November 4: Tests for seven-year-olds are not the answer to Yorkshire’s education woes

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More exams are no substitute for better teaching.

THE importance of primary education cannot be over-estimated. It forms the basis of learning and puts in place the building blocks that enable children to flourish throughout their time at school and beyond.

Or at least it should. The consistently poor attainment levels in Yorkshire suggest that too many pupils are falling behind their peers elsewhere in the country at a young age.

Yesterday it emerged that a letter sent to Sheffield City Council by Ofsted regional director Nick Hudson described the performance of Sheffield’s primary schools as “inexcusable”. And the authority is by no means alone in its struggle to drive up standards.

In such a light, education secretary Nicky Morgan’s pledge to introduce formal tests for seven-year-olds might be welcomed.

Mrs Morgan says she wants to stop some pupils from falling behind – especially in the 20 local authorities where the majority of students fail to pass five good GCSEs.
Given that four of these authorities are in Yorkshire, where numbers of pupils achieving this benchmark are actually falling, the need for decisive action is clear.

However, it would be a mistake to think that extra testing was an adequate substitute for better learning.

The blunt truth is that Yorkshire has more pupils going to schools that are rated as being not good enough than anywhere else in the country.

Furthermore, the fact that the current system already means that England has the most tested children in the whole of Europe suggests that this is not the issue. Indeed, in countries such as Sweden, children have barely even started school by the age of seven.

If teachers who see their pupils day in, day out are unable to identify those who are struggling and how to help them then surely it suggests the problem lies in standards in the classroom rather than the lack of yet another exam for young children.

On the buses

Bill can narrow north-south gap

IT is no secret that the regions are light years behind the capital in terms of providing a modern, passenger-centred transport system. Partly this is due to investment – the Government spends £5,500 per resident in London and less than £600 in Yorkshire.

However, it also has much to do with the way such systems are run. In the capital, it is Transport for London that decides where bus routes should operate and then asks firms to bid to run them.

Crucially, this means that it is they who dictate transport policy and not the private operators. In the rest of the country, however, such arrangements are all too rare, meaning the boot is firmly on the other foot.

Passengers are invariably the losers as the virtual monopoly enjoyed by major bus operators leaves them able to chase profits, diverting resources away from less lucrative routes which may nevertheless provide a vital service.

The Government’s Bus Bill is therefore to be welcomed. It would provide the option for combined authority areas to be responsible for the running of their local bus services and finally allow cities to grow integrated transport systems.

The only stumbling block appears to be the concern that shifting to this new system would leave councils liable to pay millions of pounds worth of compensation to companies who would lose out as a result.

If the Government is truly committed to delivering both a better service for paying passengers and more powers to the regions then this threat must be removed at once.

Snub for Brontës

No place for sisters on passport

IN seeking to showcase the country’s cultural and creative heritage, it is surprising that just two of the famous figures portrayed on the new UK passport are women.

Far more baffling, however, is the absence of a trio of writers from Yorkshire whose works continue to be read and appreciated around the world.

When asked to explain the decision not to include Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë, head of the Passport Office Mark Thomson said: “Whenever we do these things there is always someone who wants their favourite rock band or icon in the book.”

Perhaps the next question to Mr Thomson should have been which rock band he thought the Brontë sisters belonged to.

Another reason he cited for their exclusion was a shortage of space.

If that is true, then the absence of the nation’s most famous female writers makes even less sense.

After all, with the Brontë sisters they could have had three inspirational women for the price of one.