"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
Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump