The London Challenge

The London Leadership Strategy (LLS) was born out of the London Challenge. The London Challenge was established by the then Education Secretary Estelle Morris in 2002 as a way of improving London schools, which at that time were lagging behind those in the rest of the country. It was officially launched in April 2003, with the aim of providing ‘school-to-school’ support through Consultant Heads (the model LLS continues to follow to this day). 

Between 2003 and 2011 the London Challenge played a leading role in turning around the performance of London schools, originally working only with secondary schools before expanding to working with primary schools for the final four years of the project. When the London Challenge started out London was the lowest performing region in the country for schools – by the time it ended, it was the highest performing region. 


  •  London secondary schools are struggling with a range of challenges and 43 schools are in Special Measures.


  • LLS is commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (later replaced by the Department for Education – DfE) and delivered through the National College for School Leadership (NCSL – since renamed the National College for Teaching and Leadership). Six leaders from successful schools, known as Local Leaders of Education (LLEs) begin work with four secondary schools to help them improve.

  • LLS begins to expand and introduces its Teaching and Learning programme to help improve the standard of teaching and learning in London schools.


  • LLS launches its Outstanding Teacher programme, and pilots its Teaching Schools programme in one school (Ravens Wood), to showcase excellent teaching and learning practice.

  • The number of LLEs working for LLS rises to 16 – eight from secondaries and eight from Public Referral Units (PRUs) and special schools.


  • LLS launches its Intensive School Initiative to support the most challenged schools, which turns around a failing school in nine months.


  • LLS pilots its Primary programme to support 30 London primary schools.

  • LLS has 27 secondary school LLEs, 20 primary school LLEs, and eight PRU and special school LLEs, supporting more than 50 London schools.

  • Based on the success of the Intensive School Initiative, the NCSL identifies 68 National Leaders of Education (NLEs) – Headteachers of successful countrywide schools who work nationally with schools in challenging circumstances to help them improve.


  • LLS launches its Moving to New Headship, Good to Great and Beyond Outstanding programmes (to help increase the number of Outstanding schools in London). Other programmes in LLS’s expanding portfolio include: Improving Teacher, Students Leading Learning, Behaviour Immersion, Teaching School Immersion, Outstanding Facilitation and Project Management.

  • LLS has 50 secondary school LLEs, 24 primary LLEs and eight PRU and special school LLEs supporting more than 250 London schools.


  • LLS launches its support initiative for primary schools that is designed to impact on 180 primaries. The initiative involves more than 70 LLEs and NLEs.


  • LLS launches the Gaining Ground, Inclusion Support and Sixth Form (VIP) programmes.

  • Going for Great, a new programme launched out of the Good to Great programme, is launched with a pilot.


  • 58% of London pupils achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths compared to 53.4% nationally. London is the highest performing region for the sixth year running.

  • After the summer examinations in 2010, only four London secondary schools (about 1%) now remain below the floor target, with primary schools partnered with London Challenge also improving rapidly.

  • Ofsted declares London has a higher proportion of Good and Outstanding schools than any other area in the UK.

  • Going for Great, edited by Rachel Macfarlane and David Woods, is published. The book collates the experiences of the Going for Great pilot cohort.  

  • The Going for Great programme is rolled out in full, with the six pilot schools being joined by 18 new ones. 


  • LLS presents its plans to the DfE for working beyond London.

  • LLS launches its Better Behaviour programme.

  • Glimpses of Greatness, the second book from Going for Great graduates, is published. 


  • LLS is now a fully independent not-for-profit organisation and registers as a Limited company on 20th March.

  • LLS launches its Successful Teaching and Learning programme for primary schools and the Securing Good programme for secondary schools.

  • The first edition of ‘The 9 Pillars of Greatness’ pamphlet is published, setting out the nine elements that make a great school.

  • Growing Greatness, gathering the experiences of the 2011-12 Going for Great cohort, is published. 


  • The A-Z of School Improvement, written by David Woods and Tim Brighouse, is published.  
  • LLS starts working with schools in Norfolk and Somerset.
  • Generating Greatness, the fourth book from Going for Great graduates, is published.


  • Gathering Greatness, the fifth book from Going for Great graduates, is published. 


  • LLS establishes its peer-to-peer SEND Leaders programme.
  • LLS starts operating in South Gloucester.
  • A Going for Great primary pilot is launched.
  • Two books written by David Woods are published: The Story of London Challenge (written with Tim Brighouse) and 101 Quotable Quotes and more on Leadership
  • Unleashing Greatness, gathering the experiences of the 2014-15 Going for Great cohort, is published.


  • The Aspiring Heads and MAT Leaders programmes are launched.
  • The Second Edition of ‘The 9 Pillars of Greatness’ is published (see link below).
  • LLS produces The SEND Review Guide, to be used by schools across the country.
  • LLS is awarded the SEND School Workforce contract by the DfE, creating the Whole School SEND Consortium.
  • 28 schools join the fourth cohort of Going for Great, the largest yet.

Download the 9 Pillars of Greatness (Second Edition) Pamphlet

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