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In a single sentence, the DfE tells us everything that is wrong with both the education system and our socio-economic structures

“The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.” So said the Department for Education, responding to a High Court judgement that children who regularly attend school may be permitted family absences.

Let's think that through. Start with the assertion that a person's "life chances" depend on their GCSE results. Is that by accident, or design? If by accident, then it is high time that we do something to correct the error; but if by design then how come we've created a system that values only the narrow range of not particularly useful and sometimes harmful attributes that GCSEs assess.

The ability to memorise, for example, and then reproduce in a specified format some pre-cooked "facts" that can easily be looked up on a smartphone does not seem like an essential life skill. The "skill" of suppressing ones enthusiasm - ones desire to innovate, question and create - in favour of sticking to the predetermined script, also seems to have limited merit. A tolerance of lone, silent study, eschewing the virtues and possibilities of creative collaboration, does not seem the most promising mindset for a fulfilling life. A willingness to be stressed, anxious and self-critical, accompanied by a clear message that this state is both appropriate and necessary, is a recipe for a similarly anxious, stressful life. And yet all of these the GCSE system is imbuing in our children.

The government is right that GCSE results are affecting children's life chances, but not in a good way. They tell us almost nothing about the potential for life that a young adult holds in their being, but that have a dangerous capacity to prevent them from fulfilling that potential. But since they are the only certification that the system allows of eleven years of statutory education, the preparation for them must start at the age of five. What other construction can be placed on the claim that even a day off school at any age can impact these exam results?