An awful lot of our children don't get that. There are huge discrepancies between the performance of state secondary schools. Some manage to help virtually every child to get five good GCSEs including English and Maths. Others get this for less than one out of every five. 80% fail to make this critical level by the time they leave school.
What determines whether you go to one of the high achieving schools is not normally to do with your natural talent. It is now much more common that it is determined by where your parents can afford to live. The schools with poor results are almost exclusively in the inner cities. Even a student who really wants to learn can find it very difficult to do so in some of our most deprived schools.
This needs fixing. It isn't just bad for the individual child - it is also very bad for the economy. So it is really important that good teachers feel motivated to stay in difficult schools and resources are available to help students who are struggling to learn. Sometime small practical measures help. So credit where it is due. One of the good things the Liberal Democrats did in coalition was to establish a pupil premium which tries to direct more resources to schools looking after students who come from less well off families. Unfortunately it was accompanied by making University education so expensive that the prospect of going there is too remote to be of interest to the vast majority of inner city children.
But the really big idea of the coalition has been that you can make things better by turning schools into academies. What this means is that they are now removed from local authority control and placed under the management of a board of governors, which in turn may be subject to the control of a chain of academy sponsors. Well over half of the schools in the country have now gone through this change.
In other words the coalition has tried to fix education by a huge top down reorganisation. Exactly what David Cameron promised he wouldn't do. You cannot improve a school's performance by renaming it an academy and distracting the Head and the Governors. Any change for the better that a school achieves could have been done perfectly easily without being an academy. Any change for the worse has become very difficult for the local community to police as their vote in a local election no longer has any influence on their child's education in an academy.
At the same time as removing their democratic right to influence their child's education the coalition has made a lot of fuss over its belief that school performance will get better if we allow groups of concerned citizens to set up their own Free Schools where they can insist that their kids get the education they deserve. If you ignore the contradiction in their attitude towards parent power then this can sound like a really good radical idea that ought to work. The problem is that it completely ignores the need to help children to integrate.
Faith groups have been particularly keen to take up this opportunity to become Free Schools. The argument is that such schools provide an opportunity for a community to establish a school with a clear identity which helps establish an ethos of high achievement. In practice what it means is segregation. We place the upbringing of a group of young people in the hands of those who think that it is really important that they understand their 'own' culture. This frequently means distorting science education so that children are taught that Darwin is just putting forward a theory whilst the Koran or the Bible explains the true faith. The insidious daily message that you are part of a group that thinks and believes differently to the others is there every day in the school's acts of faith but more importantly is the attitude and the classroom asides delivered by the teaching team. A few moments spent explaining that other cultures exist will be included in the curriculum in order to satisfy Ofsted. A lot more time will be spent ensuring an identity is 'preserved'.
At a time when there is a real need to work on integration between all sections of our diverse communities it is difficult to see how setting up a free faith school can be anything other than seriously harmful. Children need to mix and to understand each other not to spend 7 years learning that their identity is one of separation.
On top of this there are other serious problems with the Free School approach. The places where a group of concerned citizens wish to establish a school and the places where they are needed frequently don't match. Birth rates mean that there are parts of the country that need a major expansion in school places. Aging schools mean that there are other localities where there is an urgent need to invest in new buildings. A great deal of the money that is needed to address this has been hived off to use to support the development of free schools. To such an extent that across the whole of Yorkshire only 11 schools received the money they needed for significant school improvements. The rest were told that they would have to wait and to teach their kids in temporary classrooms or with water running down the walls.
Worse still parents who live in areas with high birth rates are finding that their local schools can't take any more children. The parents are forced either to agree to put up with years of difficult travel arrangements or to send their kids to a school they don't trust. Meanwhile successful local schools can't get enough money to expand.
In other words not enough money is there to help expand successful inner city schools to take in new pupils because too much of the money has gone on a dangerous ideologically driven experiment in tea party style thinking. Free Schools don't come free. They come at a price of lower academic achievement elsewhere in the system and increased segregation between parts of our communities which desperately need to understand each other better.
It is time we put a stop to the illusion that we can fix anything via top down changes to administrative structure and started to put the hard work in to actually improve the education of our children. All our children.