EDUCATION is the greatest weapon we have to unleash the potential of every individual and to enable everyone to overcome the limitations of background, class or postcode. That is why last week’s exam fiasco is such a disgrace. Two-in-five “predicted grades” from teachers have been marked down, leading to the shattering of so many hopes and dreams, and the pain of lost achievements.

What makes matters worse is that the algorithm used to decide these grades has penalised young people on the basis of the educational establishment they attend and their postcode. The number of private schools achieving A or A* has increased by almost five per cent, more than double the two per cent increase seen by state secondary schools and more than ten times that of sixth form colleges.

The cold, inhuman touch of an algorithm has actually built in and reinforced the very barriers that education is meant to smash down.

Young people in the North-East, many of whom will already have had to overcome the odds before they can compete on a level playing field with other young people around the country, have essentially been told not to dream, nor to excel, for they will forever be defined by where they come from and the limitations they face.

They are now twice the victims of the huge gap in education attainment in this country. The North-East has the lowest proportion of young people in good and outstanding secondary schools. Fewer 18-year-olds from the North-East attend the country’s top universities and current government measurements put the North-East bottom of all regions in England in educational standards.

The Northern Echo:

Anna Turley, former Labour MP for Redcar

Deprivation is proven to have an impact on educational attainment and here we have the highest levels of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the highest numbers of children on free school meals in the country. The government has made great play of its commitment to “levelling up” in areas like the North-East, yet building new roads or bringing more aeroplane flights won’t tackle the gaping educational attainment gap. And this fiasco has made it worse.

There is no easy way through the effects of this pandemic, but the Government has had months to prepare for this and the warning signs from Scotland should have had them on red alert. It must now urgently review the grade standardisation process, in particular, the impact on sixth form and FE colleges, and make appeals more accessible. It must sort this mess before GCSEs are out next week.

This is already a generation struggling with the mental health effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, about to set out into an adult world with the worst recession on record, with student debt out of control.

They desperately need their educational experience to be their passport to success not an albatross around their necks. The Government must do better this week or another generation of talent and potential in the North-East will be lost, and it won’t be Covid-19 to blame.

  • Anna Turley is the former Labour MP for Redcar