TheYP comment (Oct 7): Cameron’s A* for aspiration

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HOW DEPRESSING, and how predictable, that the advent of new criteria to assess the GCSE performance of secondary schools has been accompanied by fresh fears that students from poor backgrounds are likely to be disadvantaged.

This warning from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission should be a clear signal to all schools – and especially those serving the poorest parts of this region – that they are responding to the needs of each and every student.

The background to this is changes to the league tables governing secondary schools. Instead of rankings being determined by the number of teenagers securing five or more GCSEs at Grade C and above – a target which has seen teachers spending a disproportionate amount of time with those pupils within touching distance of making the benchmark – pupils will be measured by the scores that they accrue in eight subjects across the curriculum.

Inevitably there will be winners and losers under these changes – it is estimated that three per cent of Yorkshire schools could fare better while up to 12 per cent might be worse off unless action is taken. Teachers are worried that a school’s hard-earned reputation for excellence could be lost overnight because parents and policy-makers do not sufficiently understand the changes that are taking place, but these concerns must not stand in the way of the Government’s ambition to give even more children the best possible start in life.

This is not Ministers trying to make life more difficult for teachers or pupils. Quite the opposite. It is about the Government restoring rigour to the school curriculum and it is a battle that needs to be won if young people from deprived backgrounds are to pursue successful careers of their own. Ambition needs to be embraced by all and, in this regard, David Cameron deserves an A* for his aspiration agenda.

Work will pay off

Will Lib Dems get the message?

DESPITE Business Secretary Vince Cable’s party conference speech being viewed through the prism of coalition politics, and whether the Lib Dems will team up with the Tories or Labour in the event of another hung parliament, one of the most striking passages was on aspiration – and his welcome desire to increase the minimum wage for first year apprentices.

This is welcome. The key to creating a stronger economy is getting more people into work so they are making a positive contribution to the nation’s finances rather than being

a drain on the public purse – a crucial difference that Nick Clegg has appeared

to have forgotten with his full frontal assault on Tory tax cuts.

It remains to be seen whether George Osborne’s plans are affordable – Mr Cable, a noted political pessimist, does not think so and believes that there might be a case for more public borrowing because many key services have already been “cut to the bone”. Dogma must not stand in the way of all political parties looking at innovative new ways to improve the public sector’s efficiency.

Yet it was rather ironic that Mr Cable contrasted the positive contribution that migrants make to the British economy with an attack on the tax avoidance policies pursued by global corporations like Amazon.

For the past four and a half years, he has been a very interventionist Secretary of State for Business. Why has he not acted? It is a question that goes to the heart of the public’s negative perceptions of the Liberal Democrats – are they in government for themselves or the greater good?

County champions

Yorkshire is the home of sport

HAS Yorkshire ever known a sporting summer like it? Not content with successfully staging the greatest ever Grand Départ in the Tour de France’s history, Leeds Rhinos crossed the winning line in the Challenge Cup final – rugby league’s holy grail – while Yorkshire are county cricket’s champions for the first time since 2001.

Both teams were afforded the honour of a civic reception in Leeds last night and rightly so – they are great ambassadors for the white rose county. Yet these are not isolated success stories – the past weekend alone saw Leeds boxer Josh Warrington become European championship while horse racing’s North Yorkshire dream team of David O’Meara and Daniel Tudhope won Europe’s top sprint with their champion horse Move In Time.

As such, politicians under-estimate the power of sport at their peril – not just in terms of changing the lives of its participants but their ability to inspire a generation to lead healthier and more rewarding lives in Yorkshire, the home of sport and true champions.