August 21: Mediocrity is not the answer

0
Have your say

“GOOD – but must do better”. Those five words, emblematic of school reports from yesteryear, are equally applicable to the GCSE results accrued by Yorkshire teenagers this year. For, while the number of exams resulting in C grades or better has risen and is testament to the hard work of the students concerned, the harsh truth is that the county is again bottom of the class when it comes to the national league tables.

“GOOD – but must do better”. Those five words, emblematic of school reports from yesteryear, are equally applicable to the GCSE results accrued by Yorkshire teenagers this year. For, while the number of exams resulting in C grades or better has risen and is testament to the hard work of the students concerned, the harsh truth is that the county is again bottom of the class when it comes to the national league tables.

The statistics are stark. Pupils did not achieve Grade C – the bare minimum – in at least one third of the exams that were entered. There is every likelihood that the trend of previous years will be replicated and that half of 16-year-olds from this region will not have achieved the Government’s benchmark of five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

The issue’s importance cannot be overstated – these young people will be the backbone of the county’s economy for decades to come and these inadequate qualifications, despite schools continuing to receive record levels of investment, will make it harder for them to fulfil their potential so that they do not become a long-term drain on the welfare system. It is that fundamental, hence why the publication of this year’s results cannot pass without constructive commentary on the need to strive even harder for excellence – mediocrity is simply not acceptable.

Unfortunately, this has not been helped by the predictable political reaction in which the Tories hailed the results as a vindication of their reforms while Labour claimed that school results were now subject of a North-South divide, a slightly disingenuous response when it was the party which introduced the pioneering London Challenge.

Previously the capital’s results were amongst the worst in England, Scotland and Wales. Now they’re the best in the country thanks to a relentless focus on under-performing schools and pupils. As The Yorkshire Post argued in its pre-election manifesto, the challenge is replicating this turnaround in fortunes across this county. Though it would be remiss not to acknowledge the progress already made locally, a far more dynamic approach is required – tinkering at the margins will not suffice when the worst performing LEAs are invariably those blighted by high levels of social deprivation.

Two other factors also need to be taken into consideration. First, pupils of all academic abilities require inspirational teachers if they’re to excel – and this is as important as the continuing debate about the structure of schools after David Cameron proposed a dramatic acceleration of the academies programme in order to lessen the influence of town halls. Not only are many school staff weary of seemingly perpetual political inference, but a shortage of qualified teachers means important lessons, like GCSE maths, are being taken by individuals who did not even study the subject at A-level or beyond. That cannot be right.

Second, schools need to focus on skills which correlate with the needs of local businesses – it is counter-productive that so much potential talent is going to waste at present when leading manufacturers say there is a dearth of new recruits in those STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – which are the foundations of a strong and successful economy. Of course, change will take time, but this Government’s education policies will come to be regarded as a failure if Yorkshire is still propping up the national tables at the end of this Parliament. It’s that elementary.

Off its trolley...

Leeds and a decade of indecision

LEAVING aside the escalating costs of the public inquiry into the proposed Leeds Trolleybus scheme, and the fact that there is still no end date in sight after weeks, months and years of prevarication, the more pertinent question is why it takes so long for actual decisions to be taken in the West Yorkshire city.

As congestion on Leeds roads has become even more chronic, and rush-hour trains even more overcrowded, commuters have endured a decade of indecision – first the much-vaunted Supertram was axed and opinion is still divided about the merits of the Trolleybus scheme.

Contrast this with the decisive decisions taken in competitor cities like Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham which have not only embraced tram travel, but have actually got on and built state-of-the-art transport networks that have made a material difference to their economic prosperity. If they can do it, why is decision-making in Leeds stuck in the slow lane when it comes to the city’s future transport infrastructure? It is a question that does need to be answered, and sooner rather than later if at all possible, if the city is to make the most of the many opportunities now being afforded by the Northern Powerhouse.

Back to the top of the page