THERESA MAY could not have been more sincere when she spoke about the importance of good schooling on becoming Prime Minister.
Yet, while the Tory leader’s first fortnight in office has been dominated by Brexit and trips to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to symbolise her support for the United Kingdom, Mrs May would be advised to read the blog by widely-respected York headteacher John Tomsett if her Government is to improve the life chances of all.
He pulls no punches – England’s schools will implode, warns Mr Tomsett, unless Ministers acknowledge not only the prevailing shortage of teachers but the fact that many are taking part in lessons for which they have no qualifications of their own. He cites a school where just two of its 17 science staff have a degree in a relevant subject.
The vastly experienced head of Huntington School goes further – he says policies introduced by Mrs May as Home Secretary are making matters even worse because teachers from non-EU countries, like Australia for example, must earn a minimum of £35,000 a year or be deported.
The fact that many teachers are not even paid this amount seemed to have escaped Mrs May, and her officials, when they were being devised and the consequence will not only be larger class sizes but teachers gravitating away from the many schools in challenging areas which are simply not in a position to break the bank when it comes to recruitment and retention.
The only salvation is that there are still staff, like Mr Tomsett, who have retained their enthusiasm and are still prepared – despite the morale-sapping policies of successive governments – to champion those who choose to teach because a love of their chosen vocation.
If Mrs May has any sense, she will ask Mr Tomsett to advise her on lessons in common sense like the quality of teaching. Not only is this issue of critical importance to Yorkshire, a region that has languished at the foot of national league tables for too long, but it is also fundamental to the PM’s One Nation agenda.
Rail opportunities: York and Bradford on map
IF HIGH-SPEED rail is to fulfil its potential and pave the way for superfast train services between Yorkshire and the North West, it is imperative that lessons from the HS2, the controversial scheme linking London with the rest of the country, are learned at the outset.
The first is the number of stops. If there are too many stations on the Northern Powerhouse Rail line, previously known as HS3 before its recent rebranding, it defeats the object of the exercise – quicker journey times between major cities like Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.
Equally this project – critical to the North’s future prosperity – will struggle to command public confidence if the focus is almost exclusively on Leeds and Manchester. One of the flaws with HS2 is that the initial plan did not benefit sufficient communities, hence the growing opposition to Britain’s largest ever infrastructure project.
In this regard, it is welcome that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is making a strong case for York and Bradford to play prominent roles in the new rail route. Like so many towns and cities in this region, improved transport links can only make both destinations more attractive for employers and employees alike and this appears, at face value, to be a sensible move.
This will also help to appease those who believe that the Northern Powerhouse policy is for the sole benefit of the aforementioned ‘big three’ cities – and not the rest of the region. To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Aristotle, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the North’s parts’ and a joined-up strategy is long-overdue if the railways are to get back on track after decades of stop-start investment by successive governments.
A small price to pay
WHEN it comes to preserving York’s Roman heritage, £44,200 appears to be a small price to pay if it means the Yorkshire Museum can keep a hoard of coins on public display. Discovered by metal detectorist David Blakey near the village of Wold Newton in 2014, some of the coins can be traced back to the reign of Constantius 1,700 years ago.
Just because these are tough times for museums does not mean that Yorkshire should turn its back on its priceless past. Quite the opposite. It is this county’s rich history which makes it the pre-eminent tourism destination in the country.