ANALYSIS: Look beyond the Statistics for a First-Class Debate; on the Day Thousands Will Find out Their GCSE Grades, Schools Minister Jim Knight Argues That We Must Look beyond Exam Statistics to Develop a More Constructive Debate on Education Policy

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Byline: Jim Knight

Exam results season is a time of trepidation, celebration and - for some at least - consolation. I would like to congratulate students and their teachers on an outstanding set of A-level results and wish those awaiting their GCSE results good luck as they open their envelopes this morning.

Young people are too often demonised in the media, so we should embrace this annual opportunity to celebrate unequivocally and wholeheartedly the achievements of the hardworking and disciplined majority.

Today we are reminding local authorities of their responsibility to deliver the new September Guarantee. It means that everyone can be confident of getting on a suitable course this September if they decide to stay on after their GCSEs.

All local authorities should work in partnership with schools, Connexions and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure every person receiving their GCSE results today that does not already have a place in learning or training secured is identified, contacted and offered a course or programme that reflects their results and interests.

This is a key stepping stone for raising the participation age to 18. It will expand young people's opportunity to stay on after GCSE and get the important qualifications they need to flourish in work, university and life.

August is also the time of year when the public gets deluged by figures and analysis. Of course, exam statistics are important and we should interrogate them carefully. But too often they are viewed as the only conclusive barometer of education policy.

Media interest in exam results is a vital sign of accountability and it is right that the Government is challenged on its performance in this way. But in many respects, they also represent a missed opportunity - on all sides - for a more open debate on education policy.

We need to take a step back, look beyond the heightened rhetoric, and consider what education's role is in today's evolving society.

Only by understanding the changing needs and pressures on education, and appreciating how they can be fulfilled in practice rather than in theory, can we move the debate away from polemic towards something constructive.

Our world has changed significantly over the last decade. Globalisation, the rise of the internet and the expansion of the service economy, have brought new challenges and opportunities for this country.

By 2020, estimates suggest the number of unskilled jobs available will drop to 600,000 while skilled positions will soar to 4.6 million.

Societal change adds further pressure. One in nine pupils now has English as an additional language, while public concerns around issues like anti-social behaviour and geopolitical upheaval mean that some look to schools to fulfil more than just the task of educating our children.

These translate into a myriad of competing demands. Employers want school leavers with excellent literacy and numeracy skills, and the capacity to apply them across a broad range of tasks.

They also want high uptake in strategically important subjects - notably maths, science and technology.

Universities and colleges want academic rigour, depth of understanding, critical reasoning and intellectual curiosity. Different subject associations rightly lobby hard for the importance of their specific area of expertise, and criticise any sign of dwindling uptake.

Society increasingly demands we teach awareness, discipline, common sense and respect, so young people leave school with the insight and wherewithal to make a positive contribution within their communities.

Finally, young people themselves demand to be engaged and inspired by relevant topics and given the choice to tailor their own educational development to meet their individual aspirations.

Balancing these needs is delicate, and the tipping points are amplified by the media. …