Bucking the trend: the state school where disadvantaged pupils continue to defy the odds despite COVID-19

Staff and students at the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford are thrilled this year with another exceptional set of A level results.

Operational Headteacher, Ben Webster said, “After the uncertainty and disruption of the last two years it has been fantastic to see our students get the grades they worked hard for and thoroughly deserve. While the performance tables are not operating this year, we are proud that our grades are in line with previous years and reflect our usual year-on-year improvement in results”.

During the two national lockdown periods, students at LAE had a full timetable of live remote lessons. In all, teachers delivered over 450 hours of innovative and engaging remote lessons per student during the lockdowns. The remote provision could not have worked without a fantastic IT department and the support of donors such as AKO, Excel and Lockton who contributed generously to a Covid-fund for laptops and Wi-Fi for LAE’s disadvantaged students, meaning that no student was left behind during periods of remote learning. LAE is in the East London ‘Covid Triangle’ and many members of the school community became ill, had periods of self-isolation and suffered bereavements. About a third of students are in receipt of Free School Meals. Supported by a dedicated and caring pastoral team, students and staff could access counselling and pastoral support with the help of the same Covid-fund.

Claudia Harrison, Deputy Head, Academic said “as soon as we knew that exams were cancelled, our priority was to complete A level content despite the lockdown, so that our young people left LAE equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to progress onto demanding degree courses. We continued with rigorous assessments and can be confident that today’s results reflect the true ability of our students. As has been the case across the country, our teachers have stepped up to set and mark A level assessments and ensure a robust and fair process. We are lucky to have A level examiners in every department and could cross-check our policy, papers and mark schemes with colleagues at LAE Tottenham and our partner schools (Brighton College, Caterham School, Eton College, Forest School, Highgate School and UCS).”

As a result of their outstanding grades, LAE students will be starting on their transformational university journey this September, with over 170 progressing to Russell Group universities including 25 to Oxford or Cambridge and over 60 students to medical school. The majority are in the first generation of their family to go to university.

  • Over 170 students into Russell Group universities
  • 1/3 of the cohort on FSM
  • Over 60 students into medical school
  • More than 10% of the cohort into Oxford or Cambridge, nearly half of which are on FSM, 96% BAME background and 2 of whom are Looked After Children
  • More than 125 students taking up place at Oxford or Cambridge in the last 8 years 

Case study 1: Asif

Asif came to the UK in 2016, aged 14, as an asylum seeker from Afghanistan with almost no English. Having started his educational journey in year 9, he sat his first GCSE in year 10 and started at LAE in 2019. At LAE’s sixth form, Asif’s confidence, ability and drive have blossomed. He has quickly overcome any ongoing language barriers; was appointed as one of LAE’s Economics scholars; and is a panellist for the Department of Education’s independent review of children’s social care. Academically he has thrived, and his determination and hard work has earned him A*A*A in History, Economics and Maths. He has a place at Oxford to study History and Economics and has been awarded their Somerville College Sanctuary Scholarship.

Asif has achieved all this whilst in semi-independent accommodation on a small, fixed income provided through Universal Credit. Given that it is estimated that only 13% of care leavers and 1% of people seeking sanctuary progress to university at all, his academic successes to date and his future at Oxford is truly remarkable. Asif said: ‘As someone who started education just four years ago as a refugee, passing exams seemed a distant dream, and now I have a place at Oxford. This wouldn’t have been possible without my teachers’ tremendous support and encouragement throughout the process, for which I’m incredibly grateful.’

Case Study 2: Imaan

Imaan’s time at LAE was severely impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, having lost several members of her family to the virus at home and abroad. LAE is situated in the London Borough of Newham, which was the worst-hit London borough in terms of the proportion of total deaths due to Covid during the last year of the pandemic - at almost 32%.

Nonetheless, Imaan said of her time at LAE: ‘Despite the unprecedented uncertainty that has come with this pandemic, I have felt minimal disruption to my ambition and preparation in seeking a place at top universities. I largely attribute this motivation and confidence to the staff’s ability to adapt holistically to deliver academic and emotional support. We had regular Oxford/Cambridge sessions, super-curricular activities and interviews, virtually. In days of especially high anxiety, I knew that LAE would support me whatever my outcome, whatever my destination.’

Imaan leaves LAE with A*A*A* in English, Geography and Maths as well as an A* for her Extended Project Qualification. She will be studying Geography at Cambridge from September.

Case Study 3: Raphael

Raphael was born and raised in Newham, attending St Bonaventure’s Catholic School in Forest Gate before joining LAE in Stratford for sixth form. His brother, Patrick, also attended LAE and graduated last year.

Raphael said: ‘I chose to come to LAE because I expected to be held to a high academic standard. This expectation was met, even through the pandemic. Teachers continued teaching lessons remotely rather than setting independent work. After lockdown they would set up online calls for students who couldn’t attend school so they could attend lessons virtually - which as someone who had to isolate after catching Covid, I found very helpful!’

The brothers are set to head off to university at the same time this September: Patrick to study Medicine at St George’s and Raphael to study Physics at Warwick. Together they are the first in their family to go to university.

London Academy of Excellence, Stratford (LAE) is an academically focused and high-achieving sixth form in Stratford, East London, located next to Stratford station and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

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