'Work hard, aim high and you will achieve...'

I believe that education is absolutely vital in improving young people’s life chances. There should surely be consensus that everyone in the country deserves the same life chances, and that every child has a right to an excellent standard of education, whatever their circumstances, and wherever they live.

Last month I was pleased to see that across Barnsley, students achieved a 99% A’ level pass rate, with 91% gaining three of more grades A* to E. Students, staff and parents should be proud of these results, particularly given the challenges our education system is facing.

But it has been a challenging year for all involved in education in Barnsley. Every head teacher I have met has raised concerns about the inequalities in the current funding system. We are one of the poorest funded boroughs in the country.

Schools in Barnsley continue to do their best despite this difficult situation, but the reality is that years of real-term funding cuts mean that many are now struggling to retain teachers and continue to offer the standard of education that our children deserve.

Over the last year, changes to the GCSE curriculum and grading system have placed added pressure on staff and students alike, and this year’s results are a testament to the dedication, commitment and hard work of all involved. As schools face further changes to GCSEs next year, we must address the inequalities in education funding. Increasingly our students and teachers have to work harder and smarter than in other parts of the country to achieve good results, against the odds. That is not acceptable.

Changes to the GCSE curriculum will do nothing to reduce the inequality in life chances which still exists between different parts of our country. Students in Barnsley schools should not have to achieve good grades “against the odds”, but should receive the same education and opportunities as students in more affluent parts of the country. All students must have access to an excellent standard of education in well-resourced schools.

I know from my regular visits to schools in Barnsley, and from conversations with the hugely dedicated teachers we have working locally, that we need fair and equitable investment in all of our schools. We also need a clear strategy to provide schools with the certainty they need about long-term funding and teacher recruitment.

So to all those teachers and staff working hard for our children locally, my message is clear: thank you – we value you service and appreciate the inspiring work you do. To those pupils who might just read this, my message is equally clear: work hard, aim high and you will achieve great things.

This article was first published in the Barnsley Chroncile's Special Supplement on Education, 22 September 2017

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