Status anxiety

Immigration, not money, will improve Scotland's most deprived schools

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wants to improve Scotland’s education system by pouring money into it. It’s the wrong approach

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

14 February 2015

9:00 AM

I suppose we should be thankful that Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged there’s a problem with Scotland’s public education system, even if she’s hit upon the wrong solution. Earlier this week, the First Minister announced that the Scottish -government would be trying out its version of ‘the London challenge’, a programme carried out by the last government, to address the chronic underachievement of Scotland’s most deprived children.

In the past, the SNP has deflected criticisms of its education record by pointing out that Scottish 15-year-olds did marginally better than their English counterparts in the 2012 Pisa tests. But the difference between the two groups is minuscule and both have declined dramatically since Pisa first started testing in 2000. More recently, the Scottish government has been embarrassed by the error-strewn roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence. The Highers linked to the new curriculum were supposed to be introduced last year, but half of Scotland’s local authorities still haven’t managed it.

It’s not surprising that Sturgeon has alighted on ‘the London challenge’ as the model for improving Scotland’s schools, since it involves giving local authorities more money, rather than schools more autonomy. As a general rule, increasing expenditure on education is an ineffective way of boosting attainment, as the last government discovered. Spending per pupil more than doubled in real terms under Labour, but Britain’s schoolchildren continued their steady decline in the international league tables. Indeed, Andreas Schleicher, the man in charge of the Pisa tests, recently identified ‘It’s all about money’ as one of the ‘myths’ about high-performing schools. He pointed out that students in the Slovak Republic perform at about the same level as students in America, even though America spends more than twice as much per pupil.

But is ‘the London challenge’ an exception? Until recently, most people thought so, and on the left it became Exhibit A in the case for not reducing the role of bureaucrats in England’s public education system. Introduced in 2003 by Estelle Morris, it placed huge budgets in the hands of national and local officials, who spent them on ‘training programmes’ for ‘school leaders’, i.e. residential courses for London-based teachers who agreed to be lectured by Marxist professors in return for free food and wine.

Ten years later, Chris Cook wrote an article in the FT in which he marvelled at what he called ‘the London effect’. Cook drew attention to the fact that London had gone from being one of the poorest-performing regions in England to one of the best. Children living in London’s most deprived neighbourhoods could now expect to do better than the average pupil living outside the capital. Even though ‘the London challenge’ was shelved in 2010, most of the experts quoted in Cook’s article claimed it was the cause of this dramatic improvement.

It didn’t take long for the myth to be debunked. Last October, the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University published a research paper by Simon Burgess arguing that the higher progress made by pupils in London’s schools compared with the rest of England could be entirely accounted for by immigration. ‘Ethnic minority pupils have greater ambition, aspiration, and work harder in school,’ wrote Burgess. ‘London has more of these pupils and so has a higher average GCSE score than the rest of the country.’

To test this, Burgess compared the progress of white British pupils in London’s schools with the same demographic group in the rest of the country. If the various ‘interventions’ put in place by Estelle Morris’s crack team of bureaucrats were responsible for ‘the London effect’, you’d expect to see all pupils in London’s schools outperforming their counterparts in the provinces. In fact, white British pupils fare just as badly in London as they do elsewhere. Once you control for the ethnic composition of London’s schools, the ‘London effect’ vanishes altogether. Put simply, the reason poor children in London are likely to get better GCSEs than children in the rest of England is that they’re less likely to be white.

I can confidently predict that Sturgeon’s plan to pour more money into Scotland’s local education authorities — no doubt funded by the English taxpayer — will have zero impact on the attainment of Scotland’s poorest pupils. If she wants to see Scotland climb the international school league tables, she’d be better off encouraging more Indians, Chinese and Africans to settle in Glasgow. Unfortunately, with the collapse of global oil prices, she’s unlikely to have much luck.

