Top London schools 'at risk because teachers can't afford to live in capital'

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London’s “world-class” schools are at risk because experienced teachers can no longer afford to live in the city, the head of a major education charity warned. 

The massive improvements made in London schools over the past 15 years could be undone because teachers are forced to move away when they start a family, Teach First founder Brett Wigdortz said.

He said local authorities are not taking the problem seriously enough and urged people to come up with “creative ideas” for keeping experienced teachers in London’s classrooms, such as paying teachers in shortage subjects more or building staff flats in schools.

Speaking to the Evening Standard before he steps down from Teach First this autumn, Mr Wigdortz said:  “We are beginning to see more experienced teachers beginning to leave London because of the cost of living. It is a warning that things could start moving backwards. We have got to take keyworker housing seriously.”

He added: “London definitely could go backwards. It is my big concern and something we should be very careful about.”

It comes as new data from Savills, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, show the number of people leaving London to find more affordable homes elsewhere has reached its highest level in five years.

Almost 300,000 people moved out of London in 2016, a rise of 14 per cent on the number who left in 2012.

Mr Wigdortz started Teach First, which parachutes high-flying graduates into struggling schools in low income areas, in London in 2002 – a time when he said many schools in the city were “violent and chaotic.”

Since then London schools have undergone a dramatic improvement and now outperform every other part of the country. London is now seen as one of the best places to be educated in the world, especially for those from poorer backgrounds. 

The turnaround has also been put down to the introduction of the London Challenge scheme, the academies programme and improved support from local authorities, as well as inspirational headteachers.

But Mr Wigdortz warned: “We need to make London a place for teachers to raise a family. In previous years most London schools could attract the talent they want because people want to come to London, but this year they have struggled to get the right talent. 

“London is still a hugely attractive place with fantastic schools. But when you have children, unless you have a spouse with a different job, it is very difficult to raise a family on a family on a teacher’s salary.”

He added: “The improvements in London are so profound that it would take a catastrophe to go back to those violent and chaotic levels.

“But we could get slippage and lack of further improvements. There are still a lot of improvements that need to happen in London. London is a world class education system but it doesn’t mean you can’t improve.”

Mr Wigdortz, who has been previously named as one of the Evening Standard’s most influential Londoners, will leave Teach First in the autumn. He plans to go on to “do something else disruptive and transformative that can really help people” in 2018, but he does not know what it is yet.

Russell Hobby will take over as the new chief executive. He is currently general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Mr Wigdortz said: “Teach First is not my baby anymore. It is an independent being that is neither mine nor Russell’s. It is a huge organic movement and that is how it should be.”

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