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Anything is possible at London Academy of Excellence

Richard Cairns, Brighton College Headmaster, reflects on the success of the London Academy of Excellence

Posted by Rianna Newman | August 30, 2017 | People, policy, politics

In August, 20 sixth-formers at the London Academy of Excellence (LAE) found out whether they had the grades to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Another 130 anxiously waited to see if they had made it into the Russell Group universities which made them offers in January.

They had all worked incredibly hard to get this far and it is moments like this when I feel more strongly than ever that the success of what is affectionately known as the Eton of the East End should be replicated across the country.

State school headteacher Joan Deslandes and I set up the LAE for 16–18-year-olds in the London borough of Newham back in 2011 because we felt that there was a huge wealth of untapped talent in East London. There was clearly a need in this area for the sort of education that independent schools like mine provide.

Uniquely, we had the backing of a set of top independent schools. Brighton College, Caterham School, Eton College, Forest School, Highgate and UCS all came on board. What’s more, the governing body includes UCS Head Mark Beard, Eton Head Simon Henderson, Warden at Forest School Marcus Cliff-Hodges, Caterham Headmaster Ceri Jones, Highgate Headmaster Adam Pettitt and former St Paul’s High Master Dr Martin Stephen alongside the Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, the Director of Admissions at Kings College London, Paul Teulon, and Sub-Warden at Keble College, Oxford, Dr Ian Archer.

The governors have a very clear and simple vision: outstanding A-level results and the best university guidance.

These schools also provide seconded teachers, mentor heads of department and support Oxbridge preparation. Along with the financial backing from HSBC to the tune of £500,000 which has provided the school with a heightened level of resources, they have enabled the LAE to ensure that teaching quality and university guidance are of the very highest order.

Richard Cairns helped set up LAE in 2011

Without the input from these independent schools LAE would not have had the right environment in which to flourish

A strong leadership team (many former independent school teachers) and inspirational staff have played a critical role, but without the input from these independent schools LAE would not have had the right environment in which to flourish. 

We have also emulated the independent school day. We are very clear that LAE is a school, not a college, with a full day starting at 8.20am and finishing at 4pm. There is a strong focus on extra-curricular with every sixth former doing games on a Tuesday afternoon, a club or society on a Wednesday afternoon and community service on a Friday afternoon. Lots of state schools, especially sixth forms, can’t afford to do this.

We also have a thriving house and tutor system, with all of our teachers also acting as tutors and this system provides brilliant academic and pastoral support. Again, most colleges do not have the resources and capacity to do this. Each LAE house is linked to a support school and that house’s pupils visit the associated school (and vice versa) to get to know peers there. They then keep in touch and swap study tips – and hopefully make friends.

As a consequence of all of the above, LAE has been hugely successful. When you visit, there is a buzzing, determined feel about the pupils, many of whom made it their business to find out about the school themselves (and not all teens do this!) because they knew its high standards would get the best from them.

What the 16–18-year-olds that have attended the school since it opened have achieved has delighted all those involved in it. And they have become advocates and role models for the school, showing young siblings, friends and their community that there is no reason why they can’t achieve the same as their independent school peers. 


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