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Karen Lumley MP: Redditch's GCSE and exam results show that, in education, it’s leadership that matters

Karen Lumley is the Member of Parliament for Redditch County and Chairman of the Vaynor First Academy Trust.

It was Bill Gates who once observed, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” With so much discussion on Britain’s future prominence in the global race, one thing is clear: if Britain is to succeed in an extremely competitive and highly globalised economy it must produce young adults with the skills fit to compete with the rest of the world. As I have seen so pertinently in my own constituency of Redditch, it is headteachers who provide the means for schools to succeed.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to providing real world, transferable skills. What we saw during the ‘exams boom’ in the 13 years of Labour government was a reflection of how Labour not so dissimilarly handled the economy. An over-inflated bubble economy was masking the real shortfalls in how Britain makes its way in the world. And under the last Government, the number of GCSE exams awarded an elite A* doubled from four per cent to 7.5 per cent while A grades increased from 14 per cent to 23 per cent, despite British pupils dropping down international league tables. GCSEs were in part made easier, the importance of those vital core subjects Maths, English and Science were played down, foreign languages so important in a globalised economy were taken off the syllabus and a huge emphasis on 50 per cent of all students going to University was a catastrophic mistake and a fine example of the ludicrous nature of top down government in British schools.

In my constituency of then Labour-run Redditch between 1997 and 2010, GCSE results had, on the surface, improved substantially. Yet by the time I was elected, Redditch was red flagged by the Audit Commission as an area which was producing too many underachieving pupils and failing schools. Our children were being let down badly. In 2011, Redditch experienced an educational revolution which was led by an influx of some of the country’s most talented school leaders.

In 2012, whilst nationally GCSE results fell by 0.4 per cent, in Redditch, despite it being a hugely underfunded authority, results have increased spectacularly with one school becoming the most improved in the entire country with results soaring from 32 per cent of Redditch pupils achieving five A*-C Grades in 2009 to 80 per cent achieving the same last year. Another school, previously deemed underperforming, recorded 100 per cent of students achieving five or more top grades whilst another recently converted academy which was previously in special measures has seen its results performance double within three years to a pass rate of over 60 per cent, a massive achievement for a school which previously was failing young people dismally. Put simply, good leaders have transformed these schools.

Good leaders alongside academy policy has allowed schools to concentrate on managing themselves in the way that they see fit. There has been a focus on the basics, strong discipline and decision making, an emphasis on core subjects, an understanding that for many students, academic prowess is not the only way to succeed with a rise in school leavers becoming apprentices. Academy policy understands that headteachers have the ability to influence and change our young people and therefore has given them more power to do so.

Last week’s A-level results and today’s GCSE results are a reminder that when this Government looks ahead into the coming century, it must do all it can to attract the best headteachers. I have seen firsthand that this will be one of the smartest investments a government today can make and will empower the next generation so Britain can succeed.


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