IRRESPECTIVE of the configuration of GCSE league tables, the outcome remains a depressingly familiar one here in Yorkshire – Barnsley, Hull, and Bradford are amongst the 10 worst-performing LEAs in the country again, with one in five of the weakest schools also to be found in these parts.
And while, regrettably, these failures overshadow excellent results attained by those pupils, schools and councils across the region who exceeded expectations, this Government’s education policy will inevitably be judged on its ability to raise standards across the board.
Limited progress is being made and this must be recognised. There are now fewer failing schools in Yorkshire compared with previous years and Barnsley Academy is the sixth most- improved school in the country, a result that gives credence to Michael Gove’s attempt to free failing schools from LEA control.
However, success will not be achieved by changing the structure of schooling or the curriculum; it still depends on the quality of teaching; schools offering a broad syllabus that stretches pupils of all abilities; and measures to help youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to reach their potential.
This is reinforced by the advent of a pupil premium and new indicators, in the league tables, to identify the results of children from poorer backgrounds – Mr Gove recognises, and rightly so, that a sound education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in those towns and cities which are perpetually at the wrong end of national performance indicators.
That said, it can be argued that too much emphasis is placed on GCSE results at the expense of other tests. What makes or breaks a year group is the behaviour and academic prowess of a year group, and whether youngsters have completed their primary education with a sound grasp of numeracy and literacy skills. If they have not done so, there is less likelihood of them making the grade at secondary level, even with the most inspirational teachers.
Yet, while many will welcome Mr Gove’s move to make exams more robust, the reality is that primary schools hold the key to his ability to raise standards, particularly at those LEAs where failure has been tolerated for far too long.