Great expectations: Hackney and the art of saving a broken school system

Great expectations: Hackney and the art of saving a broken school system

September 28, 2015

Throughout the late 90s and early 00s, Hackney council’s schools had consistently low results. Children fled the schools in the borough when they got closer to transfer to secondary schools – in 2002, it was half of Hackney’s 11-year olds who chose to go to school in other boroughs. This group’s Key Stage 2 results (at the end of primary school) were the worst in England.

At this point the British government made a radical decision to improve the situation: they removed the responsibility for schools from Hackney council, created a not-for-profit trust, the sole aim of which was to be responsible for education and schools in Hackney for ten years.

The result was ‘a revolution in a decade’, as expressed by Estelle Morris, Secretary of State for Education and Skills in 2001-2002. By focusing on improving teaching, creating an atmosphere conducive to learning and by letting experienced school leaders manage schools, with high expectations on all students, The Learning Trust turned Hackney schools around completely. Today, Hackney’s results are above the average in England at all levels.

Hackney’s development has been covered extensively in English media and several reports have been written. The most important factors for the improvement in Hackney are considered to have been:

The Learning Trust focused only on education and was not distracted by anything else
The Trust was not led by politicians, and hence it was easier for them to make difficult decisions
Each school, or group of schools, was led by an experienced Headteacher
A communal goal for Hackney education was created – Trust and school staff who did not agree had to leave
High expectations for achievement on all students became the norm
A strict code of discipline that was conducive to learning was implemented
All children were given support – not only children with low results – which led to schools gaining trust with resourceful parents
Schools were given extensive support from the Trust to improve their teaching; administrative support was given so that schools could focus on teaching
Extensive analyses of results were used methodically to ensure that effective support was offered
Schools started co-operating more; leading to better results
Teachers were supported; measures were taken to improve their conditions

Although English politicians may not agree on how to achieve good teaching, there is general agreement that the teaching is a crucial factor – and outstanding teachers are key.

Today, London schools generally get better results than the English average. What is unique about Hackney’s journey is how quickly schools were turned around, the joint agreement that was created around the necessary measures and how they should be achieved, and the fact that schools improved for all students, irrespective of their starting point.


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