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.


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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Show comments
  • thanksdellingpole

    Vote BNP.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Slightly off topic, there’s an article to be written on how the State is intruding more and more into pupils’ time outside school (I’m talking state sector here – it’s where my kids are).

    Universities no longer do interviews as a matter of course and so they rely on grades (which tell you little with today’s grade inflation) and Personal Statements for UCAS. These PS’s seem to have introduced an arms race for kids competing in the worthiness stakes which, when you add to the highly regimented and assessed modern A level regime, leave little scope for free time and truly individual choices on how to spend their non school work time.

    An unintended consequence of the armies of children competing for volunteer placements in charities has squeezed out older folk and reduced the number of part-time paid opportunities for others. This leftist regimentation has also handed advantages to those families who can afford to pay for PS filling opportunities and those with good work contacts.

    Plus ca change as we say down Wetherspoons.

  • FF42

    There’s a bait and switch in Liz Truss’ response:

    – there was no progress under Labour…the proportion taking A-Levels in maths and science was the same.
    – under this government we are seeing record numbers sitting maths and science

    Stephen Twigg also claims an increase in numbers taking maths and science for the previous Government. That’s because there was an increase in the number of students taking A levels, even though the proportion doing maths and science remained the same. Liz Truss conflates totals with fractions. Which is ironic given we are talking about maths exams.

    • Oedipus Rex

      Well spotted.

  • John_Page

    Be proud. Be patronised.

  • Tom Tom

    Once upon a time in a serious country GCE exams were taken, results posted, UCCA applications made, without all this media hype and politicians sounding like war councillors. Where did that country go ? It was not even 40 years ago, but it seems like another country where grown-ups lived instead of the playgroup the island has now become

    • Tim Reed

      Well said TT. My thoughts exactly. So much fuss and pandering now.

  • HJ777

    Labour seems to have an uninspiring response to everything. Why single out this one issue?

  • Span Ows

    Anyone else worried that the Photoshop doesn’t look like a Photoshop?

  • HookesLaw

    The government are simply responding to attacks by Labour and pointing out their lies and hypocrisy. What else were they supposed to do.

  • HookesLaw

    It was labour themselves who made the big deal about going to ‘university’.

    • Tom Tom

      in agreement with John Major before the 1997 Election. He had just converted part-time education in Polytechnics from Discretionary to Mandatory Grants and full-time residential courses

  • toco10

    One can imagine the BBC and its less than transparent news hacks on the Today programme trying to spin on behalf of Labour and The Guardian in holier than thou terms.Why don’t these hacks tell us why they run private companies to avoid tax and National Insurance the rest of us pay and absolutely refuse to disclose their £million+++ earnings that we licence payers provide.Transparency should include not only bankers,footballers but also the high rollers on the BBC’s Today programme.

  • Emulous

    “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.”
    The key message of Today is that the personality of the Secretary of State counts.
    Gove set out to drive up standards and reverse dumbing down and today we have the evidence.

    • Drabble

      Gove may defect to Ukip if Boris comes back.

    • HookesLaw

      Voting tory will be good for education. Any other vote threatens us with a return to Labour dumbness.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Always nice on A level results day to see a photo of a pair of t!ts

  • McRobbie

    A vote for labour is a vote for mediocrity in preference to excellence…its a left wing trait…next to spend spend spend.

  • lgrundy

    “The truth is that a vote for Labour is a vote for dumbing down.”
    But the kind of people who vote Labour are already so dumbed-down themselves that they are unable to realise that.

    • nonsequiturcouk

      Those would be the people who voted this comment down I assume. Lol..

    • rubyduck

      Those who have the time and the inclination to follow politics and still vote Labour are, undoubtedly, stupid, but the majority of the electorate are busy with their lives, their families, their jobs, and their own areas of expertise, and will tend to vote Lab or Con by habit, tradition, or according to which party is most plausible in claiming to represent people like them. They are not dumbed-down, the choose intelligently from the information presented to them. The dumbed-downedness is in CCHQ’s inability to communicate the message.

  • Noa

    50% of those students going to university, many of them incurring unrepayable debt, is still too many.

    • Russell

      The problem is many of them will not be required to repay the graduation fees.

      • Noa

        Mostly the Europeans, there will be no waiver for your children or grand children.
        And the ‘problem’ you refer to is really a national tragedy in the making. Many hundreds of thousands of students who have incurred debts in the hope of obtaining a career in their chosen fields will never do so, but will still pay for their dashed ambitions.

        • Tom Tom

          Wrong. There are simply NO jobs for the output of higher education. The largest single employer of graduates is the Public Sector and unless it expands it cannot employ them on salaries sufficient to repay. The real gem will be when a High Court ruling makes Tuition Fees part of a Divorce Settlement

          • Noa

            That was my point Tom Tom. So why am I wrong?

    • HookesLaw

      Student fees are not repaid until you earn a certain amount. To say it is unrepayable is, to be polite, inaccurate.

      • Noa

        As is your comment, reflecting once more, that you misfire before you aim.

        • Hugh

          How’s it inaccurate?

      • Tom Tom

        Only 40% US graduates are repaying loans. Most of the British loans will NEVER be repaid. It has simply increased the cost to the Treasury

  • Angry Harry

    Is it possible that students are becoming less interested in learning foreign languages because, in the not too distant future, our technology will do any language translating that is necessary?

    Even on the fly, while talking.

    • Tom Tom

      No it is because only public schools teach them properly and they require too much work

      • grammarschoolman

        It’s only public schools that teach _anything_ properly, not just languages.

    • grammarschoolman

      ‘Is it possible that students become less interested in learning foreign languages​​, because in the not too distant future, technology translate any language, what is necessary to do?

      During operation, during the conversation.’

      That’s your post translated by Google into German and then back to English.

      That’s why people need to learn foreign languages themselves (quite apart from its being a challenging intellectual exercise, the fact that you can’t read literature in the original without it, and the sheer absurdity of attempting to use technology to conduct a face-to-face conversation).

      • Angry Harry

        Oh ye of little faith!

        The technology will get better.

        Besides which, my point was about what many (not all) students are likely to believe to be the case; viz, that learning languages is fairly pointless FOR THEM given the prospective technology.

        Their learning time could, therefore, be more fruitfully spent learning other things.

        Furthermore, it only takes a fairly small percentage of students to believe that the technology will make the learning of languages a pointless exercise – FOR THEM – for my first post up above to be worthy of consideration – as opposed to being downvoted for no other reason than that the downvoters have closed minds when it comes to pointing out what might well be the case in the minds of MANY students.

        “That’s why people need to learn foreign languages themselves (quite apart from its being a challenging intellectual exercise, the fact that you can’t read literature in the original without it”

        Indeed, but what makes you think that this is the primary motive for ALL students wanting to take up foreign languages?

        If some, or many, students believe that technology will reduce the benefits for them of learning a foreign language, then their interest in learning such a language will decrease.

        As such, the implication of my original question seems perfectly valid.

  • johnny steel

    When Gove becomes PM, I hope Truss takes his current job.

    • Emulous

      Gove’s greatest achievement is that he has reversed the Socialist grade inflation and is infusing value back into the whole examination system.

    • Drabble

      As I said above. If Boris stays out, Gove will become PM. If Boris meddles he may succeed Farage. He has the capacity intellect and personal magnetism to lead.