The relevance of Blair’s words

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THE fact that one-third of pupils aged 11 to 16 years are taught in sub-standard schools needs to be seen in this context: it is nearly 20 years since one Tony Blair declared that his three priorities would be “education, education, education”.

Yet, despite a relentless focus on academic standards over two decades and unprecedented sums of public money being made available for new buildings and other improvements, too many young people are leaving school with inadequate qualifications.

It is why Mr Blair’s agenda-setting words, on becoming Labour leader, are as relevant today as they were in the mid-1990s when the iniquitous number of children being taught in crumbling classrooms was a national scandal.

A sound education is fundamental to the life chances of every youngster and it is to the credit of recent governments that schools are held to account through the publication of performance data, even though there are continuing concerns that Ofsted’s criteria do not take proper account of those one-off factors which do skew attainment.

However the one constant has been the fact that Yorkshire LEAs have found themselves at the bottom of national league tables on an all-too-frequent basis, and Ofsted’s latest annual report is no exception. Until the reasons behind this are identified, and addressed, it is a depressing fact that the county’s children will struggle to fulfil their potential in adulthood.

It is why best practice needs to be shared at a local and regional level, not least with closer links between secondary and primary schools. If this requires extra resources or expertise, the Government should not hesitate to prioritise funding to those initiatives that have the potential of yielding the greatest improvements.

For one positive aspect of these latest results is the improved performance of pupils during their formative years. The challenge is maintaining this when they transfer to secondary school, so Yorkshire can record GCSE results in line with national expectations at the very least – and begin to fulfil Mr Blair’s prophecy at the outset of his leadership.

English question: Voters reject a new parliament

THAT so many Yorkshire voters believe that the concept of “English voters for English laws” is the most advantageous answer to the so-called West Lothian Question speaks volumes about the county’s mindset. Taxpayers do not believe additional tiers of government are the answer to the great challenges facing Britain, whether it be an English Parliament or a regional assembly.

They believe the answer rests with better governance and would clearly like to see the voting rights of Scotland’s MPs curtailed, as David Cameron intimated on the steps of Downing Street in the immediate aftermath of September’s independence referendum north of the border.

Yet, while the main political parties have been quick to sanction the transfer of further powers to Holyrood without a root-and-branch review of the outdated Barnett Formula that penalises English taxpayers, it is clear that the notion of “English votes” has been parked in the proverbial political

cul-de-sac.

Even though the Government’s legislative programme is so light that MPs are only required to attend Westminster for two full days a week, the coalition still appears reluctant to take the tough decisions to reverse a democratic deficit that will become even more pronounced if the Scottish Nationalists – and one Alex Salmond – prosper at the polls next May. The question is a profound one: why should they, for example, be allowed to determine health, welfare and education policy for Yorkshire when this county’s MPs cannot exert their influence on the same issues in Scotland?

A new innings: Yorkshire revives Bradford link

THE POSSIBILITY of first class cricket returning to Bradford Park Avenue in 2019 will be an enticing one to those with fond memories of Yorkshire matches from yesteryear at this famous ground.

Yet, in some respects, the improvements outlined by Yorkshire County Cricket Club are of secondary consideration. The most important element of its masterplan is the creation of several new pitches because so many youngsters in Bradford want to take up a game which still holds a special place in the sporting public’s consciousness.

It can only bode well for cricket’s future at a city, county and country level – a strong Yorkshire equates to a strong England according to a famous adage which has passed the test of time.