The Government Fails Students

The fact that more than 60 per cent of students – a record number – last week secured the grades they needed for their choice of university is a cause for celebration. For those students who received the desired grades, congratulations to them. For those facing clearing, the best of luck.

But celebrations must be muted. The latest round of examinations this summer has reinforced worrying trends. Of those A-level students who took their exams this summer, 135,114 of them failed to obtain the required grades. A quarter of primary school children failed to reach the required levels in reading and writing.  Despite the Government’s aim to get 50 per cent of young people into University, it’s predicted that there could be as much as a 50,000 shortfall in university places. Billions of extra funding has been spent on education in the past 12 years, but the results suggest that much has been wasted.

This summer’s figures do is give substance to the suspicion that this Government’s ‘commitment’ to young people has been illusory.  There is currently a record number of NEETS (young people not in employment, education or training). Some of these will fall within the listless category, poorly served as they were by an inflexible comprehensive school system.  There will also be those who went to university or college on the premise that a job would be waiting for them upon graduation. That drive to see every young person in further or higher education has left many indebted, jobless and with no immediate path of recourse.

This brings us to a well known and poignant fact: that joblessness and a lack of qualifications is a substantial factor in the propagation of crime and anti-social behaviour. By not getting the education system right, the Government is seriously hampering social mobility and the fight against poverty. If a person has never worked or is long-term unemployed they are more at risk of violence than someone in a professional occupation. Moreover, those without adequate training are almost certain to earn less throughout the course of their lives. Add this to the fact that households with the lowest income (less than £10,000) are the most at risk of violence - and that the risk of being a victim of violence is twice as high for those individuals living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in England. An education system that can deal with the needs of the more challenging areas of the country is needed now more than ever.

Government spending on education has, in real terms, increased three and a half times in the last eight years (£16,786m – £57,846m). We have been bombarded by initiative after initiative, scheme after scheme, and project after project. Yet the only benefit is a marginal and dubious increase in attainment. This Thursday, GCSE results are expected to leave a shortfall of places at sixth-form colleges. Partner this with the dilution of ‘core’ subjects (see earlier comments), and the Government’s commitment to ‘education, education, education’ now seems little more than an empty promise.

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