Raising the bar in schools

IT is important that the annual furore over exam results, and whether students have appropriate life skills, should not detract from the fact that schools across Yorkshire have made tangible improvements in recent years. They should be congratulated for this.

This is borne out by the welcome reduction in the number of 'failing' secondary schools in this region, even though the new Government has, correctly, raised the benchmark that is used to judge excellence. This upward trend must continue.

Even though the teaching unions resisted these changes, standards will not improve, and the concerns of industry assuaged, unless a premium is placed on English and maths. Schools cannot, and must not, be labelled as successful if they pay lip service to these core subjects, and others.

It is also helpful, at this time of transition, that the Government does not intend to brandish as 'failing' those schools that are making significant improvements – many are starting from such a "low base" that it will, unfortunately, take years before they can be expected to meet this new benchmark.

This standard also needs placing in wider perspective. The Government is still asking just over one in three pupils at every secondary schools to achieve five A* to C GCSE passes, including English and maths. Some would argue that this ambition is far too low, given the importance of a sound education to a child's future prospects. As such, it must be regularly reviewed to ensure GCSEs are sufficiently demanding.

In spite of the improvements that were borne out in yesterday's league tables, they did, nevertheless, tell a familiar story. It is still the same LEAs, such as York, East Riding and North Yorkshire, that continue to prosper while the results accrued in Barnsley, Bradford and Hull are, yet again, among the worst in the country.

It is a class and social divide that has dogged successive governments. This coalition will be no different. But, when the time comes to write a critique of this administration, its effectiveness should be determined by the extent to which attainment improves in those LEAs that have languished at the bottom of national league tables for year after year. And, unless this changes, there is little prospect of the Government's wider anti-poverty measures proving to be successful.