I was delighted to see, the other day, that Dorset schools in general, and West Dorset schools in particular, had performed well in the new measures of both educational attainment and educational progress.
These new measures are particularly important because they don’t just look at how well some pupils are performing in some subjects. Instead, they look at how all the pupils in a school are performing across the curriculum as a whole – so they give a real indication of what is being learnt by pupils of different aptitudes and abilities.
Clearly, both Britain’s future prosperity and the vibrancy of our culture and society depend on making sure that the potential of all our children is realised – and that is exactly what these new data are trying to check.
What also makes these figures so encouraging is that they aren’t just showing that West Dorset’s pupils have higher than average outcomes. They are also showing that West Dorset’s schools are enabling their pupils to make more progress across a wide range of subjects and skills than the average for the county, or indeed the country.
This is a tribute, not only to the pupils themselves, but also to the teachers – who we don’t thank often enough for the enormous efforts they put into educating the country.
Of course, these statistics which tell us how much knowledge and understanding pupils have acquired by the age of 16 – aren’t just a reflection of what they have learnt in the secondary and upper schools. Manifestly, the job of these schools can only be done satisfactorily if pupils arrive from primary, junior and middle schools equipped to learn what the more senior schools are able to teach them. So I hope that, right across the schools of West Dorset, the teachers will take a collective bow.
There is, however, a problem that we do need to tackle rather urgently if we are to do the right thing by all of the 16 year olds emerging from their GCSE courses – namely, to make sure that they have ready access either to 6th Forms in schools or to whatever other kind of training or further education they are seeking in colleges.
Recently, in the Bridport area, a couple of dozen young people have hit a road-block so far as this access is concerned, because the early No40 bus taking them from Beaminster, Broadwindsor and Bridport up to Yeovil College has been withdrawn.
I’ve been working in the last few days with all the other relevant people, to try and put together a practical solution – and I am sure we will find a way through this. But we really mustn’t let ourselves get into a position in the future where even a relatively small group of 16 year olds like this one is left stranded.
And this, of course, is part of a wider issue about how we provide a sufficient texture of public transport, particularly for the old and the young, in a rural area.
As the problem of bus services inside Sherborne and in Bishop’s Caundle has demonstrated recently, we haven’t yet come anywhere near to solving that problem – we are going to have to focus on it afresh over the next few years.