WHEN MICHAEL GOVE began his radical programme of schools reform, the spate of anger from teaching unions and other sections of the education establishment had long been anticipated. And it was fear of even greater opposition that led the Conservatives to rule out, at an early stage, any return to schools selecting by ability.
Nigel Farage, however, has no such qualms. The UK Independence Party leader has called for a grammar school in every town as an antidote to the decline in social mobility that has plagued Britain for decades.
And there will be much support for Mr Farage’s views, not least in those areas of the UK where Britain’s 164 remaining grammar schools provide beacons of excellence that the Education Secretary pointedly ignores.
Like most of Ukip’s ideas, however, there is much work to be done on Mr Farage’s latest wheeze before it makes the transition from the back of one of his fag packets to a fully fledged education policy.
For while many agree that grammar schools provided superlative education, there are few who have fond memories of the 11-plus exam. Making a final decision on children’s futures at such a young age was a foolish and tragically wasteful idea, one which consigned thousands of children to a secondary education that was as unhappy as it was unfulfilling.
Therefore, while there is merit in the notion of selection, it would have to be done far more flexibly and sensitively if it were to help all pupils to achieve their potential, a fact pointed out by Mark Ellse, an old boy of Doncaster Grammar and now head of a successful academy in Staffordshire.
The question, then, is whether Ukip can develop this idea from a vague promise to a real plan for improving the education of children from poorer families. Over to you, Mr Farage.
The battle for Britain’s borders
ONE of the reasons why voters are drawn to Ukip, and its commitment to curb immigration, is that the Government has not only failed lamentably to keep its pledge to tighten border controls, but also that the promise itself has become a clear illustration of the extent of this failure.
For, when the latest figures show net migration rising by 58,000 to 212,000, they make a mockery of the Home Office’s much trumpeted target of reducing this figure to less than 100,000 by next year.
It may have been Labour that opened the doors to East European workers and presided over a huge consequent increase in immigration, but it was the Conservative-led Government that made loud noises about reversing this trend and has singularly failed to do so.
For the stark fact is that free movement of labour within the European Union means that UK governments actually have very little control over migration figures, a reality finally recognised by George Osborne yesterday.
The Chancellor, therefore, is now signalling a change in emphasis. From now on, rising immigration figures will not be treated as a cause for embarrassment. Rather, they will be seized upon to show the importance of the Prime Minister’s planned renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership.
Regardless of such subtleties of emphasis, however, the likelihood is that the voters will perceive only one thing, that immigration is increasing and that the Conservatives, like their Labour predecessors, are powerless to do anything about it.
Yorkshire is Tour’s first winner
IT HAS taken Chris Froome a long time, but the reigning Tour de France champion has finally discovered the truth that quickly dawns on all cyclists venturing forth in Yorkshire’s northern or western regions: it is hard to find a section of flat road.
But while this truth can be a painful one for fledgling pedallers setting out on their cycling career, it is a positive boon to the dedicated professionals taking part in Le Grand Départ next month and a particularly mouth-watering prospect for skilled hill-climbers such as Froome.
For the reigning champion has, in fact, discovered just what it was about Yorkshire that convinced Tour de France organisers that the region was the ideal place to host the start of the 2014 race. It is not only Yorkshire’s cycling challenges that have caught the champion’s eye, but also its breathtaking beauty.
Froome admits that, until he arrived last week, he had no idea of what the Yorkshire countryside was like. And, being born and raised in Africa, he has a good excuse for this. But after Le Grand Départ has given Yorkshire its global showcase, it is a safe bet that the rest of the world will have far fewer excuses to stay away in future.