Fighting the odds – and winning

“They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in the home, school, or anyplace.”

If ever a quote summed up the determination of this country’s schoolchildren to succeed in the face of overwhelming odds, this is it.

Our young people, denied months of classroom schooling, of seeing their teachers face to face, of being with friends, have demonstrated remarkable resolve. They have confronted the considerable challenges of solitary learning – and its inevitable assault on mental health – and come through on the other side.

Some will need extra support to catch up – and it must be provided whatever the cost.

This year’s A level and GCSE candidates are celebrating record results, and we celebrate with them. Some say this year’s system of teacher assessment and internal tests artificially inflated grades. But the point is academic, if you’ll forgive the pun. These critics have no more idea than the rest of us how these young people would have fared in an exam – because they were denied the chance to take one.

How wonderful in August to see thousands of smiling teenagers, rather than the anxious, confused and distraught young faces of last year, confronted by results erratically tilted against them by a useless algorithm.

Dreaming of university – computer says ‘no’.

By contrast, this year’s cohort are off to the universities of their choice and, after all that they have gone through, we rejoice with them.

The opening quote? It is from Malala Yousafzai, a 24-year-old human rights activist. You may recall her as a schoolgirl, standing up to the Taliban which outlawed girls attending school in her native northwest Pakistan. When she was 15, a gunman stopped her school bus and shot her in the head. She was flown to Birmingham for life-saving surgery. Malala’s bravery was lauded by world leaders and her advocacy of female education has grown into an international movement. Aged 17, she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, the youngest ever Nobel laureate.

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