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  • mikewaller

    I think this piece fascinating but the question of why poor white boys in particular tend to do so badly needs further exploration. What proportion is nurture in that their parents lack the ability and/or interest to ensure that they make the most of their educational opportunities; and what is down to “nature”?

    A related topic is how much good grammar schools did in enabling the brightest of the poor to enhance their opportunities. I was greatly impressed when Andrew Neil pointed out that at about the time the grammar school pipeline should have been expected to deliver PMs we got Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher and Major and at the point when their large-scale closure would have been expected to take effect, we were back to public schoolboys. However, a left-wing pal of mine assures me that that is mere chance and the statistics suggest that the social mobility contribution of grammar schools was negligible. Does anybody out there know more?

    • rtj1211

      The reality is that grammar schools address the 5 – 10% of the working class who are bright enough to get in. They don’t do anything for the 90% who aren’t. Statistics will not be very different overall between systems if the majority do badly in both systems. For those that bad the chance, mobility chances were good.

      This country has only ever been interested in the top 10 % – it’s why there has always been an elite and a long tail. Now, it’s getting to the point where only the top 1% are relevant, the middle class is being hollowed out and absolute poverty is re-emerging.

      The only way to change societal standards is to find step change education processes not just for grammar-school-style children, but for all of them. The reality is that liberal arts education won’t work for the majority. That shouldn’t mean that other mechanisms won’t be equally beneficial for that majority…….

      • Jody Taylor

        And the unpalatable reality about all this is that even if you educated EVERYBODY to the same high level there would still not be enough jobs to go around. Who would then do the menial tasks? Everybody would consider themselves too educated for a vast number of jobs out there. Creating a solution for one problem finds more problems!

        • MacGuffin

          What on earth is a ‘department store’ and what work takes place therein? Has it got something to do with Amazon? Do tell.

          • Jody Taylor

            I’m speaking about being educated way beyond the remit of what is currently available as occupations/jobs/careers. Somebody has to sell stuff at department stores or Amazon; you don’t need a degree for that. What will happen is a demographic of disconsolate, aggrieved, unemployed over-educated people. Be careful what you wish for.

      • mikewaller

        Does this not beg the question of whether even if every child in this country were educated – under whatever system – to achieve their maximum potential would there be anything like enough jobs to go round? The late Simon Hoggart fronted a wonderful series about globalisation around the time of the 1997 election. During the course of it a very insightful America made the following comment: “In a globalised economy if you are Mr Beckham you can write your own cheque, but if you are a coolie you are only going to get coolie wages”. Perhaps even that was overly optimistic. It seems to me that the most everybody, except those with a near unique skill, can look forward to in future is joining the massively over subscribed global jobs queue.

  • marklu

    Not many takers on this one Toby, I think the target audience would be far more excited by stories of evil marxist OFSTED martyring Christian Free Schools because they don’t teach Lesbianism. But such nonsense would be a step too far even for you

    Still you gave it a good go with your dog whistle image of trendy teachers quaffing wine whilst listening to commie professors. But apart from trying to pander to bigots the only thing this post succeeds in doing is suggest that Intake matters. More than any government wheeze be it London Challenge, Academies or whatever, intake matters

    Now your chum Gove was just the latest in a long line of EdSECs (Blunkett and Balls spring to mind from the other lot) who cried “No excuses!” or “No room for complacency” at people who tried to point this out.

    So by pretending that it is a Marxist Bureaucrat v Freedom and Autonomy issue is just wilfully ignoring the elephant in the room like most politicians and right leaning journos do.

    Except of course you are never going to give up the autonomy line are you? Because autonomy means allowing certain schools to gerrymander their intakes. Like having preference for an unspecified number of Founders and fixing your feeder schools and taking less FSM kids than the local community has.

    Now admitting that to the target audience would not do so instead you come up with this marxist professors guff.

    What do you think bigots in your target audience , the ones who made nasty comments about Sentamu in your last Govine puff piece, would make of the idea that a multicultural intake is beneficial to outcomes?

