Tom Richmond: Cameron fails to do his homework once again

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JUDGING by the contents of David Cameron’s keynote speech on education, the Prime Minister will be heading to the bottom of the class unless he learns five basic lessons pretty quickly.

Lesson number one: do not promise policies which cannot be delivered. It is unfeasible for the next government to sack the heads of 3,500 under-performing schools, because there simply are not the staff to replace them.

Lesson number two: do not create false impressions on funding. The Tories said the schools budget would be ring-fenced, and spared the post-election cuts, but they were forced to admit grudgingly that the funding would not increase and a rising population means there will actually be less money for each pupil.

Lesson number three: be more certain of policy solutions. Mr Cameron is convinced that every failing school should be converted into an academy free of LEA control, but the Education Select Committee – headed by Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart – is still to be convinced about their effectiveness in raising standards.

Lesson number four: assert some authority at the Department for Education and Skills. It is becoming increasingly clear that Nicky Morgan, the current Education Secretary, is being undermined by her divisive predecessor Michael Gove.

Lesson number five: lead by example. How ironic, in the week when the Government said it wanted all children to know their 12 times table by the time they leave primary school, that the PM was reluctant to calculate 9x8 in front of the cameras.

In short, Mr Cameron’s policy intervention was a missed opportunity. As the former Labour Minister Andrew Adonis observed in the Archbishop of York’s new book, there is a paucity of ambition and policy-makers should be striving to ensure that 90 per cent of youngsters reach the Government’s GCSE benchmarks compared to 60 per cent at present.

However this will not happen if the Tories continue to denigrate teachers – the Government do need to keep heads on side if results are to improve.

Yes, there is merit to successful heads overseeing failing schools, but I’m not convinced it will work – it risks creating too much resentment.

Instead, I’d like to see the creation of “super-heads” who would oversee a secondary school – and all the feeder primary schools.

In short, it would make it much easier for schools to monitor the progress of pupils from the age of five to 16, and to intervene if their performance slips below the Government’s target.

To me, it makes far more sense than headteachers taking charge of random schools because David Cameron did not do sufficient homework before declaring “war on mediocrity”.

ANOTHER wobbly week for Ed Miliband began when a student voter asked him to outline his “life experience” and explain why he “should be the one to represent the people of Britain?”

There was a bit of bluster and arm-waving before the Doncaster North MP replied unconvincingly: “I’ve done a number of things which I think, I hope are relevant to this. I was obviously an economic adviser in the Treasury and I think that’s important... I’ve taught. I taught at Harvard University. I actually taught around government and economics...”

It was desperate. And then Labour have the temerity to criticise Boots boss Stefano Pessina, and former M&S supremo Sir Stuart Rose, for questioning the party’s economic approach. At least these are people with proven records in creating jobs. How many members of Mr Miliband’s team can claim to have done likewise? Not many.

The hypocrisy does not end here. On the day Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls could not name a single business backer for Labour on Newsnight, the party’s Selby and Ainsty candidate Dr Mark Hayes was sending out a leaflet in which he promised to “support local small businesses”.

One problem – it was printed 232 miles away in Cardiff.

AWARDED an OBE in 2009 “for services to local government”, I can only hope that Roger Stone – the disgraced leader of Rotherham Council at the height of the sex grooming scandal – has the decency to return the honour. It is the least that he can do after government advisor Louise Casey’s report exposed the authority’s failure to listen to the 1,400 young people being used and abused by sex gangs of Pakistani origin. If not, he should be stripped of the honour – without delay.

Anything less would be an insult to each and every victim, while perpetuating the view that the honours system merely exists to reward an elite with a cavalier disregard for those they purport to serve.

DESPITE this week’s unflattering biography, the Prince of Wales is still king of championing causes close to his heart. At least Charles held a summit this week to look at ways of supporting dairy farmers. It’s more than Ministers and MPs have done – they finally got round to a backbench debate on Wednesday when junior minister George Eustice, rather than Food and Rural Affairs secretary Liz Truss, tried to defend the Government’s inaction. That’s how little farming appears to matter to the Tories, the supposed party of the countryside.

THERE was a slight sense of dread when I returned to Richmond Towers to discover a brown envelope on the doormat with the ominous words “Recorded correspondence” and “For private use only” in the top left hand corner.

I had no need to worry for long – the contents were simply the pushiest plea that I have ever received from a charity, namely the World Cancer Research Fund UK, begging for money and pointing out how many of my neighbours are already supporting this organisation.

Are they? When I checked, it appeared to be news to them. I digress, but what I did not like was the almost threatening tone of the missive written in the name of founder Marilyn Gentry.

There followed a PS which advised: “Please use the enclosed envelope to make your gift now.”

I will not be doing so. I have little time for these aggressive marketing campaigns as cancer charities fight for money and sympathy in a week when it emerged that one in two people are likely to be struck down by the disease.

Instead, I will save my money for those charity collectors who brave all weathers to shake tins outside the supermarket – and the Macmillan nurses who offer so much support to so many.

And they won’t even have to ask – or go to the expense of a costly mailshot/begging letter.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk