SINCE becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May has been quick to highlight the importance of improving our education system, and rightly so.
Equipping pupils with the skills needed to compete successfully in the workplace is not only crucial for their own personal development, it will also underpin Britain’s future prosperity.
But if we want to provide world-class education in this country then the focus needs to be on teaching, not the polarising argument about grammar schools.
This is all the more important in the wake of a troubling new report, published today, which reveals that secondary school teachers in England work longer hours, get paid less than in most other countries and risk burn out early in their career.
According to the Education Policy Institute’s findings, the average teacher works more than 48 hours a week, with one in five toiling for 60 hours or more, yet their starting salaries are well below those of most other countries in the Western world.
It is little wonder, then, that so many teachers are leaving the profession prematurely. Former schools minister David Laws is right to criticise politicians for spending too much time tinkering with the system, rather than focusing on how to improve teaching in schools.
Teachers in this country do a sterling job often in difficult circumstances and what they need is more support, not to be swamped by red tape and an ever-increasing workload.
There are problems that need addressing, such as the direct correlation between struggling schools in Yorkshire and low retention rates among teachers. But we must not forget this is an important profession populated by dedicated, hard-working people with a passion for what they do, and if we want our children to have the best education then we need the best people possible teaching them.
Tackling mental health stigma
AS a society our attitude towards mental health is more enlightened now than ever before. Charities such as Leeds Mind and Help for Heroes have worked tirelessly to help raise awareness about what is a complex, and sometimes misunderstood, issue.
Then there are courageous individuals like former RAF officer Jon Knott, from Doncaster, whose career was ended by multiple sclerosis and led to a dramatic loss of self-worth. He has spoken candidly about his own mental health battles and how with support from the Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds (HHHW) project he has been able to find renewed purpose in his life.
There is growing understanding among our political leaders of the importance in providing the resources needed to combat what for too long has been a taboo subject, with the Prime Minister having already promised to champion the issue.
But as we mark World Mental Health Day it still remains a stigma with many people either afraid to seek help, or uncertain where to go for support. Stress, depression and anxiety still blight Britain’s workforce, with mental health problems the leading cause of absence through illness in the UK, costing the economy more than £8bn.
However, this doesn’t only afflict adults. A poll carried out for the YMCA of more than 2,000 young people, aged between 11 and 24, found that 38 per cent felt stigmatised.
It is a stark reminder that mental health problems can beset people of any age and from all walks of life. They cannot be swept under the carpet and it is only by raising awareness and talking about the issues that we can tackle them together.
Barnbow factory protected
THEY were a vital cog in Britain’s war effort, but for years they were the secret victims of a home front tragedy.
In December 1916, an explosion at a Leeds munitions factory killed 35 women - but the truth about what happened was hushed up and kept out of the headlines for fear of damaging the nation’s morale during the First World War.
It was only years later that details started to emerge over what occurred at the Barnbow factory in Cross Gates. Most of the buildings at the site were demolished by the mid-1920s but the remains of the factory – which show its near-complete layout – survived and now they are being added to the national heritage list by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
It is a fitting tribute to these brave women, known affectionately as the “Barnbow lasses”, who not only kept the home fires burning but played a crucial part in helping the Allies win the war.