Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Britain and Labour need to talk up, not down, pupils’ achievements

I always know summer is drawing to an end when I see the same old A level and GCSE stories in the headlines. Articles start with ‘record results for GCSE students’ and end by chastising the ‘dumbing down’ of exams.

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This year’s results have set yet more records. Seven out of 10 students achieved A*-C grades at GCSE, up 2 per cent, with the pass rate rising for the 23rd straight year to 98.7 per cent. The A-Level pass rate grew for the 28th year in a row with 97.5 per cent of students passing, also an amazing 27 per cent of entries received either an A* or A.

But whilst these numbers show great results, and continued increases in pass rates and the attainment of high grades, they do not begin to show the reasons why results are continuing to climb. Let’s look again at the city I live in – Nottingham. Nottingham is a city that shows poor results in all social indicators and historically has lagged behind in educational attainment.

Yet, Nottingham has come a long way. Back in 1998 only 26 per cent of Nottingham’s students achieved the current indicator of 5 good GCSEs. This year that figure reached 72.3 per cent, almost three times the figure of old. It is also the first time Nottingham has exceeded the 44 per cent target set by the Department for Education for five A* to C grades, including English and maths, with one of Nottingham’s new academies seeing results jump from below 10 per cent to 79 per cent over the same period.

All this was announced the same week that three brand new academies were completed in Nottingham, representing £66 million of Labour investment.

Those increases have not come from a ‘dumbing down’ of exams. Exams are not getting easier, kids are getting smarter. In fact, they are showing themselves to be considerably smarter than the previous generations who each year criticise our education system for not sufficiently testing them. More pupils than ever are hitting the top marks and setting themselves up for a successful and socially productive life, and it’s high time those who wish to devalue pupils’ achievements started congratulating them on their successes.

But importantly, it’s also high time Labour started to be proud of these results. The growth in A level & GCSE results is undoubtedly down to Labour’s efforts in government. New schools, smaller class sizes, ambitious targets, more (and better rewarded) teachers and a genuine vision for improving learning has brought success. These figures show yet again that investment in schools is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, and giving our children the right environment in which to learn works.

Yet this story, like so many others, has passed Labour by and yet again Labour has allowed the story of its success to go unreported. It’s time to stop running away from our achievements. Yes, we must look to the future, but education, like many other issues, shows the stark contrast between Labour and the Tories. We must start highlighting the contrast between Labour’s efforts to ensure every child gets the best opportunity through education, and the Tories’ plans to return Britain to an underfunded, dysfunctional and ultimately unregulated system.

We have a record to be proud of in government. Yet, since leaving government we have allowed the coalition time and time again to blame the regressive action it takes on Labour’s legacy. Rather than running from the last 13 years we must start being proud of the last 13 years. Only by winning the argument on the last decade can we re-establish the credibility to set out why the coalition is wrong and make the argument for what we would do differently in the next decade. Our record must be part of our message because if we do not defend it, our opponents will not hesitate to highlight what they regard as our mistakes.

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Jamie McMahon

Jamie McMahon is a Labour Party activist working for the Labour Group of Nottingham City Council.

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