OPINION - The Standard View: London is home to some of the best schools in the country. But these gains are at risk of being squandered

 (David Simmonds)
(David Simmonds)

The school run (or walk, cycle and bus) is a part of daily life for families across London. Yet new analysis lays bare the full extent of the pupil exodus from the capital, with some schools facing a financial crisis as a consequence.

A study of school census figures by FFT Education Datalab reveals that 50,000 children left London’s schools last year, while fewer than 38,000 joined, contributing to a net loss of 12,000 pupils in a single year.

This sharp decline is precipitating a severe funding shortfall for schools, which lose income for each child that leaves. As reported in the Evening Standard, schools such as Archbishop Tenison’s Secondary School in Lambeth, Randal Cremer primary in Hackney and St Michael’s CE Primary in Camden are shutting due to falling student numbers, while others plan to merge.

There is no single cause of this phenomenon, but the main culprits are the cost-of-living crisis, a falling birth rate and Brexit. Housing costs in particular are forcing those on lower incomes out of the capital, especially inner and more expensive areas, while many families with young children left the UK following the EU referendum.

The travesty is compounded by the fact that London is an educational success story, home to some of the best schools in the country. But as a result of economic malaise and a government intent on effectively levelling down the capital, these gains are at risk of being lost. That would be a terrible waste of resources and talent.

Alarm bells over AI

When we think of artificial intelligence we may conjure up images of chatbots offering not always reliable advice. But from facial imaging to health screening, the technology is transforming our world, and is set to do far more.

This comes with huge potential benefits but also dangers, and the alarm bells are ringing louder, particularly from those on the inside. Geoffrey Hinton, often called the “Godfather of AI”, recently quit his role at Google, citing his need to speak freely about his significant concerns over the technology, and the regret that he felt over his part in developing the technology.

Another leading voice, Yoshua Bengio, admits he feels “lost” over his life’s work and warned the technology could pose a threat as great as nuclear conflict and pandemics.

In order to ensure humanity can safely harness the benefits of AI, the UK government must join others around the world to construct a legal framework with safeguards in place and ethical training, before the technology gets even further ahead of regulation.

Defying the strikes

A salute to the Londoners who battled their way into work today, in the face of yet another train strike to hit the capital. The unions ought to be wary of shooting themselves in the foot, as commuters either find new routes or simply work from home.