YP Comment: Will academies pass the test? Yorkshire’s schools revolution

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INNOVATION is essential if Yorkshire’s schools are to continue rising up national league tables – complacency is not an option after too many LEAs in this region presided over the stagnation of academic attainment.

Education must not be left to chance. The future prospects of all young people are at stake and the conversion of almost half of all Yorkshire schools to academies, independent of town hall control, is indicative of the Government’s approach since 2010.

Yet, while Ministers want all schools to become independent and funded directly by Whitehall, therefore rendering longstanding LEAs redundant, it is important that political ideology does not stand in the way of policy practicalities when the North-South skills gap remains so accentuated.

This is self-evident with the ongoing funding row. Without local councils highlighting spending disparities and discrepancies, some schools might be at an even greater financial disadvantage.

And while there are academies which are beginning to transform standards at previously under-performing schools, particularly those operating within clusters to reduce management overheads, it’s still too early to assess whether these reforms will achieve the intended results.

After all, there’s only a finite amount of money – the benevolence of philanthropists and other patrons cannot be guaranteed – and there are legitimate concerns about the management of some academies and whether some are skewing their admissions policy in order to favour those pupils who are most likely to meet, or exceed, the Government’s GCSE benchmarks.

This makes the role of Regional Schools Commissioners even more important. Not only is it their duty to uphold standards across the board, but they must ensure that every child receives a fair chance and that the quality of teaching is world-class. As such, there’s much to prove before it can be said with greater certainty that academies will make the grade and achieve better results than LEAs.

Making the most of libraries

LIKE post offices and banks, libraries are another essential service where the level of branch closures is beginning to have significant social repercussions for local communities.

Yet, while the usage of some facilities does not justify the running costs, closure proposals should only be a last resort – even more so after the Carnegie UK Trust revealed that it is younger people aged between 15 and 24 years who are making the most use of libraries.

Evidence that libraries still have a key role to play in the digital age when so much information is readily available on mobile devices and their like, the social value of these community assets must not be under-estimated.

However there’s no reason why these public buildings cannot be better utilised – whether it be rental income from coffee shop franchises that might, in turn, attract new users of library 
services to banks being able to offer basic services in those areas which are 
being left bereft of local branches following the latest wave of cuts being implemented to the consternation of campaigners like South Yorkshire MP John Healey.

By becoming one-stop shops where necessary, there’s a greater likelihood that there will be another chapter in the history of the library service.

Thank you Jack

EVEN though Definitly Red’s misfortune at Aintree – rider Danny Cook’s saddle slipped when the horse was impeded by a faller – means Malton’s wait for its first ever Grand National winner continues, the town played a very significant part in the success of winning jockey Derek Fox.

Without the medical support he received at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehab centre, he would not have recovered from the dislocated right collarbone and fractured left wrist that he suffered on March 9 in time to ride the heroic One For Arthur to glory.

His first ride in the world’s greatest steeplechase, he spent
three weeks in the Ryedale town building up his strength and declared, hours before the big race, that he’d never been fitter. Though it was typical of
Fox in his moment of triumph to credit his physios and the indomitable Jack Berry, the Leeds-born trainer who was the driving force behind this £3m facility, his own determination to win the race of his life – and just make the Aintree line-up – is just the latest National miracle to inspire the wider world of sport.