I’m feeling very September right now. Not only does the full schedule of council meetings start up again, but this year I’m starting a new job in the same week – all in all I am very definitely feeling the need to stock up on pencil-cases, iron my non-existent PE kit, and make some new term resolutions.
I may be the only person who ever did the latter, but as a child and teenager the start of autumn term always felt so much more like the opportunity for a new start than January did. Every September I would solemnly resolve that this year I would start packing my bag the night before, doing my homework on time, making an effort to look like less of a scruff, and overcome my crippling shyness by saying “Hi” to the other girls in my classroom at the beginning of the day. By October, I would usually have long since given up.
My own childhood hang-ups aside, I am especially glad that I’m not at school now. The last week’s GCSE results travesty, in which – well, I could say what I think about it, but it wouldn’t be as effective or moving as the words of teacher Chris Edwards. His open letter to Michael Gove (please do read it if you haven’t already) charges that – “You have not simply moved the goalposts. You have demolished them, sold off the playing fields where they once stood and left the dreams of these youngsters in tatters.” We thought we had it bad when they brought in AS-levels.
As someone who was still in education for the first ten years of the last Labour government, I’m certainly not going to pretend our lot didn’t f**k about with schools – and, of course, with higher education. It’s just something of a shock to reflect on how easy my age-bracket had it compared to those at school now. I was in one of the first cohorts to receive EMA and one of the last not to endure top-up fees. Those kids who were just treated so humiliatingly unfairly in their GCSE results face the prospect of no financial support in further education, and staggering levels of debt in later life if they want to go on to university. (This post is about education, but I’m sure no-one reading has forgotten about the unemployment situation, too. 5.6% in Manchester at the last count.) And even they might have it better than the younger children currently struggling for primary school places, as Gove pursues his pet projects rather than making efforts to address genuine need.
If politicians make new term resolutions the way I used to, then maybe Gove – assuming he’s not worried about the reshuffle – should resolve that this year, rather than blindly following his own ideological whims, he will actually start listening to teachers, parents and children. Labour, meanwhile, should resolve to learn from past mistakes – both ours and theirs – and to support the schools, families and local authorities looking for an alternative.