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Coffee House

Labour’s uninspiring response to A Level results

15 August 2013

5:50 PM

15 August 2013

5:50 PM

During silly season, bored journalists often entertain themselves by reading rather than deleting the slew of pointless press releases that land in their inboxes. Today’s winner was going to be a pitch that opened with the dangerous phrase ‘Good Morning, I hope you are well?’ (always a sign the PR is sending this release to a very long list of hacks they’ve never spoken to) went on to suggest a story about grooming and beauty tips for Coffee House. But then Labour’s press office sent through a  release full of such wisdom and careful crafting that it could only have gone through several committees and possibly even PLP votes to perfect. From Stephen Twigg, it opened with the contrarian observation that young people deserved to be congratulated on their A level results:

‘I wish everyone the best of luck today with their results and next steps, whether this is university, an apprenticeship or a job. Young people deserve to be congratulated on their hard work.

‘It is important that our exam system is rigorous and challenging, and that young people’s achievements are properly reflected in the grade they are awarded.

‘The continued rise in maths and science entries that Labour began is welcome. However, the fall in the number of students taking languages is extremely worrying.

‘As well as focusing on those young people who are going on to university, we need to make sure we have a system that works for all young people. David Cameron has no plan for the forgotten 50 per cent – those who do not want to go to university. Labour will deliver a rigorous vocational offer with a Gold Standard Technical Baccalaureate qualification at 18, including maths and English and a work experience guarantee for all.’

To be fair to Stephen Twigg, Labour did a good job last autumn of identifying the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ of young people not going to university at its conference. Although of course there wasn’t any attempt to justify why the forgotten 50 per cent had to be 50 per cent as most Labour types privately accept that this target for university attendance was conjured out of thin air.

Either way, the Tories are this afternoon reminding Twigg that it’s a bit rich to moan about modern languages when in December 2002, the Labour government announced that ‘we do intend to amend the statutory requirement at Key Stage 4 so that schools will no longer be required to teach Modern Foreign Languages to all pupils’. Twigg was a junior education minister at the time. After that, the proportion of pupils sitting a modern language GCSE fell from 75 per cent in 2002 to 43 per cent in 2010, according to DfE figures.

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Liz Truss has also been busily driving home a decent Tory message on the A level results. In an article for the Telegraph, the Education Minister writes:

Labour tried to claim today that it’s thanks to them more students are doing maths and science. But there was actually no progress under Labour. When their rule came to an end in 2010, the proportion taking A-Levels in maths and science was the same as it had been a decade earlier. It’s under this government we are seeing record numbers sitting maths and science.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, even had the cheek to call the fall in languages “extremely worrying”, even though he was one of the ministers who scrapped compulsory languages at GCSE. The number of children sitting language GCSEs plummeted by 200,000 as a result of that decision – a trend that is at last being reversed by our EBacc. The number studying languages at GCSE is now at a nine-year high. I hope to see this feed through to A-Levels in due course.

The truth is that a vote for Labour is a vote for dumbing down. The bad news for them is that students are rejecting this agenda. Instead, they are voting with their feet for more rigour and tougher choices so they have the best possible chance to succeed in later life.

That line ‘a vote for Labour is a vote for dumbing down’ is a good one. It’s the sort of line an opposition party should be using, not the party in government as it responds to the A level results.

P.S. Labour’s Twitter feed has taken a similarly surprising line:

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