

The success of any business is contingent on its people. So we must continue to raise standards across London’s schools, and provide links with City firms. The City of London Corporation is committed to supporting local communities across the three academies we sponsor in Hackney, Islington and Southwark – in addition to the schools we have here in the Square Mile. The City’s open spaces (in particular Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest), the Barbican Arts Centre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Museum of London all have extensive outreach programmes with London schools. And we are exploring what more we can do in this area.

Business partnerships with schools provide students with an understanding of the world of work that helps them acquire the skills, training and experiences necessary to succeed in the industry of their choice – and this choice will be broader and better informed because of these opportunities. Engagement from City firms raises aspirations, and benefits businesses – by enabling them to spot emerging talent and invest in the careers of future leaders.

Recently, the government released plans suggesting that academies could potentially be allowed to export their business model and operate overseas. The British education system is held up as the gold standard by parents around the world, and it is worth exploring whether academies can successfully add to this international offer – especially if they provide benefits for British students, such as opportunities for exchanges with partner schools and the chance to experience other cultures.

Recent years have witnessed dramatically improved performance from London’s schools, and increased opportunity across the board for students. But in order for the capital to rise to the test in future, we must sharpen our focus on driving educational standards up even further so that young Londoners of all backgrounds can fulfil their true potential.

Mark Boleat is policy chairman at the City of London Corporation.