Scramble for school places

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IT would be remiss of local authorities not to pursue those parents who are suspected of circumventing the procedures which govern school admissions. It is, after all, their statutory duty to be fair to all and the system would quickly break down if there was no enforcement of the rules.

Yet it is also not a crime for parents to want the very best for their children and the fact that so many mothers and fathers are prepared to be dishonest about their own family circumstances, in order to seek preferment for their offspring, speaks volumes about their lack of faith in the neighbourhood school.

In an ideal world, parents would have sufficient confidence in their local school – and be guaranteed a place for their child. However, it is not this simple. The fact that this region continues to have an above-average number of under-achieving schools means competition is even greater in those areas which do enjoy a hard-earned reputation for academic excellence.

This is borne out by anecdotal evidence pointing to some families being prepared to move to a house 100 metres down the road in order to be within the catchment area of their favoured school; it is symptomatic of the extreme measures being pursued by parents.

Two lessons can be drawn from this. First, this does disadvantage those families, often in deprived areas, who have to accept second best for their children because they do not know how to play the system. Second, it is a reminder that the future of education should be one of the determining issues at May’s general election and the importance of every candidate being challenged to come up with their own plan to raise standards across this region. For, unless more schools start to out-perform the Government’s targets on a regular basis, the scramble for places will only become more intense.

Where’s the vision? Time for businesses to speak up

THE businessman Peter Wilkinson’s support of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – George Osborne’s economic blueprint for the regions – is even more pertinent because he is a successful entrepreneur who has amassed his financial fortune in Yorkshire.

As such, he knows what it takes to succeed in God’s own county – and the policies that need to be implemented if this region, rather than London, is to become home to a new generation of wealth-creators and private sector investors.

Even though the opportunities are immense, Mr Wilkinson speaks for many when he bemoans the parochialism of those small-minded civic leaders who allow artificial boundaries to stand in the way of economic progress on a region-wide basis.

He is also right to highlight the urgent need for improved trans-Pennine road and rail links; decades of under-investment in transport need to be reversed before some bosses will have sufficient confidence to invest here.

In this regard, it is increasingly clear that Yorkshire needs a Boris Johnson-like figure who can ensure that the Government’s devolution agenda is compatible with the interests of the region’s businesses and local authorities. Who is that figure? Peter Wilkinson is too modest to name himself, but he is precisely the type of visionary entrepreneur who needs to emerge if the county’s prospects are to be transformed.

Race against time: NHS condition remains critical

Today MARKs the end of one of the most testing weeks in the National Health Service’s recent history, one that has left hospital A&E units stretched to breaking point, seriously ill patients facing long waits for treatment and medical staff having to improvise in order to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding population.

It is also a week which has seen the NHS become a political football ahead of the election, with David Cameron and Ed Miliband trading statistics, soundbites and smears, as hospitals – and GP surgeries – face up to the many challenges posed by an ageing society, and which have been repeatedly overlooked by their political masters. As York doctor John Lethem writes so eloquently in today’s newspaper: “GPs are forever running out of time, out of space and out of energy.”

But it is also a week that will be replicated unless there is a closer correlation between the work of family doctors, A&E units and those hospital wards which cannot discharge elderly patients because of a shortage of care places in the community. Until issues pertaining to this are reconciled, the day-to-day condition of the NHS will remain critical.