Column writing is a tricky business lately, it must be current, based on the facts, have some relevant opinion and it must be all of those things several days before publication. Now, I’m aware that this is not the editorial of the New York Times (although that one cant be easy these days) but even a small business column is a hostage to fortune when under the current Government, the accepted policy can change faster than the traffic lights on Barnard Castle High Street and there may be a U-turn at any time.
Much has been written about the A Level results debacle, we are a day away from GCSEs and I don’t intend to rehash the debate over education or the performance of pupils, individual ministers, Quangos, or the Government.What I do intend to do is have a look at how this strikes at the heart of the Government’s flagship policy for the regions “Levelling Up”, a promise which had a hand in giving the current Government a strong working majority.
Boris Johnson’s acknowledgement that something had gone badly wrong with Whitehall’s approach to regional policy and the historic imbalance in resources for the North was welcome. We had been pointing this out to Governments of all colours for years and recognition of the need for fundamental change chimed. Levelling Up is not about simply throwing money at the problem, it helps of course, but it’s about working with regions to address the ingrained unfairness in the system and formulating policy with that aim first and foremost.
However, the issues over the A Level results question the Government’s fundamental approach. If we compare last year’s A Level results with the year before, they show that the North East outpaced all other regions in increasing the number of A grades received. Our schools showed marked improvement, OK there is a gap to close but, last year, we began to close it.Which is why it feels such a kick in the teeth that an arbitrary computer programme has undone all that work, especially when to anyone in those “levelling up” regions it was obvious that would be the outcome.
We know we are in extraordinary times, and the job of Government cannot be an easy but policies such as this, and then the doubling down on them, suggest that flagship agenda is not the prism through which policies are viewed and until they are, that level field will be illusive.