Two people walking on a street Two people walking on a street

Sir Alasdair Macdonald, head teacher, Tower Hamlets, London

Sir Alasdair Macdonald

Challenges: to reduce the disparities in educational performance by socio-economic background and to close the performance gap in education between boys and girls at all levels

As head of Morpeth secondary school in Tower Hamlets, Sir Alasdair Macdonald has first-hand experience of reducing disparities in educational performance between boys and girls, rich and poor. Since he took over 18 years ago, the school has been transformed.

Morpeth now sends over 60 pupils to university each year, and the proportion of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A-C has risen from nine per cent in 1992 to 54 per cent today. This is despite the fact that two-thirds of its pupils qualify for free school meals, and 65 per cent do not speak English at home.

“Children from middle class families benefit from educational capital,” explains Sir Alasdair. “From the day they are born their parents have aspirations for them to go on to university. Their parents will read to them and take them on holidays, they will have books and newspapers at home.”

A large part of the strategy at Morpeth has been to try to reproduce this kind of experience for pupils. Over a hundred pupils have business mentors from city banks, insurance companies and accountancy firms. Pupils and their parents are taken to visit universities. The school provides extra lessons on Saturdays, evenings and in the holidays.

Special strategies are used to engage boys. These include developing top class sports teams. Sir Alasdair believes: “If you want to engage boys with learning then you need to give them a reason for them to want to be in school, and sport is one of those”

Those who are struggling with literacy are put on a booster programme, on which seven out of ten places are taken by boys.

The honours board in the school’s basement is testament to the success of Morpeth’s approach. It traditionally displayed the pictures of pupils who went to university, but it is now obsolete. “There’s not enough room – we’d need a huge board to fit all the names,” he explains.

Last updated: 12 Feb 2018