Yesterday was a day long etched into the calendars of young people in Tower Hamlets, and across the country. Thousands of 15-16 year olds from the East End, including my daughter, returned to school to collect their GCSE results.
I joined students at Oaklands School to congratulate them on their stunning achievements. There were hugs all round and tears of joy, as students realised that their hard work had paid off – and their next step to further education was within their grasp.
Education is an opportunity. It is a chance to open new doors, build communities and change the lives of young people in Tower Hamlets.
In today’s age of economic austerity, it is more important than ever to empower our young people through education. In recent years our borough has seen a transformational rise in educational improvement and attainment, including the second highest improvement nationwide in GCSE results last year.
So it is important for us to build on these aspirations. That’s why I’ve launched the Mayor’s Education Award, which will help our young people to continue this improvement, ensuring that being the first generation to attend university and financial concerns, will not be a barrier to success.
The award replaces the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), disgracefully scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010, and will offer students from lower financial backgrounds up to £400 a year to help with the costs of studying. Students don’t need to repay any of the grant that is awarded to them.
I am also reinstating Aim Higher, which the Tories have also axed. This programme is designed to ensure a successful transition for all students to post 16 learning, including University, and work; and will support schools in raising achievement and attainment, whilst reducing drop out post 16.
The programme will be implemented by new higher education advisors, who will ensure young people in the borough have all the information and support they need to achieve their desired futures. There will also be a series of extra initiatives, including masterclasses and mentoring, to help students with their academic learning, prepare for university and to excel in their exams.
So as the Tories hack away at the flagship policies of the last Labour government that were allowing bright youngsters to realise their potential, Tower Hamlets is at the forefront of the battle to retain these vital services and give our students that extra push they need.
As results improved each year, many politicians and pundits on the right have preferred to talk of ‘grade inflation’ rather than congratulating our students and teachers on their hard work. They have been delighted this year, as grades fell for the first time ever.
But I would be deeply disappointed if fears that papers have been marked disproportionately harshly in a bow to pressure from central government, were true. There are particular concerns over the GCSE English marking, and I join Labour’s education spokesman Stephen Twigg in calling for a full and immediate inquiry by the Commons select committee. We cannot allow our children’s achievements to become a political football.
UPDATE: We’ve now received all the results from across the borough and I’m delighted that students in Tower Hamlets have continued their phenomenal progress and have improved on last year’s rate for five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, to 62.4%. This compares to other parts of East London where results have stagnated or fallen. I would like to again congratulate students and teachers on their hardwork and dedication.