By Emma Revell
Liberal Democrat education policy is good. We are giving 15 hours of free pre-school education to disadvantaged toddlers, stopping children falling behind in basic reading skills and we are committed to ending child poverty by 2020. The jewel in the crown so to speak is the Pupil Premium: money given directly to schools for each pupil on free school meals to spend as they see fit. In the next academic year my old junior school will be given over £79,000 and my senior school will get almost £150,000. All of this is fantastic news and hopefully will going some way towards tackling social mobility and stopping children falling behind.
One thing we don’t seem to be looking at is the children who need a different kind of help, the ones who don’t fall behind because they’re what my school deemed ‘gifted and talented’. The sixth form college in my town looked at the academic performance of children at junior school and picked the best ones – including me – to put on their ‘gifted and talented list’; we were enrolled in a summer school for a fortnight between junior and comprehensive school, taken on trips to Oxford and Cambridge and generally encouraged to think about applying to elite universities.
Unfortunately this level of encouragement wasn’t carried across to the schools. I was, for want of a better word, ignored at school because the focus was on getting students to leave with the magic 5 A*-C grade GCSEs. This meant that the focus was on pupils around the C-D border, because I could get top marks without much effort I wasn’t given as much attention. I can’t blame the teachers, I can only imagine the pressure they were under to get students up to C grade and they were probably relieved to have students like me who they didn’t have to worry about, but it did mean that I didn’t achieve my full potential. I left school with 4 A*s, 5 As and 3 Bs and I left college with AAA* grades but I go to a university that could in no way be described as ‘elite’ and my marks at university are good but nothing remarkable because I was never pushed. My teachers were happy to leave me to blag it because at GCSE that still got me good grades but I’m rapidly discovering that – unsurprisingly – that doesn’t work at university. A lot of this is my fault; I don’t try as hard as I should and I certainly don’t manage my time well – last minute essays are a speciality – but I do feel that the lack of drive I have now has something to do with the fact that I was never tested by previous education.
The Liberal Democrats are doing a fantastic job of encouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds and showing young people that there are more options open to them than just university by creating more apprenticeships than ever before but we’re still missing a trick. There are some young people whose talent is being allowed to waste because they don’t find the education system enough of a challenge. Helping disadvantaged and underachieving pupils make the most of their education is a noble aim but it should not come at the expense of those who are more able. Labour allowed this situation to develop; the Liberal Democrats cannot allow it to continue.