A topical issue.... school standards, and what can be done to improve them?
This comes at a time when Bristol City Council is reviewing primary school structures, with suggested amalgamations of infant and junior schools so that all schools are primaries, from reception through to age 11; the federation of some primary schools (as happens in the secondary sector with, for example, John Cabot CTC providing executive leadership for Bristol Brunel Academy); and the closure of some of the smallest schools. The area of my constituency most affected by this is Stockwood, with the suggested closure of Stockwood Green school - which is lovely, but tiny - and the federation of Waycroft and Burnbush. Elsewhere infant and junior schools such as Air Balloon, Summerhill and Broomhill, to name just a few, are earmarked to become primaries.
Nationally, the Government has signalled that it is not prepared to accept below par results from secondary schools, with the launch of its National Challenge to raise results in English and Maths. At the moment, schools such as Brislington, Whitefields and the City Academy would be caught by the Government's proposals: last year the figures for pupils getting 5 GCSEs, including English and Maths, at Grades A-C were 29% for Whitefields; 26% for BEC and 21% for the Academy. (In the Academy's defence, it should be noted that the overall proportion of pupils getting 5 GCSEs - i.e. in any subjects - has been around the 50% mark for the last few years, which is above the Bristol average. And it does have a particularly challenging intake to work with; on contextual value added scores, it's one of the best schools in the country.) But I'm glad the Government has announced extra money to help tackle this.
In the Government's Children’s Plan, it says that by 2020 at least 90 per cent of children will achieve the equivalent of five higher level GCSEs by age 19. I think the idea of requiring children to try and try again until they reach the required standard is a good one - as I think used to happen with the old School Certificate, although I am basing that entirely on my reading of Enid Blyton books during a misspent childhood! I know some people (by which I mostly mean Tories) argue that some children simply aren't academic, and if they don't thrive at school they should be allowed to leave early and go down the pit or up a chimney or whatever. But basic literacy and numeracy skills are so important, I don't think we can allow that to happen. What if someone leaves school without qualifications, goes into a labouring job, but suffers an industrial accident a few years later, which means they can't do manual work anymore? Are they going to spend four decades of their life on incapacity benefit? (OK, they could retrain as adults, but it's a difficult transition for many people to make. We should be ensuring that our education system equips young people for whatever life may throw at them).
Am going to try to collar the Schools Minister, Jim Knight, during the Terrorism Bill votes tonight, to discuss further. In the meantime - start voting!