Michael Gove’s primary lesson

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IT SPEAKS volumes about the state of education in Britain that the decisions announced today – National Offer Day – could make or break the future prospects of a young child whose formal schooling has not even started.

IT SPEAKS volumes about the state of education in Britain that the decisions announced today – National Offer Day – could make or break the future prospects of a young child whose formal schooling has not even started.

The reason is laid bare in a new survey by Netmums which reveals the extraordinary steps that some parents will take to secure a place at their preferred primary school for their offspring.

This includes sending their children, at the age of two, to those nurseries which act as feeders for highly-rated primary schools.

Such foresight should not be derided. Parents have a right to expect the very best for their children and it should be a source of encouragement that so many families are taking such an active interest in schooling matters.

The downside is that this zealousness can marginalise those pupils whose parents do not know how to play the system to their own advantage, or who simply miss out on their chosen school because of a shortage of places.

It is a shortcoming that goes to the heart of education policy in this country. If pupils of all abilities and social backgrounds are to fulfil their academic potential and become the wealth-creators of tomorrow, they need the best possible start to their education.

This will not happen, however, when so many pupils cannot read or write properly when they begin their secondary schooling, a failing that Education Secretary Michael Gove continues to neglect.

While his reforms to GCSE and A-level exams are necessary, too many pupils are still being let down by a continuing shortage of places at top-performing primary schools. And it is a trend that will continue until Mr Gove reinvigorates standards of teaching at those schools that continue to be shunned by a significant number of parents.

A train of thought

Why should the North miss out?

THE wrath of those Yorkshire commuters compelled to pay even more money for the privilege of standing on rush-hour trains will not be ameliorated by today’s report on the allocation of rail subsidies.

Once again, it reveals the extent to which England is being marginalised by the financial demands of Scotland and Wales. To varying degrees, both want greater autonomy from Westminster, but still want Whitehall to pay the bills.

Of course, there will be some disparities over funding. It does cost more money to run transport services in remoter areas and the figure for England is skewed, to an extent, by the sheer number of passengers who now use train services in London.

But these figures will only reaffirm the view, held by a growing number of people, that Yorkshire and the North are missing out because the Tories are not in a position to resist the financial overtures being made by a strident Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, or the demands of the Scottish and Welsh – two areas where David Cameron must increase his party’s support if he is to win the 2015 election.

This explains why transport spending in London continues to outstrip the amount spent in Yorkshire by three to one. And while the blueprint to overhaul the North’s rail services is welcome, and an acknowledgement by Ministers of this region’s economic potential, these plans could be even more ambitious – and far-reaching – if Yorkshire received a fairer funding deal. For that to happen, there needs to be an acceptance of the need to start treating all passengers as equals.

The Portas way

High noon for the high street

THE EXUBERANCE and enthusiasm of retail guru Mary Portas, self-evident during her visit to Rotherham, offers hope to all those who want traditional high streets to thrive and prosper. It will not be easy. The advent of online shopping, and the expansion of out-of-town retail parks to accommodate, for example, the new John Lewis department store at Monks Cross, York, offer sustained and serious challenges.

Yet town centres can withstand these twin pressures if they become more innovative and develop schemes like Rotherham’s Makers Emporium which offers low cost retail space to a mixture of makers, crafters, artists and designers.

And it is to the credit of Ms Portas that her creativity is prospering in spite of the hollow words of Ministers – David Cameron included – whose support for the

self-styled “queen of shops” has become spasmodic. If they want high streets to thrive, they, too, need to start leading by example.