Opinion: Raise aspirations and reach potential

PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 September 2018


On GCSE results day, August 23, I was at Little Ilford School. I was with headteacher Ian Wilson, chairman of governors Simon Mares and a large group of anxious students.

The new grading system made comparisons harder than usual but it was clear Little Ilford’s results had improved again.

Thirty-four years ago, I became Little Ilford’s chairman of governors. Exam results were poor. Some used to say you couldn’t expect better from pupils in an area like ours. But others argued that young people in our area could do just as well as those anywhere else. And aspirations started to rise.

Since then, there has been a transformation in expectations and standards. Little Ilford – in a fine new building which lifts your spirits as you approach the entrance – is a prime example. It has been getting brilliant results, and this year was no exception.

Key to the change was the election of a Labour government in 1997. It was determined bright young people in disadvantaged areas should be able to do well. It put strategies in place to deliver: funding increased, Education Action Zones started, literacy and numeracy hours were introduced in primary schools. In 2002, as schools minister, I introduced Teach First to recruit very bright young people into teaching. The London Challenge raised standards dramatically.

Today, young people are doing well in school. There are new jobs and opportunities here. Major employers are moving to the Olympic Park. The Asian Business Port in the Royal Docks plans to house up to 30,000 jobs. Potential for east London’s young people is immense. We need to support schools like Little Ilford and realise that potential.

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