Tom Richmond: A lesson for the politicians in educating a nation of dunces

Education Secretary Michael Gove

Education Secretary Michael Gove

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GIVEN that the education of young people is, arguably, this country’s greatest priority, why are our politicians playing “pass the parcel” rather than getting to grips with the shortcomings in Britain’s schools?

I ask this after the UK was characterised as a nation of “dunces” in the latest OECD league tables which show the country lags even further behind those emerging economies that have placed a premium on equipping their children with skills relevant for the 21st century.

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s response? To blame the profligacy of the last Labour government and to adopt a totally cavalier attitude over the number of unqualified teachers who are now taking lessons.

This is what Gove told MPs: “In 2009, there were 17,400 unqualified teachers, in 2010, just before Labour left office, there were 17,800 and there are now only 14,800, a significant reduction.

“In 2009, just before the Labour Party lost office, only 61 per cent of teachers had a 2:1 or better as their undergraduate degree. Under the coalition Government, the figure is 74 per cent, which is a clear improvement that has been driven by the changes that we have introduced.”

That may be so, but that still leaves 15,000 unqualified teachers – a typical attendance at a Championship football match – and one quarter of all school staff having a below average degree qualification.

I’m all for innovation, and schools using outside expertise from the worlds of science, business, sport, literature and the military to have an input into lessons, but parents should have a right to expect teachers to have met certain academic standards.

That is not to exclude those often inspirational individuals who became teachers in spite of their qualifications – I have no problem with them taking lessons once they have proven their expertise.

But what despairs me is the likes of Gove blaming Labour and the Opposition’s education spokesman Tristram Hunt washing his hands by saying that this is the coalition’s problem.

These two political intellects would not want their children to be taught by unqualified teachers. Nor would any MP for that matter.

Why, therefore, has Britain’s political elite presided over the appointment of so many unqualified teachers without questioning the wisdom of this approach?

It’s simple – complacency and a lack of accountability at the Department for Education and Skills.

AN acquaintance who has been receiving the very best possible care from an NHS hospital could not have been more praiseworthy about the dedication, and work ethic, of the doctors and nurses treating him.

Yet he was concerned at the shortage of medical expertise at weekends, and in the evenings, and is now convinced that there needs to be a fundamental review of staffing levels at all times – night and day.

“They are worked off their feet,” he said wearily. “There are simply not enough nurses.”

My friend is also a pragmatist. He knows money is tight.

But his solution is an inspired one – replace every bureaucrat leaving the NHS with a full-time medic. It would probably also save a few bob at the same time.

WAS it me or was there something disturbing – almost ghoulish –about Sky News reporting last Saturday morning “at least six fatalities” in the Glasgow pub tragedy several hours before the emergency services gave an official briefing to the media?

The pursuit of “breaking news”, the DNA of the Sky empire, should not come at the expense of respect for the plight of the grieving families and the professionalism of those rescuers whose actions were nothing short of heroic.

I’m afraid the haste of Sky News only added to the ordeal of all those concerned and an apology should now be forthcoming.

ON the day Alex Salmond announced details of his Scottish independence vision, the BBC 10pm news had a presenter in the studio while anchor Huw Edwards was in Edinburgh.

The BBC also rolled out a special correspondent, a reporter in Dundee, its Scottish political editor (who was too afraid to say anything interesting) and Westminster political editor Nick Robinson, who appeared to be walking broadcasting’s tightrope.

I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

I SEE that Wakefield MP Mary Creagh has been leading calls for action after a spate of fatal accidents on the capital’s streets between lorries and cyclists.

“I’ve been cycling in London for nearly 20 years,” wrote the Yorkshire MP in the London Evening Standard, before unveiling an eight-point plan that includes HGVs being fitted with safety devices – including rear-view cameras – so drivers can spot cyclists from their cab.

The sentiment is an admirable one, but how will it work if it does not apply to those foreign-registered hauliers who are now plying their trade in Britain and whose presence has already forced countless HGV firms out of business?

EVIDENTLY commuters will be able to post and collect parcels from their local railway station in the future.

Very convenient, but I’d be more confident if station staff were more willing to help passengers buy the cheapest possible rail fares...

A LONG overdue visit to the Cabinet War Rooms, and Churchill collection, could not have been more inspiring.

Exhibits range from a note from Churchill checking there were sufficient supplies of beer in London for VE Day to the letter that Michael, now Lord Heseltine, wrote to Margaret Thatcher in May 1981 calling for the rooms to be opened to the public.

Another example of Heseltine’s ‘get up and go’ was his proposal that this process be underpinned by admission charges.

He was right to do so, but I did feel that the entry fee last week of £17 for adults was slightly on the steep side – this is the only Imperial War Museum attraction that charges admission.

A suggestion. How about free entry in 2015 for past and present members of the Armed Forces, and the families of those who served with the intelligence services during the war, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of VE Day and the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston’s passing?

Given that the rooms are effectively in the basement of HM Treasury, I have three Churchillian words for Chancellor George Osborne: “Action this day.”

IT does not bode well for the Ashes series when the most notable aspect of Yorkshire player Joe Root’s bland, anodyne and dreary cover interview with The Cricketer magazine is the number of advisers present to make sure the Tyke says nothing out of turn.

The presence of agents has seen sports competitors become devoid of personality. It begs this question – would players as strident as Geoff Boycott, Brian Close, Raymond Illingworth and the late FS Trueman have been tolerated in the current game?

Probably not.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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