A few weeks ago, the UK government’s Department of Education came up with what can only be described as a hair-brained scheme to send congratulatory letters to children from poor backgrounds who do well in GCSE exams. At first sight this might appear a rather touching idea but in reality it is nothing but a patronising and condescending gesture, devised by ministers who know nothing about educational achievement or, growing up in a financially poor situation.
Children who gain a pile of A* and A grades in their GCSE exams are not the only achievers in our schools. Some years ago I was a Special Needs teacher in a local comprehensive school, working with small groups of students preparing for English and mathematics exams. I worked predominantly with boys who had been sent to me because they were, ‘less-able’ or ‘troublesome’. Most of these pupils were likeable people who realised that school had little or no interest in them because they were never going to achieve the best grades. However, every one of these students had gifts and talents of their own – it was simply that their abilities were not in areas that school encouraged. Many of them worked hard for me and instead of obtaining a predicted GCSE grade of F or G they secured a grade of D or E. This was real achievement for these young people.
If government ministers are going to present token prizes to students for achievement, then this must reflect each individual student’s effort. If this is not the case the whole project becomes nothing other than a denigrating and belittling public declaration and one that most students from poorer backgrounds who ‘do well’ will want to disown completely.