  • Lemniscate

    Surely this is because they are less likely to be white British, not white in general. The high scores of immigrants in London are probably boosted by many highly skilled white European and Anglosphere immigrants, as well as Chinese, Indians etc. Contrast this with immigration into the less economically attractive parts of Britain: are Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants in the midlands and north west boosting achievement there? Do you think the same immigrants that are attracted to London would be attracted to Scotland? Remember that not all immigration is equal.

  • DaHitman

    How deluded

  • Aporia

    An influx of hard-working students would not help those native students who are underperforming, and it’s hardly any consolation to their parents to say “Well, our averages are improving – just look at how well all these new students are doing”.

    Having said that, it’s a shame that we hear so little of successful immigrant groups like the Chinese and Indians. I suppose immigrant success is difficult to square with the left-wing narrative of ‘institutional discrimination’ and ‘victimisation’. If all inequality of outcome can be explained in those terms, are whites now being discriminated against?

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      You’re hearing even less about the much improved performance of children from groups previously seen as unsuccessful- black Africans and Carribeans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.

      Even by Spectator standards, it’s quite a U-turn for one of its writers to find that these Londonistan ethnics are actually good after all. Hence this strange idea that London’s got all these upwardly mobile Chinese in it.

      • Jody Taylor

        I would think migrant groups would be the most motivated of all, and that’s a good thing. I foresee future problems with first generation Brits from muslim immigrants who want to rebel against their parents’ repression and who want to live as the west does. Conflict aplenty waiting here, on top of the social conflict already emerging.

        • Tubby_Isaacs

          The funny thing is that there’s a divide between London and other places on Muslim performance too.
          I don’t know how disaffected eg the ones in Tower Hamlets are, but they’re doing well at school.

  • zorbathejock

    Why would it be funded by English taxpayers when Scotland puts in more per head than England?

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      Not at the moment, it isn’t.
      Though that was certainly true for most of the recent past.

  • misomiso

    Education is the one policy area where the Right can outflank the Left. There is still a huge gap in the middle that they can go for as the Left will always choose the interests of Unions over the interests of pupils.

    But it requires courage, and in the end it needs full voucherisaiton to give parents choice.

    The next Tory leader would be wise to consider making education the center of the camapaign, and triangulate between themselves, the Hard Left and the reformers.

  • Patrick Roy

    Extending HS2 into Scotland is clearly the answer.

  • colchar

    So the solution is to increase immigration thus placing more strain on schools? Right……..

    • GraveDave

      Has somebody asked the Scots what they think? Because nobody asked the English. And Scotland is far smaller.

      • Tubby_Isaacs

        The pro-independence side were pretty clear in Scotland needing more immigration because of its ageing population.

        Don’t know what effect that had on the result.

        • alabenn

          It probably had a major effect as the areas with low ethnic populations all went against/

      • Jody Taylor

        If you ask people a question, the answer to which you do not want to hear, why would you ask the question?

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      There’s not much strain on schools in Scotland. Or there wouldn’t be if the SNP hadn’t forced councils (which they hate and want to nationalize) to freeze their council tax.

      And strain on schools is a far less serious problem than an aging population, like Italy has. One of the things which probably helped the NO side win the referendum was that Scotland, as it stands, has an aging population.

      Not that having a younger population, with lots of immigrants, in itself guarantees you good school results. As Toby knows really.

  • marklu

    Hey Tobes, this autonomy thing. Does it extend to not having to follow financial regulations concerning management accounts and bank reconciliations with tax payers’ money? It’s just that there seems to be school that thinks it does.

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      I wonder too if the logic of this piece means we don’t need academies or free schools.

      • marklu

        As I said in a post that got blocked out from here earlier the key message is that Intake is the elephant in the room that successive EDSECs and their journo friends have ignored calling people who alluded to it “complacent” or “Enemies of Promise”.

        Of course Toby knows that is not true. That is why he works so hard to gerrymander the intake of his own school. Can’t admit it to is target audience of course, hence the “Marxist Professors” bilge

        • Tubby_Isaacs


          Have you seen this in Gillingham and Rainham? A school resisting enforced academisation, with very good SATs and a bad Ofsted.

