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Key points

  • GCSE attainment in London was better than the average for England in 2013/14. 41% of pupils in Inner London and 38% in Outer London did not achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE level, compared with 47% across England as a whole.
  • GCSE attainment worsened in London and the rest of England in 2013/14, linked to a political emphasis on reducing grade inflation and reclassification of GCSE equivalent qualifications.
  • Pupils eligible for free school meals did better at GCSE in every London borough than their peers in the rest of England. In Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster they did better than pupils not eligible for free school meals outside London.
  • Since 2009/10 the gap in GCSE attainment between pupils eligible for free school meals and other pupils has narrowed in Outer London and the rest of England while it has slightly widened in Inner London. Nonetheless the gap is smallest in Inner London, followed by Outer London then the rest of England.
  • At 45%, Black pupils had the highest proportion not achieving the target GCSE standard in London, five percentage points higher than White pupils who were the next highest. London pupils did better across all ethnic groups than the rest of England.
  • Over the last decade Inner London has seen a substantial fall in the proportion of 19-year-olds lacking Level 3 qualifications, reaching 38% in 2014. In is now lower than the rest of England (at 44%) and has converged with Outer London (at 35%).
  • In 2014, in every London borough it was more common for a 19-year-old to have a Level 3 qualification than not to.
  • A higher proportion of pupils go on to higher education after leaving school in London than the rest of England; 55% from Inner London and 57% from Outer London compared with 48% across England.


For the most part, it appears that we are seeing a continuation of trends over the last decade, with London's educational outcomes improving faster than anywhere else. While there is variation in educational attainment within London, across all boroughs pupils are performing better than their counterparts in the rest of England. This has been achieved despite the higher proportion of pupils on free school meals. In London pupils from lower income families do better than in the rest of England and so do their peers not on free school meals. The overall picture in London is good and grade deflation has not affected this trend.

But recent progress in closing the free school meal attainment gap in London has been less impressive. Further progress depends on pupils from deprived backgrounds having the same access to educational opportunities as their peers and there are two reasons to be cautious about this.

The first is the emergence of free schools. A study by the Institute of Education found that while in the three years to 2013/14 free schools were often opening in deprived areas, they are not necessarily being attended by children from poor families. With a further 22 free schools due to open in Inner London and 54 more in Outer London from September 2015, it is important that they offer opportunities to pupils from all background across London.

The second reason concerns the opportunities of pupils when they leave school. In 2016/17 maintenance grants (which are worth up to £3,500 a year and are currently available to around half of students from the lowest income households) will be scrapped and replaced with maintenance loans. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that this will increase the graduate debt of affected individuals by around £12,500. London's school leavers have the advantage of living in a city with world class higher education institutions which they should be able to access without having to leave the family home. But these educational institutions have high tuition fees and the prospect of even greater debt may deter pupils from lower income backgrounds from going on to university and accessing these opportunities.