In the next fortnight there will be many more opportunities to applaud the talent, ambition and achievement of our young people.
Thousands of them will find that they have surpassed their own expectations and that years of hard work has paid off. They will secure the A level results they dreamt of and a university place or apprenticeship will be theirs.
This week of all weeks, they deserve to savour that success. Our society has not always valued academic achievement as it should. In the past, access to excellence was rationed with a majority of young people banished from the education system in their teens. University was assumed to be a minority pursuit. Influential voices still argue that having half our children go on to higher education is a mistake; that university expansion has gone too far; that more students must settle for less. But these critics never say whose children should be denied the chance to shine. And they certainly never assume it should be their own.
It is one of the great joys of my job that so many young people refuse to be held back by the enemies of promise. In more and more schools excellence is becoming a universal expectation, academic study a driving purpose. Whether it is Burlington Danes Academy, West London, Perry Beeches Academy, Birmingham, the marvellous Woolwich Polytechnic School for Boys or the inspirational Paddington Academy, comprehensive schools with disadvantaged intakes are producing amazing academic results. Students from communities that were written off a generation ago are now making it to Russell Group universities in their hundreds.
Some of these schools are criticised for their remorseless emphasis on academic excellence – and especially their success in traditional subjects such as English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and modern and ancient languages. The line of attack is as familiar to me as the annual debate about whether standards are rising. These schools are Gradgrindian; they are exam factories.
What the critics ignore, of course, is that academic rigour is liberating, not limiting. Students with good passes, especially in traditional subjects, have more opportunities in life.
Mercifully, a new generation of heads and teachers have fought back and given a new generation of state school students the chance to compete for glittering prizes. Thanks to great heads such as Sir Dan Moynihan, Dame Sue John, David Hampson, Rachel de Souza, Mike Griffiths, Alice Hudson and many others, whose schools outperform the rest, the argument for uncompromising emphasis on academic excellence has been won.
Which is why tomorrow, and next week when the GCSE results come out, attention should be directed to the secrets of these heads’ success, and their students’ amazing achievements.
Our young people are as capable of academic excellence as anyone. They need to be. Because the world is getting more competitive and they are up against billions of others in the race for jobs and university places. That is why we must make sure that our exam system, the training ground on which they prepare for the adult world, can match the world’s best.