147,000 pupils a year fail to get any GCSEs of grade C or better

The true scale of the failure of state education in Britain is reported only rarely. That, in itself, is a subject of interest. But today is one of those rare days when truly important figures providing evidence of this failure are on at least one front page.
This is an excerpt:

A quarter of teenagers are leaving school with practically nothing to show for 11 years of compulsory education, a report discloses today.
Last year, about 147,000 pupils failed to get any GCSEs higher than a grade D. This included 28,000 – almost one in 20 – who failed to gain a qualification of any kind.
The findings, in a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, come just weeks after head teachers warned that schools were producing an “army of the unemployable” as tens of thousands of teenagers quit education at 16 with no qualifications.
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government’s over-emphasis on testing and targets was fuelling truancy rates and causing children to skip exams and slide into delinquency.
The report criticises primary schools for failing to help children early enough – and says secondary schools often entrench disadvantage.
It says working class pupils are more likely to attend worse-performing secondary schools, which will be seen as an explicit criticism of government reforms.
Researchers also warn that the Government’s obsession with league tables had “adverse effects for low achievers.

(full story in Daily Telegraph)
It is easy to be distracted by relatively minor facts and the major, central ones can go unreported for most of the time and forgotten. But this is truly important and should be stuck on the computer screens of every education journalist: 147,000 children each year fail to get a single grade C or above in their GCSEs.
It is shocking. It is a dreadful failure of state education. It should be a scandal which reverberates year after year, as the scandal of NHS waiting lists used to do. I do not blame the present Labour government in particular for this – though it has probably made its contribution to the lower of achievement. It is the fault of having education supplied by a state monopoly. State monopolies tend to be incompetent. They tend to put in the wrong incentives for many of those involved including parents and children as well as heads, teachers and the vast, uncounted army of non-teachers employed in education by central government, quangos and local authorities.
Anyone who cares about education in general and particularly the life chances of those in the lowest quarter of society, should be demanding the abolition of state education as we know it. It condemns thosuands of children to illiteracy and makes them more likely to become alienated delinquents as they are forced to stay in education despite having lost all interest in it.
Why, then, is this failure of state education so rarely written and talked about? There are a variety of reasons. One is that those of us in the media tend to be middle-class. We are not the ones primarily damaged by the failure. Middle-class newspapers, particularly, just are not that interested.
A second, perhaps more important, reason is that education correspondents, with a few honourable exceptions, tend to ‘go native’. They go for civilised briefings from well-intentioned civil servants and politicians. They thus tend to be sucked into the official view of how things are going. They read hundreds of optimistic government press releases.
Thirdly, there is a desire to believe that state education is a ‘good thing’. Evidence to the contrary is seen briefly and then put to one side and forgotten.
All these are human reactions. Quite unexceptional. But it can also be seen as negligence – negligence in reporting the truth.

  1. Fewer than half of children get five GCSEs including maths and English
  2. Which kind of schools achieve forty per cent of top A level grades?
  3. Failing state education on a spectacular scale
  4. Time to realise the state is useless at running schools
  5. Hidden truancy
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2 Responses to 147,000 pupils a year fail to get any GCSEs of grade C or better

  1. Vasey says:

    147,000 kids are either too stupid or too lazy to pass some not particularly difficult exams every year in other words. I’m no great intellect and I didn’t work all that hard, but I still got acceptable GCSE grades despite attending a rather poor school. Why? Because my parents, unlike most these days, could be bothered to wield the rod and make me do the work needed. You can’t blame schools because kids these days have zero discipline (the real reason why most schools are crap – the kids make them that way). That is the responsibility of parents who have raised their children to be little more than animals.

  2. I’m a bit late to this particular debate I know, but my spirits sink whenever I read articles about GCSE (or any other school exam) ‘failures’. The whole system is predicated on the assumption that academic prowess is the greatest good and that the sole aim of educationists and politicians should be to get ever more young people to jump over a predertermined set of academic hurdles at the same age at the same time.
    The politicisation and institutionalisation of learning and the demand that the taxpayer should pay for education, has led to the inevitable consequent demand that pupils and teachers should demonstrate that they are doing what we are paying for them to do, are giving us value for money. Since at least the excesss of the sixties we, parents, employers, universities and increasingly panic-stricken politicians, have not been convinced that they are doing this. So, we have introduced controls and regulations to measure their performance. Inevitably, as these show that we are still not getting the results we think we want, we have introduced more and more of them, heaping measurement upon measurement in a political and bureaucratic figure-fest.
    By doing that we have restricted the education we offer to young people to that which can be measured. Now teachers pursue pupils through aritualised obstacle course towards a largely futile finishing line. Since most of the pupils are on courses entirely unsuited to their skills, talents and abilities, far too many of them don’t reach the desired end at the right time, or at the right speed. Politically they must. We have to be able to say – “41.32% last year, 42.45% this year – this proves that we are a good government and you should vote for us”. And if the little blighters just won’t get there, we’ll lower the obstacles, or give them more time. We won’t change the education only the pass mark, so that many more of them will stagger across the line to universal applause. Except that they don’t. And the increasingly deafening noise made by the parents, employers, universities – and the pupils themselves – doesn’t sound much like applause.
    I have abstracted much of the above from ‘Chance of a Lifetime: how the other half loses (Best Publishing Ltd.) by Jonathan Langdale and myself. A longer abstract and links to Amazon may be found at

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