Something very strange is happening in London: its state schools are going through a huge renaissance - while attainment in many northern English schools is going into reverse. The chief of Ofsted, Sir Micahel Wilshaw, laid the problem bare in a speech to the IPPR today:-
Three in ten secondary schools in Manchester and four in ten in Liverpool require improvement or are inadequate compared to one in ten in inner London. The situation in some of their satellite towns is even worse. A third of the schools in Rochdale are not good enough, as is a similar proportion in Salford. In Oldham, six in ten secondaries require improvement or are inadequate and in Knowsley not a single secondary school is good or better…
His list goes on. Much will be written about what’s going wrong in the north, but I’d like to suggest something that their schools could perhaps do with more of: immigrants. Sir Michael dismisses this a little too quickly in his speech: yes, 37pc of Londoners are immigrants compared to 25pc of Mancunians. But the figures are more stark when it comes to children: just over half of all London primary school pupils have an immigrant mother, twice the proportion in the rest of the country. And national data shows that most ethnic minorities do better than whites: Chinese, Indian, Irish, Bangladeshi, Asian, African – all are likely to do better than White British. Here's a list of some outperformers, at the GCSE stage: attainment data 2013/14).
The over-performance of ethnic minorities is striking feature of education in the UK - and a good illustration of what Michael Howard referred to as the "British Dream". One recent study found that Black Africans underperform whites at primary school, but by the end of secondary school their attainment is about a third better. And yes, the Poles and East Africans may be wealthier than the average immigrant. But even Bangladeshis, one of the poorest ethnic groups in England, see their children's attainment rise to a par with the average White British - not the poor White British - by the age of 16.
Immigrants who bring up children in Britain - even in poverty - now know that their offspring will stand, if anything, a better chance at life than the natives. And as for the natives: having keen new kids in a classroom obviously raises the standards for others.
Much is written about immigration, and David Cameron’s failure to control it. But parents at schools attended by these bright newcomers will have reason to be grateful that the UK government hasn't controlled migration just yet.