3: London, UK – The London Challenge

The London Challenge ran from 2003-2008 and aimed to break the link between deprivation and low educational standards. It initially ran in secondary schools, aiming to increase aspirations, improve teacher morale and teaching standards to improve exam results. From 2006 it expanded to include some primary schools. Central and local government and schools worked together to achieve the aims.

The programme was experimental and a wide range of new approaches were tried, including the appointment of Challenge advisors. These advisors were employed directly by the DfE and worked with schools to identify their weaknesses and develop and implement plans for improvement. The emphasis was on offering support to inspire existing teachers and to attract new staff to overcome London’s teacher shortage, rather than naming and shaming’ ‘failing’ schools.

There was also a strong emphasis on the use of data and collaboration between high performing and low performing schools. Schools were encouraged to compare themselves to each other and identify possible reasons for variations.

Other initiatives included improving/updating school equipment and the London Student Pledge, which aimed to ensure that all students experienced a wide range of extra-curricular activities.

When the programme began, the performance of London schools was below the UK average. By 2006 Ofsted reported that attainment had risen faster in London than anywhere else and that a higher percentage of schools were judged “good” or “better” for overall effectiveness than in other regions. The London Challenge was also identified as a model that could be effective in other locations where school performance was a concern.69

More recent research on London schools suggests that the improvements in London’s primary schools in the last 1990s and 2000s mostly explain the improvement in GCSE attainment in London.70 This may be related to the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies that were piloted in the capital, although more research is required to assess their importance. The research does find, however, that the London Challenge still has a positive effect after controlling for prior attainment and is likely to have helped sustain higher levels of achievement.


  • 69 Hutchings, M. et al (2012) Evaluation of the City Challenge programme, Department for Education
  • 70 Greaves, E., Macmillan, L. and Sibieta, L. (2014) Lessons from London schools for attainment gaps and social mobility, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission