THIS week has been a nervous one for families as thousands of students receive their GCSE results. In 2018, the number of passes grew by 0.5 per cent on the previous year, despite an overhaul to make the exams more demanding.
I would expect this year’s results to be no different, with a similar number achieving passing grades. Unfortunately, another trend in the results will also continue – the widening attainment gap.
Progress to close the achievement gap for poorer pupils in England’s secondary schools is almost at a standstill according to recent research by The Education Policy Institute. The study found that disadvantaged pupils are on average 18 months behind the rest of the class in academic achievement by the age of 16. If the current rate continues, it will take 500 years to close the gap.
It is at its widest in Northern areas, further highlighting the North-South divide that exists when it comes to investment, attainment and resources. Nationally, we are now witnessing a major setback for social mobility which should be of huge concern.
Where you grow up shouldn’t determine where you end up. And when we discuss social mobility, too often we solely focus on academic attainment when extra-curricular activities – from sports to singing, scouts to social action – are a vibrant feature of our communities and contribute to the formative experiences of many childhoods. They offer opportunities to learn skills, gain confidence, and make friendship networks based on shared interests rather than shared backgrounds. To make the most of these opportunities we need to invest in our young people’s social and cultural capital, and the best way to achieve this is through supporting and developing the strong base that already exists within our civil society.
When I became mayor, I committed to ensure that our region delivers inclusive growth and progression opportunities for all and this is why I support initiatives such as South Yorkshire Futures – a social mobility partnership committed to improving education and raising aspiration for young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Led by Sheffield Hallam University and backed by the Department for Education, the programme addresses the educational attainment and wellbeing of learners, and aims to develop a dedicated and talented workforce to support them.
Thanks to South Yorkshire Futures, The Children’s University initiative is expanding across the region. It is a national charity which works with schools to encourage participation in extra-curricular activities – particularly with children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I recently pledged £95,000 to support the expansion of the successful Sheffield Children’s University model across South Yorkshire. This includes the creation of new Children’s Universities in Barnsley and Rotherham, and supporting the existing Children’s University centre in Doncaster.
We also teamed up with South Yorkshire Futures and Inspiring the Future to launch the Talent Bank programme, which encourages businesses and employees to volunteer their time and inspire young people from all our region’s diverse communities.
In addition, from next year T-Levels will be introduced following GCSEs and will be the equivalent of three A-Levels. They will, I believe, further strengthen the bonds between education and businesses.
I believe that it’s not just the responsibility of schools, colleges and universities to educate and inspire our young people, but it’s also the role of all of us in society – and that includes our businesses.
By connecting schools and colleges with appropriate volunteers and business leaders, we can create new opportunities, broaden horizons and plant the seeds of ambition from which we can grow a workforce fit for the 21st century.
That’s why I set up a new Skills and Employment board to shape our priorities around skills and employment, develop new programmes with businesses, and make investments into initiatives in the region aimed at growing skills and opportunities.
I want young people to feel empowered to aim high, achieve their potential, and realise their ambitions, no matter what their background. All of us can deliver genuine change for all the young people in our country; ensuring they have the skills and education to help them achieve their full potential.
If we are to give all our children the best chance to be active and productive members of society, the Government must make closing the access gap, both in and out of the classroom, a priority.
More support must be given to schools, councils and community organisations so that all children, regardless of background, have equal access to extra-curricular activities. If this isn’t addressed, it will be society as a whole that will suffer.
Dan Jarvis is Labour MP for Barnsley Central and mayor of Sheffield City Region.