          Funnily enough, none of the usual suspects have taken this as evidence of Ofsted being dodgy.

        • Tubby_Isaacs

          See also the Sheriff.

  • GraveDave

    Indians, Chinese, Afr – uh?

    ‘Put simply, the reason poor children in London are likely to get better GCSEs than children in the rest of England is that they’re less likely to be white.’

    Couldn’t also be because of erm – ‘low expectations’ ? Or what your wonder boy Michael calls ‘soft bigotry’ ? Of course not. That excuse only works if you’re a poor black. Seems to me the Tory Party were a far better party when they wee in opposition.

    Monday 2nd March, 2009

    Welcome to ‘Letters

    Dear Hazel Blears,

    Seeing as you are the only Labour cabinet member speaking openly about
    the threat of the BNP, I thought I would give you a short lesson this morning
    in one of the main reasons why the BNP are becoming a more formidable
    foe. At the end of last year, you caused a stir by saying that white
    working-class voters were turning to the BNP because they felt ignored by
    mainstream parties, in addition to accusing the BNP of playing on people’s
    apprehensions and peddling “pernicious but plausible lies”. You see
    Hazel, the funny thing is that while the BNP might exaggerate and distort
    whatever they can, it is Labour who have given them all the material they
    could ever ask for – and your racist education policies are the perfect

    Today Sir Mike Tomlinson, former head of Ofsted, revealed that rapid
    progress was being made by children from Chinese, Bengali and Indian
    backgrounds, while white working-class boys were struggling because
    immigrant families place more value on education. As a result, poor
    white children have low expectations of what they can achieve, leading to lack
    of effort and low results and more immigrant children are applying to
    university and entering professions such as medicine, veterinary science, law
    and accountancy. Sir Mike believes that if parents could not support
    their children, schools had to raise their expectations. The figures are
    very worrying. Only 15% of 16-year-old white boys who qualify for free
    school meals – an indicator of deprivation – leave schools with five GCSEs at
    grades A* to C, including maths and English, compared with 22% for black
    boys and 29% for children from Asian backgrounds. In a report last
    year, researchers from Manchester University identified a cycle of
    underachievement in white working-class families which was endemic in some
    areas and they challenged teachers to abandon the mindset that poor white
    children were doomed to failure. While improving aspirations would
    undoubtedly help all children, your attack on the BNP looks pretty ridiculous
    when one realizes that Labour are perfectly content to punish the white
    working class on the basis that their skin is white – and I can prove it.

    A large portion of a school’s funding comes from what is known as a
    ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’ from the DCSF, which goes to local authorities and is
    then distributed to schools as they see fit. Although this might not
    sound controversial, the differences between what local authorities receive is
    largely due to differences in ‘Additional Educational Needs’ (AEN) within their
    authority, which is where it gets very controversial because AEN is based
    on the number of children speaking English as an additional language. So
    immediately, before a single child has been taught, you hand over extra
    millions to local authorities just because they have fewer children with
    white skin. Furthermore, local authorities decide how they split up their
    funding between schools – meaning that they are perfectly entitled to
    exacerbate this diversion of funds away from white children. In addition
    to the Dedicated Schools Grant, there is the ‘Schools Standards Grant’ and the
    ‘Standards Fund’. The former is worth about £1.2 billion and is paid
    directly to schools while the latter is the perfect vehicle for Labour to
    punish the white working class.

    Unknown to almost every voter, the ‘Standards Fund’ contains a huge
    sum of money that is given to local authorities through
    the ’Ethnic Minority Achievement’ grant. Notice that
    it is not called the ‘Underachievement’ grant or the ‘Supporting weaker pupils
    ‘grant – it’s labeled the ‘Ethnic Minority Achievement’ grant because not a
    single British child with white skin gets a penny from it. This grant
    is ring-fenced so that every local authority is forced to
    use it on non-white children, even if they have very high percentages
    of white children in their schools. It is used to cover some of the
    costs of “meeting the specific needs of bilingual learners and underachieving
    pupils” from ethnic minorities instead of supporting any underperforming
    child in English (which is the national language in this country, last time I
    checked) regardless of their skin colour. We’re not talking about small sums
    of money here either – in September 2008, the Ethnic Minority
    Achievement grant was £185 million and it will rise to £194 million in
    September 2009 and to £204 million in 2010. To give that a little
    context, if this money was used every year to support underachieving pupils
    from any background with any skin colour it could pay for 10,000
    new teachers, 12,900 new teaching assistants, 14,000 new support staff, six
    brand new state-of-the-art secondary schools, 16.2 million new text books,
    130,000,000 school meals or just over 1 billion new exercise books. But
    no. Sure, extra staff will be employed and more resources will be bought,
    but only for children who have the correct skin colour.

    It’s racism – pure and simple. Giving preferential treatment to people
    on the basis of their skin colour is an appalling practice. The fact that you
    are instilling racist principles in school children is even more grotesque.
    Labour seem to bang on about discrimination all the time, but you obviously
    only care about it when it fits with your electoral strategy. You have ignored
    the white working class for years and years and years and now you are surprised
    when they ignore you. You blame the BNP for their tactics, yet you throw more
    fuel on the immigration fire than any political party in this country. Time to
    face facts, Hazel – as long as you give preferential treatment to immigrants,
    the voters will punish you and rightly so.

    Yours sincerely,


  • Tubby_Isaacs

    Jeez. Get over Chris Cook. I know he exposed Gove’s Mrs Blurt, but let it go.

    I see one very obvious thing missing from this analysis- a comparison with ethnic minority pupils outside London. If improvement just happens with the presence of ethnic minorities, and all these Marxist professors were wasting their time, then Birmingham, Bradford etc must be charging ahead. They’re not, are they?

    And god knows how someone who gets paid to write about politics can believe that the SNP are lavish spenders on local government. They hate it. They’ve been trying to nationalize its finances since 2007, when they were intending to impose £450m of cuts on it- they were blocked by the Tories, among others, to their credit.

    The SNP are now running the same enforced council tax freeze that Pickles is running in England.

  • Tubby_Isaacs

    “It sounds somehow uninspiring and disappointing that the London attainment premium is largely accounted for by demographic composition rather than wholly caused by some innovative policy. I disagree. It can be seen as a story of aspiration and ambition.”

    That’s from Simon Burgess. He doesn’t say “entirely”, does he?

    Still getting references sent you by the DfE? At least report them accurately.

  • pp22pp

    Let’s celebrate our own destruction, the destruction of a race that has contributed more to science that any other except Germans and Jews. GCSE’s are a joke.

    • alabenn

      What more have the Germans done.
      Most of their motor engineering advances these days are cloned from British and US research,

  • Cymrugel

    So the solution is to remove the locals and replace them with aspirant immigrants?

    Really those smelly white proles – maybe we could set up a reservation on one of rather less attractive islands and encourage them to breed less.

    The newcomers make much better servants too don’t they?

    Know their place etc.

    Amazing that a grown man can write this pish – and get it published to boot.

  • Chingford Man

    Clickbait alert.

  • Mode4

    Replace the Scottish kids with foreign children to improve their academic achievement. It sounds like something out of the North London luvvies think-tank. Perhaps Toby could gain employment there.

  • FedUpIndian

    So what is supposed to happen to working-class white kids? Extermination in camps? I have to say I find the total lack of empathy among white elites for their own people chilling. In India, we fight all the time but I cannot imagine anyone writing an article like this that seems to call for population replacement. Either that or I did not understand WTF the author was trying to say.

  • Picquet

    Rarely have I seen such a twisting of ’cause’ and ‘effect’ as this. I suppose that statistics can be made to support any thesis, though.