"Students and schools are just collateral damage in party political squabbles"

An open letter on the government's decision to limit schools' ability to enter students early for GCSEs.

Dear Parents/Carers,

Without any notice and with immediate effect, the government has taken steps to limited schools' ability to enter students early for GCSEs - after we had already planned entries for the year. Early entry can serve many good purposes, including vital preparation for later exams. At Priory we will continue with our policy for this year as we firmly believe this to be in the best interests of our students. However, the school will be judged on the early entry results rather than those achieved by the end of Year 11. This is a political tool to try to influence educational practice, furthermore it ignores what the school believes to be in the best interest of our students.

It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Worst of all, these changes are often made in the middle of students' courses of study, making it near on impossible to plan properly or to focus on learning rather than constant administrative change. In the last two years we have experienced changed grade boundaries between exam sittings; the dropping the vital skills of speaking and listening from English mid-course; and now this latest announcement.

These changes are often timed to coincide with party conferences or similar events, leading us to fear that students and schools are just collateral damage in party political squabbles.

I believe all teachers are ambitious for every student and work hard to help students maximise their opportunities to achieve the best possible outcomes. As a school we agree that our education must constantly improve; we have worked hard to ensure we constantly improve! We see no reason, other than the date of the next election, why change needs to be rushed without consultation or planning. Ultimately it is the students who suffer.

I wanted to explain to you our position on these reforms: we believe they are disrupting student's education and undermining their hard work. This latest announcement seems vindictive as the regulations for early entry change after this year. I wanted to let you know that we will continue to help students navigate the system as best we can. I would like to encourage you to contact your local MP and let him/her know how the changes are affecting you and your family. Ministers are distant from the front line and the realities of teaching. They cannot see the confusion and chaos being created; nor do they have any respect for the views of the profession. They may listen to you.

Yours faithfully,
Tony Smith

Headmaster, the Priory School, Lewes

 

It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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