New generation shows its mettle in face of results fiasco - Christa Ackroyd

He seems like a nice man. And he is from Yorkshire, so he gets an upgrade from me for that. But Gavin Williamson has to go.

A Level students protesting in Leeds this week. (Simon Hulme).
A Level students protesting in Leeds this week. (Simon Hulme).

As someone from his own party so eloquently put it, how can we have an Education Secretary who made thousands of school children cry?

But he did so much more than that. In his ineptitude and eventual climbdown, he actually proved their worth and reminded us of their value. Looking like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights as he continued to defend the indefensible, he turned tears into anger and anger into action. And for all those who accuse this new generation of being apathetic, it was a timely lesson. They were magnificent. Undefeated and undaunted.

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Despite the fact that many had seen their dreams broken in an instant, they wiped away their tears and took to the streets. They did interview after interview expressing their views with clarity and conviction. They were strong, articulate and focused.

As a result they achieved one of the quickest U-turns in the history of politics – and no statue was toppled in the process. Though they could be key to toppling over the Government unless it does right by them now, and does it soon. Already those due to enter their final year of schooling are asking, ‘What about us?’ ‘What system do you have in mind for our exams next year?’ The response thus far has been deafening in its silence.

By the time you read this, after the debacle of the A-levels and now the BTECs, Gavin Williamson might well have fallen on his sword. He should do for the good of teacher and pupil morale and for the future of his party. Because young people were traumatised after events of the past 10 days, and I was traumatised for them.

But more importantly they were energised. They refused to accept being punished for circumstances beyond their control lying down. They also have the vote and they will surely not forgive a man who took five days to do what it was obvious he had to. And that did not include defending a system which he continued to describe as ‘robust’ and ‘fair’ when it clearly was not.

As I said last week, I care not a jot whether the exam results, both A-levels and GCSEs, end up a few per cent higher than the average year. This has not been an average year. We should be giving our young people a leg up, not slapping them down. Well, down they might have been but they were certainly not out.

What events of the last week have proved to me is that we have a generation that is full of passion and determination. And that is what this country will need by the bucket-load in order to get back on its feet after the nightmare that is Covid, a nightmare that has threatened their future and in doing so ours as well.

These young people showed their mettle and their mental strength by taking on authority and winning. They didn’t rely on politicians or on their parents to restore their confidence. They did it themselves and hats off to them all. We should be proud of each and every one of them.

When I was their age I didn’t go to university. Instead I started work thinking I knew everything and quickly realised I knew nothing. I blushed when my news editor insisted I called him by his first name. And I was horrified when I heard one police officer at a press conference describe me as ‘totty’. I burst into tears when told in no uncertain terms where to go by one angry resident who had called my newspaper for help but was offended when an 18-year-old girl turned up with a notepad to interview him.

I was naive and nervous, two words you probably don’t associate with me. But I soon toughened up. Just as these young people have had to do. And they will be stronger because of it.

This year will always be remembered as the year with no exam results. There is a fear that young people may be judged as having had an easy ride in 2020. Well they haven’t and life is about so much more than learning for exams.

It is about facing your fears and doing something about them. It is about not being afraid to look injustice in the face and call it out. And that is exactly what they did. It took me years to believe I had a right to question those in charge, my elders and people who surely knew better than me. It took them a few days, and they did it with a gravitas beyond their years.

There is still much to be resolved. Many young people lost out on university places which will affect them for the rest of their lives. Others had to change direction overnight, accepting courses that they never really wanted to do.

Well, if a government can dish out a tenner so we can have a cheap meal for a month, they can surely dig a little deeper to ensure more places are found for those who feel thwarted in their ambition? Because one thing is certain this country needs that ambition to be realised.

So here is my warning to Boris on his holidays and to an Education Secretary now, or in the future. Keep your promise and sort it out. And, while I am in full flow, that includes rewarding our nurses and wonderful NHS staff who are having to wait until next April to see if they will get the substantial pay rise they unquestionably deserve. Bring it forward and make it a big one.

Ensure our universities have enough funding to right the wrongs of the past few days and welcome back those students who thought they had failed. Or risk their wrath at the ballot box.

I totally accept there is no magic money tree.

But, as my dad used to say, it’s about getting your priorities right. Time for this Government to show the kind of gumption and leadership our young people have been displaying.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson