Sir Keir Starmer today tries to crank up the pressure on Boris Johnson over the turmoil in schools by saying for the first time that he ‘expects’ all pupils to be back in the classrooms next month – despite opposition from pro-Labour unions.
The Labour leader responds to Mr Johnson’s declaration in last week’s Mail on Sunday that it was a ‘moral duty’ for children to return to full-time schooling, arguing that the Prime Minister has a ‘moral responsibility’ to ensure that it happens.
Writing exclusively on this page, left, Sir Keir also takes aim at the A-level chaos engulfing the Government, saying that the ‘anger and frustration I have heard from families over recent days about the exams fiasco has been profound’.
It comes after nearly 40 per cent of A-level grades awarded on Thursday were lower than teachers’ predictions, prompting anger among the 280,000 students affected.
Ministers and regulators now face the looming prospect of a damaging court battle over the algorithm used to decide A-level results. Legal efforts are being spearheaded by Foxglove, a non-profit organisation which campaigns against the misuse of digital technology.
Sir Keir Starmer is pictured talking to students at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, Darlington, after they received their A-Level results
More than 215,000 people have signed a supportive petition in two days, following a similar campaign in Scotland which led to lowered marks being reverted back to teachers’ estimates.
Under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced yesterday that the Government would cover the cost of schools in England appealing against the decisions. The chaos has led to speculation about his Cabinet future.
Urging Mr Johnson to ditch the system in favour of teacher assessments, Sir Keir says: ‘Young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – have been robbed by a system that judged them on their postcode, not their ability or effort.
‘The stories we have heard from pupils have been devastating.’
Students protested against the downgrading of their A-Level results that were announced on August 13 outside 10 Downing Street, London
No 10 is likely to be angered by Sir Keir’s remarks on returning pupils to the classrooms, given that the objections raised by Labour-supporting teachers’ unions on safety grounds pose the biggest threat to the reopening.
Protesters get Grade F for spelling!
It is undoubtedly a very important argument they are making. But sadly their case was not helped by one misspelt placard which was waved outside Downing Street yesterday during a demonstration by hundreds of teenagers.
The erroneous banner referred to a ‘politcs exam question’
The erroneous banner referred to a ‘politcs exam question’.
Angry A-level students descended on Central London to protest against their grades being downgraded amid a nationwide outcry over the computer algorithm that has left thousands of students denied places at their chosen universities.
Ophelia Gregory, 18, from Ashford, Kent, said she decided to organise the demonstration after feeling she had been ‘completely scammed’ by this year’s marking system in the absence of exams.
Sir Keir, whose 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter were able to attend lessons at their local state school in North London during lockdown because his wife Victoria is an NHS key worker, has previously only said that he ‘wants’ all children in school.
But now he writes: ‘I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school. No ifs, no buts, no equivocation. Let me be equally clear: it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to guarantee children get the education they need and the benefit of being back with their teachers and classmates.’
Mr Williamson said the Government would cover the appeal fees in a bid to ensure that head teachers were not deterred from making appeals. The Department of Education said it had introduced a ‘triple-lock system’, meaning those pupils ‘unhappy with their calculated grades can appeal on the basis of a valid mock result’ or sit an exam in the autumn.
But exams watchdog Ofqual published guidance yesterday which said that, in the case of an appeal based on mock exams where the centre assessed grade is lower than the mock exam result, students will instead receive the centre-assessed grade. Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: ‘Gavin Williamson promised to give students a triple lock, but instead he left many devastated by unfair exam results, and now his commitment to give them another chance is rapidly unravelling. Having promised that students will be able to use a valid mock result, the reality is that many will not receive these grades even if they represent a student’s best result. The latest chaos is the inevitable consequence of this Government’s shambolic approach to exams.’ The row comes ahead of the release of GCSE results on Thursday, which Ministers fear will trigger a fresh storm of protests.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir is being urged by one of Labour’s biggest private donors to end the party’s dependency on union cash. Wealthy businessman John Mills also aimed a thinly-veiled swipe at Unite union boss Len McCluskey for trying to ‘call the shots’ on Labour policy on the back of his union’s massive donations to the party.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer risks union wrath after saying he ‘expects’ all pupils to be back in classrooms next month
By Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party for the Mail on Sunday
I want Britain to be a country where every child can have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter where they come from. And yet, last week, that opportunity was dashed for thousands of young people across England.
The anger and frustration I have heard from families over recent days about the exams fiasco has been profound.
I have heard from young people who feel a deep sense of injustice that their futures have been decided by an unfair computer algorithm; teachers angry at a system they knew to be unfair; and parents let down by a Prime Minister who has refused to listen to them.
I do not underestimate how challenging it is to assess qualifications for young people this year when exams had to be cancelled. It was never going to be easy.
Schools and colleges have been closed since March because of lockdown. Many courses were unable to finish and it was simply not possible for students to sit exams because of the unprecedented times we are living through.
I want Britain to be a country where every child can have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter where they come from. Pictured: Sir Keir Starmer talking with students after receiving their A-Level results
However, many of the challenges were entirely foreseeable. The warning signs were there for months. Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson had the time to develop a system that pupils, teachers, universities and businesses could have had confidence in. A system that was fair, transparent and flexible to the unique situation young people face this year.
It was also blatantly obvious when the Scottish Government was forced to U-turn early last week that the UK Government was going to need to take drastic action. And yet they turned a blind eye to the injustice that was exposed on Thursday morning.
Thousands of young people who have worked so hard had their grades downgraded by a system that was found to be flawed and failed on its own terms.
Young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – have been robbed by a system that judged them on their postcode, not their ability or effort. The stories we have heard from pupils have been devastating. A downgrading by one grade means the difference between whether someone can get their dream job, go to university or take up an apprenticeship.
We also need to see an urgent review into the system to stop the same situation being inflicted on thousands more students when they receive their GCSE results in the coming days. Pictured: Sir Keir Starmer talks to Sixth Form students in Darlington after they received their A-Level results
‘Levelling up’ was meant to be the priority of Boris Johnson’s administration. However, many young people have seen their futures levelled down with one clean sweep. The ladder of opportunity has been kicked away and the injustices within our society will only be deepened as a consequence. It has been a shambles.
Even now, I would urge the Prime Minister to ditch the system and back teacher assessments. This is not a perfect solution, I accept that. However, it is a fairer solution. There is no shame in Ministers admitting they have got this wrong, and doing what they can to right what could prove to be a historic wrong.
We also need to see an urgent review into the system to stop the same situation being inflicted on thousands more students when they receive their GCSE results in the coming days.
Sadly, this is not the first time education has been an afterthought for the Government in Westminster. We have seen the same on the reopening of schools. The Prime Minister wrote in this paper last weekend that we have a moral duty to reopen schools. I agree. What he does not seem to understand is that he has a moral responsibility to make sure it happens.
Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson (pictured) had the time to develop a system that pupils, teachers, universities and businesses could have had confidence in
It was obvious the day schools were shut in March what the problems would be and what the solutions needed to be. The Government needed a plan and the Prime Minister needed to take responsibility to make sure that plan was implemented.
We built the Nightingale hospitals to protect the NHS. We introduced the furlough scheme to protect jobs. We needed to see the same grit and determination to protect our children’s education.
Instead, Boris Johnson wasted months flailing around blaming everybody else and refusing to take any responsibility or show any leadership. His priorities were wrong, too.
He set up a ‘task force’ for the reopening of bowling alleys but refused my offer to do the same for schools. He set a deadline for reopening the economy but ditched his commitment to get classrooms back open before the summer.
We cannot afford to see the same mistakes being made over and over again.
Children, young people and families must be a national priority with the leadership to match. Every day children are missing out on their education is a tragedy. It has a devastating impact on their wellbeing and life chances, as well as putting a huge strain on families who are forced to juggle childcare and work commitments.
So, let me send a very clear message to the Prime Minister: I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school. No ifs, no buts, no equivocation. Let me be equally clear: it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to guarantee children get the education they need and the benefit of being back with their teachers and classmates.
‘Levelling up’ was meant to be the priority of Boris Johnson’s administration. However, many young people have seen their futures levelled down with one clean sweep
The Government must learn from the mistakes over the past months and ensure that the next academic year is not disrupted to the detriment of children and families. My offer to help the Government reopen schools still stands but responsibility for making it happen lies squarely at the door of No 10. Despite our differences, I want the Government to succeed in defeating the virus. I want lives saved, I want the virus contained, I want the economy restarted and I want children in school.
But education has become characteristic of this Government’s handling of the pandemic in recent months. They were too slow into lockdown, too slow on testing, too slow to protect care homes and now too slow to protect children’s education.
We were promised a ‘world-beating’ test and trace system but in many parts of the country we still barely have a system at all.
Public health advice has been confused. We have the worst excess death rate in Europe and now we are on course for the worst recession in Europe, too.
A downturn was inevitable after lockdown but the Tories’ incompetence was not. This is holding Britain back in our national determination to stop this virus. It is holding back our economy so it can rebuild out of recession.
Until the Prime Minister learns from his mistakes and gives people confidence that he can provide the leadership this country deserves, we cannot get the economy or society back on its feet again.
And until he takes responsibility, we cannot give children the opportunities they deserve.