February 11: Dilemma over Ofsted’s scope

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IF more young people in Yorkshire are to fulfil their potential, and become the wealth-creators of tomorrow, it would help if there was a more constructive relationship between the teaching profession and politicians of all persuasions

For too long, growing animosity between teachers and politicians has detracted from the needs of pupils – whether it be the tendency for Ministers to impose curriculum changes on a whim or those unions who are reluctant to see established practices and orthodoxies being challenged.

This came to a head during Michael Gove’s confrontational tenure at the Department for Education and Skills and it is significant that his successor, Nicky Morgan, has sought a more consensual approach – she has recognised, for example, the importance of waiting until the end of the academic year before implementing any new rules and regulations.

Yet this has not stopped the teaching unions from expressing continuing concern about the workload of their members, and the additional pressures that are generated by Oftsed inspections. At a time when the inspectorate’s effectiveness has been brought into sharp focus by yesterday’s Parliamentary hearings into the Rotherham sex grooming scandal, it is important that a careful balance is struck.

Ofsted inspections have been critical to improving the scrutiny of schools, and highlighting poor performance. Yet there is an argument that spot-checks could be more effective than the current regime where teachers have weeks to prepare for their assessment. It can lead to inspectors seeing a very sanitised version of a school. Either way, it is important that teachers and Ministers come to a consensus – if only to spare the next generation of pupils from the political sniping that has become so counter-productive.

Rate of return

Tories on the side of business

HAVING forgotten to mention the deficit during his party conference speech, Ed Miliband’s decision to snub yesterday’s British Chambers of Commerce annual conference did little to enhance Labour’s business credentials.

His decision to decline the invitation – David Cameron and Nick Clegg both accepted – suggests, once again, that Labour are allowing the tax policies of banks like HSBC to cloud their judgement on all companies and encourage some of the anti-competitive practices being pursued by the Opposition.

Yet, as the Prime Minister made clear in his speech, it is medium-sized businesses which are this “country’s job-engine” and which need to flourish if Britain is to become less dependent on the public sector.

However there is still much to do – despite unemployment falling at record rates. For, while

the South is clearly prospering, the North has still to feel the benefits of the recovery which is now gathering pace.

In this regard, it is encouraging that Mr Cameron has signalled an intention to allow local authorities to keep a greater proportion of business rates that are generated by new businesses. This is welcome – it empowers town halls to play an even bigger role in the economic development of their communities.

However, at a time when local government budgets are coming under constant pressure, one small caveat does need to be added. This money needs to be ring-fenced for infrastructure improvements that will help new businesses rather than being used to prop up cash-hit council services. If not, the scheme is unlikely to meet Mr Cameron’s expectations.

A train of thought

New rolling stock is top priority

IF THE railways are to fulfil their potential, there is merit to the call by the Institute of Economic Affairs for the Government to accede greater flexibility over fares to individual train operators.

If chronic levels of rush-hour overcrowding are to be eased, one way is to reduce ticket prices at those times of the day when services are under-utilised.

However, the simple fact of the matter is that the railway industry is failing in its public service obligations – there is simply insufficient rolling stock in Yorkshire at peak times – and this will not be resolved by tinkering with the ticket structure.

Train operators need to be compelled by the Government, as part of the new franchises currently being awarded for the Northern and TransPennine routes, to invest in new carriages so passengers can travel in greater comfort at all times of day.

Policy-makers have regarded the travelling public as an inconvenience for too long, a mindset that must now change track.