Stephen Twigg MP (Labour and Co-operative, Liverpool West Derby) is the shadow education secretary
One of the Labour achievements I am particularly proud of is the way we narrowed the gap in results between students from better and less well off backgrounds during our time in office.
It’s easy for politicians to talk the language of social mobility – after all, who would argue against these things? But it is far more difficult to transform aspiration into equality.
There is still a long way to go in education and I am determined that we break the link between economic background and school results, as countries like Finland manage to.
Getting more working class children into university has long been a Labour ambition. It’s why our target of getting 50% of young people into higher education was right. We massively increased opportunities for state school children to fulfil their potential.
It’s why it is so worrying to see the way in which the government is turning the clock back. The announcement to get rid of AS Levels as a progressive qualification to a full A Level is a blow to social mobility.
There’s no need to take my word for it – just read this from Cambridge University:
“This change is unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge.”
Today, a decline in the numbers of students getting two or three A Level passes has been revealed, and there are a quarter of schools where students do not get the top A Level results needed for the best universities.
Improving access to university is not fundamentally about quotas for state school pupils – it is about state schools providing high quality teaching, and ensuring there is support and mentoring for gifted and talented pupils who could go to our top universities.
But we need to go further than that today. We need to also take action for the forgotten 50 per cent of students who don’t go to university.
They deserve high aspirations too. That means creating a high status standard to aim for at age 18 – a Technical Baccalaureate. This would include rigorous vocational courses, accredited by businesses and a quality work experience placement. We also have to strengthen the links between schools and the world of work – with employers sitting on governing bodies and ‘work discovery’ programmes for primary school children.
In addition, we need to broaden the experience of young people from age 16, ensuring that all students study English and Maths until 18.
The Government is not interested in all students doing these subjects – only those who don’t get a grade C or higher. But 84% of students who get a B or C in Maths GCSE drop the subject at 16. Michael Gove would leave those thousands of students behind.
The Education Secretary constantly undermines technical and practical subjects. So creative and vocational subjects like art, design and technology, music, computing and engineering have no value in his EBaccs or his new A Level reforms and are now being sidelined in schools.
A broad and balanced education is what we need if young people are going to aim high. That’s why I’m interested in establishing an A Level Baccalaureate which would provide a balance of different subjects, so young people are well rounded and grounded when they leave school. Sadly, the Government’s changes to A Levels will narrow options available to young people.
Yes we need to reform our exams and our curriculum, but it must be the right reform. Yes, let’s improve the design of qualifications in sciences,
Maths and languages, but in a way that improves the preparedness of school leavers for university, apprenticeships and the world of work.
That’s what I’ve asked a taskforce of business leaders and education experts, chaired by Professor Chris Husbands of the Institute of Education to do.
Two tier exams are not the answer. Michael Gove risks undermining a decade of social mobility, by reducing opportunities for state school pupils. He is truly the enemy of promise.
• Twigg: Gove’s plans will ‘take us back to the 19th century’ and risk a “decade of decline” – January 17th, 2013