‘Let’s make teachers scholars again’ – the launch of the London Schools Excellence Fund

Jessica Bridgman

Last week, the London Schools Excellence Fund (LSEF) was launched at City Hall, so I braved my way through the bitter cold to travel south of the river to see one of the first seeds of the Mayor’s Education Enquiry come to fruition.

The LSEF holds £24m in funding from the Department for Education and the Greater London Authority and is open to schools, charities, and local authorities with projects that strive to spread excellence across London’s schools.

The LSEF was launched by Munira Mirza, Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture and Dr Tony Sewell, Chair of the Mayor’s Education Inquiry, both well-respected in the education sector; they spoke with passion about London’s schools achievements, and their amazement that funding was available for ‘excellence’ in London as, traditionally, funding was syphoned off to target areas of poor performance. The LSEF is looking for innovative ways to increase pupil attainment, and hopes to encourage an unprecedented ‘stretch and reach’ for excellence.

One of the core objectives of the LSEF is to refocus our teaching to a ‘knowledge led’ approach. By concentrating on the basic building blocks of knowledge, numeracy and literacy, and making sure these are well-established at an early age; the GLA believes this will result in high levels of attainment in other subject areas. Crucially, LSEF seeks to improve pupil attainment by supporting teachers in their subject area, be it numeracy and literacy at primary levels or STEM subjects in secondary levels. Providing teachers with an increased understanding of their subject areas will allow them to teach confidently at higher levels, going beyond the syllabus and encouraging their students to take pride in knowledge and strive to achieve higher grades.

Dr Sewell spoke specifically about wanting teachers to feel like scholars and not technicians caught up in the processes, this raised a few eyebrows in the crowd. Clearly there is a balance that has to be achieved between the content of teaching and the process of teaching.  Teachers that have huge levels of intellect, but struggle to convey their knowledge to students will not be very effective; likewise those that teach students how to pass the exam will not create the thirst for knowledge that we want for the future generation.

There may be some disagreement over content versus process, but what cannot be denied is how refreshing it is to see funding targeted at teachers to develop their knowledge as a way of achieving higher levels of pupil attainment. Funding specifically for excellence and supporting teachers in their subject areas may seem a relatively obvious plan for improvement, but these are cutting edge innovations and signal a shift in the approach to education across London. The dramatic turnaround of London schools over the past decade had made the rest of the country sit up and take notice of what is happening in the Big Smoke, and let’s hope any success with this latest scheme is emulated more widely.

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