Lessons from GCSE results

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Those teenagers who matched – or surpassed – their family’s expectations in this year’s GCSE results can now look to the future with optimism. A-levels are likely to follow in two years time followed by university.

Those young people, just over 30 per cent, who failed to gain the benchmark five passes at C grade or better face a challenging time – concerns still persist about the effectiveness of college education in Britain while the Government’s apprenticeship programmes are taking time to gain momentum.

Both of these issues need to be afforded greater political priority by Ministers rather than the now annual hand-wringing about whether GCSE exams are sufficiently robust or not, and also whether they prepare students adequately for successful careers as professionals who can then make a lasting contribution to the wider economy.

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s position is clear. He believes that this test – one of life’s “rites of passage” for all youngsters – became too easy as Labour sought record pass-marks each year and he will derive some satisfaction from the fact that the proportion of pupils achieving top grades has fallen for the second successive year.

He will see this as a vindication of his attempts to inject some much-needed rigour back into the school curriculum.

However, the effectiveness of his interventionist approach should not be measured by these results alone – this year’s GCSE students had already embarked upon their secondary education before Mr Gove’s appointment in May 2010.

There now needs to be a period of stability to allow teachers to become accustomed to their new exam requirements, with the focus shifting to the need to drive up standards in the primary schools. Too many children are still being let down by a failure to learn to read or write in their formative years before they make the transition to secondary school.

It also requires Ministers, like Mr Gove, to accept their daily interference in schooling can become counter-productive, as York headteacher Jonathan Taylor made clear in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post. Like each and every student opening their GCSE results yesterday, Mr Gove also has lessons to learn from this year’s exam season.

Guiding principle

WHEN it comes to positively shaping and influencing young lives, the importance of organisations such as the girlguiding and scouting movements cannot be over-estimated.

Yet often their ability to do this is compromised by a shortage of volunteers who are willing or able to devote their time and energy to providing the local leadership they thrive on.

It is therefore deeply regrettable that a Guide group in North Yorkshire has chosen to take such an intransigent stance in the case of Jem Henderson.

An athiest, Ms Henderson joined the organisation as a leader in June after hearing about the introduction of a new secular Promise, the oath sworn by members and volunteers when they join.

Following a period of consultation, national organisers had chosen to replace the phrase “to love my God” with “be true to myself and develop my beliefs” – a phrase which continues to emphasise the spiritual development that guiding offers while creating a space where those of all faiths and none can feel welcome.

The new Promise comes into effect on September 1, but this week Ms Henderson was informed by the leader of the Harrogate pack that she would not be able to take it as the unit is sticking with the previous version.

It is a dispute that has certain parallels with that involving Nadia Eweida, the British Airways employee who took the airline to a tribunal after she was forced out of her job for wearing a crucifix. Just as common sense finally prevailed in that case, it must be hoped that it does so here.

Guiding aims to build girls’ confidence and raise their aspirations, giving them the chance to discover their full potential and encouraging them to be a powerful force for good.

Those worthy goals do not sit comfortably with the unyielding stance that has been taken in this instance.

Out of credit

THE high street banks and credit card companies were very quick off the mark when it came to selling identity theft protection. The question now is whether they will be so punctilious when it comes to paying out £1.3bn in compensation to those customers who were unwittingly sold this insurance.

This latest settlement is another blow to the credibility of the banking industry which has already seen card insurer CPP 
Group fined a record 
£10.5m by the City watchdog – small change in comparison to the sums paid out by at least 23 million policy-holders.

Yet, if the financial institutions involved are to restore their battered reputations, they need to ensure that claims are handled efficiently – and that they don’t exaggerate bureaucratic procedures in order to dissuade out of pocket policy-holders from pursuing legitimate claims.

In time, this settlement should be regarded as 
an opportunity for the 
banks and credit cards to overhaul those customer care procedures that 
have declined so much in recent years.