Spare a thought for the pupils who are destined only for failure
Politicians of all sides must share the blame for a system that leaves one in five without a job
Our borough used to have a bad name for education. Standards were indifferent, and such was the alleged emphasis on political correctness that one primary was reported to favour Baa Baa Green Sheep as a nursery class anthem to avoid any hint of racism. Pupils moving on to secondary school had hardly more chance than a sheep of any hue of getting a place at a top university.
Times have changed. At the end of our road stands a glittering academy, much sought after by politicians and lawyers who want their children to sit the International Baccalaureate. On Thursday its pupils, whose conduct is described by Ofsted as “good and often exemplary”, will be celebrating excellent GCSE results.
Across the country, top marks are likely to be down slightly, especially for science. The exam regulator is finally reacting to panic that, in inflationary terms, British exam grades are the educational equivalent of the Zimbabwean dollar. Even so, it would be surprising if my local school did not exceed the “floor standards” imposed by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Under that yardstick, soon to rise again, a minimum of 40 per cent of pupils must get five GCSEs at grades C or above, including maths and English.
The celebrations will be tinged with disquiet. Soaring tuition fees and doubts about university places and jobs for even the brightest pupils cast a shadow on the future. Despite these caveats, public attention will, as ever, be misplaced. We shall be focusing on success when we should be scrutinising failure.
I do not mean that we should undermine hard workers with good grades, or belittle the pursuit of excellence that rightly animates Mr Gove. Last week, Le Monde reported with chagrin that the Shanghai league table had placed nine UK universities in the best 100, making Britain second only to America, while France had only three top-ranking institutions.