FIRST it was David Cameron’s independend-minded mother challenging the validity of her son’s austerity cuts. Now the Tory head of education in the PM’s home patch has warned that the viability of small rural schools will be at risk if they’re forced to become academies operating outside the auspices of LEAs.
If Mr Cameron can’t convince ‘true blues’ in Oxfordshire, one of the most Conservative counties in Britain, about the merit of the school plan, one of the centrepieces of George Osborne’s mismanaged Budget, what hope has he of winning over the rest of the country on a plan which contradicts his own localism agenda?
Context is key. Even though academies standards in Yorkshire continue to lag behind the rest of Britain, the record of those schools that have converted to academies is mixed. Some have achieved better results. Others have not, and Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw recently warned that some chains are performing no better than the worst LEAs. Spiralling salaries and management costs are another justifiable concern.
However, Education Minister Nick Gibb could not have been more unconvincing yesterday when asked why the Government had the right to ride roughshod over the views of parents, teachers and elected local councillors if a successful school did not wish to be run by a private sector business or charity. He justified his flawed “one-size-fits-all” approach on “weak local authorities” rather than other factors, such as a serial shortage of qualified teachers.
Yet neither Mr Gibb – nor the Prime Minister – appear to grasp the importance of this issue in rural areas like North Yorkshire and the East Riding. Here schools are so short-staffed that headteachers have to spent a large part of the day in the classroom and therefore rely on the LEA for admin support or the provision of school meals for example. Without this back-up, many rural schools, each with their own needs and priorities, would not be able to function, a lesson that Ministers need to learn. This is the test: If the policy is not good enough for Oxfordshire, it’s definitely not good enough for the rest of the country.
Awkward squads. The great devolution dilemma
PERHAPS Yorkshire is not the awkward county after all after David Cameron made reference to this county’s propensity to fall out with itself. Even though there is some consternation that this region has still not struck a devolution deal with the Government, Chancellor George Osborne is facing more Budget embarrassment as his self-rule agenda unravels.
Even though Mr Osborne told Parliament 10 days ago that “we have agreed a single powerful East Anglia combined authority, headed up by an elected Mayor and almost a billion pounds of new investment”, councillors on the ground are clearly having second thoughts. It’s the same in South Yorkshire and North East where previously announced deals, designed in part to put pressure on local authorities in the West, North and East Ridings, have hit significant snags, not least because of a growing realisation that the Chancellor is devolving responsibility, but not the finances needed to fund skills training, transport improvements and generate new jobs through inward investment.
No wonder the widely respected Lord Haskins, chairman of the Humber LEP, says the time has come for a national review – the challenge is making sure that devolution works for the benefit of all, and not just Mr Osborne’s own convenience.
Where’s Dave? Pm’s holiday hypocrisy
WAS it Yorkshire’s loss and Lanzarote’s gain – or vice-versa? The hullabaloo over David Cameron’s Easter holiday is such that he might not have been the most popular visitor to God’s own county, although he would still have been afforded a warm welcome. After all, it was the PM who implored the country, via Downing Street’s ‘cut and paste’ love letters, to holiday in flood-hit areas before he opted for the Canaries.
The ‘do as I say and not as I do’ Prime Minister doesn’t know what he was missing. He, and his family, could have enjoyed a stroll over the majestic Ilkley Moor or, if it was too nippy for their liking, ventured to one of the many world class museums and hostelries in a county that is very much open for business. Mr Cameron might not be leading by example, but at least Yorkshire families – and visitors from further afield – know that they don’t need guaranteed sunshine in order to have the time of their lives and, crucially, support this region’s priceless tourism industry.