YP Comment: GCSEs and test of exam policy

Pupils celebrate after receiving their GCSE results.
Pupils celebrate after receiving their GCSE results.
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IRRESPECTIVE OF statistical subtleties, the latest tranche of GCSE results is broadly in line with previous years – two thirds of pupils meeting the Government’s benchmark and one third of students failing to achieve the bare minimum.

Making comparisons is never an exact science – some age cohorts are more academic than others. There are other variables, like the quality of teaching and number of youngsters resitting English and maths exams. And this is before more fundamental changes to the curriculum – and marking of exams – which come into effect shortly. No wonder so many teachers despair of the constant upheavals.

Yet school standards and skills could not be more critical to Yorkshire’s future prosperity. For far too long, this region has propped up the Government’s academic attainment levels, and the state of flux over devolution must not detract from the need to ensure that every youngster receives the world class education to which they should be entitled. If more students are to make the most of the opportunities that should be created in these parts if the Government’s industrial strategy for the regions becomes a reality, even more rigour will somehow need to be applied.

However, while the increase in pupils studying computers, science and engineering is encouraging, it is equally disturbing that the decline in modern languages continues to gather pace. Why is this – and what can be done to reverse this trend? For, while it could be argued that languages like Spanish and Mandarin could now have as much relevance as more traditional courses in French and German, the linguistic skills of teenagers around the world continues to put this country to shame. Given his uncanny ability to reach out to younger people, perhaps this is one area where Boris Johnson, the multi-lingual Foreign Secretary, can exert some positive influence over education policy.

National interest

AS the newly-appointed Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill – the Scarborough and Whitby MP – has one of the most invidious jobs in the Government. He has been put in charge of the one policy which proved to be the Achilles heel of Theresa May when she was in charge of the Home Office, and which would have been exposed by her critics if the Tory leadership contest had run its full course.

Yet it is also an opportunity, at a time when net long-term migration to the UK remains close to record levels and more than three times the Government’s target, for Mr Goodwill to formulate a policy which operates in the national economic interest. It will not be easy – Mrs May has still to set out her definition of ‘Brexit’ – and the concessions that may or may not have to be made on EU freedom of movement laws in return for access to the single market.

Either way, the enforcement of border policies needs to operate alongside a robust assessment of the UK’s human resources to ensure that access is not denied to those people who can make a lasting difference to this country, whether it be entrepreneurs, world-class academics to work in this region’s universities or overseas nurses and doctors to ensure that the NHS can continue to function on a daily basis. Rather than pandering to the out of step xenophobes who would already have pulled up by the drawbridge, Ministers will need to be far more sure-footed – and pragmatic – in the months to come.

Sea of concerns

LIKE this country’s air ambulances and hospices the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – another of the unsung emergency services – fulfils an invaluable role and has come to be regarded as one of the UK’s most cherished charities. However it is still something of a surprise that its lifeboats and lifeguards, the very people responsible for protecting the public at seaside resorts, are so dependent on the benevolence of wellwishers.

Hasn’t the time come for the great work being done in these three fields to be underpinned by further Government funding? Many taxpayers would, in all probability, like to see far more money go to the lifeboats, air ambulances and hospices than some of the more obscure organisations which do qualify for charitable funding.

Following a tragic week in which so many lives have been lost off Britain’s coast, there are two pressing priorities ahead of one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year – families heed warnings about the perils of the sea and that the deployment of lifeguards, and others, is always determined by public safety needs rather than cost considerations.