One of the greatest contradictions we face today is that while we have seen years of improving exam results for GCSEs and A-levels, these have gone hand in hand with a steady drop in our place in the world education league tables.
A British education, once the global gold standard of schooling, is now 28th in maths, 16th in sciences and 25th in reading – we are beaten by Estonia in every category.
Per pupil, education spending in this country has risen by more than 70 per cent in real terms in the past 15 years. With this kind of investment it’s not unreasonable to expect us to be more competitive in education than in Eurovision.
This also comes at a time when students are working longer, harder and sitting more exams than ever before.
So what do we do? Much good work is under way in reforming our school system but a key part will be changing how we grade ourselves as a nation. The government is making international comparisons a key part of how we assess improvement in education.
Another way we can get a better understanding of how students are performing is through the new English Baccalaureate, which will be awarded to students who score A* to C grades in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and history or geography.
As well as being a measure of our future improvement, this combination already shows us something important about where we are and illustrates the yawning gap between rich and poor.
Among kids on free school meals, only four per cent are achieving the English Baccalaureate, against 16 per cent overall. Even more worrying is that only eight per cent were even entered for those exams in the first place.
Most children of my generation, whether they went to a comprehensive, grammar or secondary modern school, studied most or all of the English baccalaureate subjects as a matter of course. Of course, not everyone passed every exam but it was accepted that those subjects formed a core part of every child’s education.
Not every child will excel at all of them and so I hope we will see a technical baccalaureate as well.
Really, the most important measure should be about more than the exam results students leave with, it should be about how they progress over time. That is what school is all about – developing the individual and helping them fulfil their potential.