"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
Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.