One of the best parts of my job is attending the celebration of achievement days at local schools. Each year I attend a number of them, handing out certificates and prizes to young people, to mark their successes in school.
I am continually impressed by the achievements of our young people in Newham, some of whom have managed extraordinary feats, against huge difficulties.
One thing that these young people complain of in particular is the negative comments made by some national newspapers about the lowering of standards when exam results are announced each year. I am regularly asked, “Don’t they know how hard we work?”
I get cross when people say exams today are easy. How many people can honestly say, when they meet today’s young people, that they don’t know more than our generation ever did at their age; and that they are working harder (admittedly with better resources) than we did?
It is a real shame that, at a time when we should be celebrating the achievement of young people, there is a barrage of negative sentiment from the press that undermines those accomplishments. It happened this year in some newspapers, even before A-Level results were announced. It is a depressing footnote undermining our children’s successes in finishing their secondary education.
The success of our young people, the teachers, governors and families too — and, yes, the achievements of the government, both local and national — should be a cause for celebration when exam results are released.
It is not that I want to be complacent. Alan Milburn MP’s report on social mobility was released last month, pointing out that, despite the government’s achievements, we still have a long way to go until talent, and not privilege, shows the way to the top. It was mocked in some political quarters for stating the obvious, but I believe that these issues are important. We all want a fair chance for our kids.
I liked the fact that he called for, ‘more pushy parents, not fewer’; and he was absolutely right to point to education as the key to social mobility. It is the reason that government has invested so much money in education over the past twelve years. It’s made available and accessible to our children a wealth of opportunity which was beyond the reach of most families when I was at school, and during the Thatcher years.
I’ll say it, and make no apologies: the education today’s young people get is so very much better than the education I got. And, on the whole, they work harder, too.
Classrooms are now very different places, with improved learning resources and classroom assistants to help children receive the attention they need — a scheme which now benefits children all over the country, that our Council was the first to implement and fund in the State sector. Privately-educated children have benefitted from that level of support for generations.
This year, Newham will host another great pilot scheme to improve educational opportunities and achievement to help our children be the best they can. Over the next two years, all primary school children in the borough will begin to receive free school meals. It is hoped that this scheme will not only reduce obesity and change eating habits at home, but also impact on behaviour and academic performance at school, improving still further the standards in our schools.
Record exam results should be a cause for celebration, not cynicism, recognising the milestone of finishing school, and of consistently-improving exam results. Maybe we should even campaign to establish a national school graduation day, to re-focus public attention on formally celebrating our children’s achievements. It’d certainly be better than the annual public belittling of our schools and young people, which, in the words of one teacher quoted in the press last week, has unthinkingly become ‘something of a national sport’.