All students deserve huge congratulations for their achievements, and we owe enormous thanks to the education staff who have done an incredible job, in both supporting students throughout this year and awarding grades that will help ensure all students can move on to the next step in their learning.
However, alongside the record-breaking achievements seen this week, huge inequalities have been exposed. Inequalities that mean students on free school meals were less than half as likely to achieve a top grade at GCSE as their peers. Inequalities that risk scarring young people’s life chances for decades to come. Inequalities that are not new, but have been brutally exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.
Under the Conservatives, the gap in school achievement between pupils on free school meals and their peers had stopped narrowing well before Covid hit. At GCSE age, children eligible for support were on average 18 months of learning behind their peers.
This comes after a decade in which the Conservatives have delivered the biggest cut to school funding for 40 years, created a boom in supersized classes, and stripped funding out of schools in the poorest fifth of communities, while schools in the most advantaged areas have seen their funding increase.
This week’s results show the huge knock-on consequences this has had on children’s education, and on their future employment and earnings. The Conservatives’ handling of the pandemic has made the situation worse, robbing young people of opportunities and robbing our country of their potential.
Their failure to act quickly to get laptops or free school meal vouchers to kids who needed them, to get a plan in place for exams in 2020 and 2021, or to put in place the Covid security measures, like ventilation systems, to keep children learning in school, shows not just incompetence but a callous disregard for children’s futures.
If we are to help every child bounce back from the pandemic in both their learning and their wellbeing, we must address the issue of inequality. Yet the Conservatives ignored their own expert adviser who suggested the steps needed to achieve this. The prime minister who promised the Earth could only deliver a pittance.
Labour knows that children are ambitious and optimistic about the future, and that we must match this ambition and enthusiasm if we are to give every child the chance to fulfil their potential. That’s why we’ve set out a bold recovery plan which would provide new opportunities for every child and young person to learn, socialise and develop. It is why we are determined to make this the best country for every child to grow up in.
Kate Green MP is the shadow secretary of state for education
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