August 25: Don’t punish the teachers

THIS is not a time for complacency over academic attainment; this year’s GCSE results suggest that one half of Yorkshire school leavers did not meet the Government’s most basic benchmark of five passes, including English and maths, at Grade C or better.

Yet, at a time when the education profession need to come up with innovative new ways to improve performance, this exercise is unlikely to be helped by the suggestion from the Policy Exchange think-tank that secondary schools should suffer a financial penalty whenever one of their students has to retake an exam at a college.

While funding for further education does remain an important issue – it does not enjoy protected status at present – it would be counter-productive to tackle this funding imbalance at the expense of those teachers whose pupils are not making the grade for a variety of reasons.

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Why? Teachers should not be automatically blamed for under-performance at secondary schools. Their task is often an unenviable one and not helped by the number of pupils who cannot read or write when they leave primary school. Perhaps youngsters should not be allowed to make the transition until they can read and write with a degree of competence. This proposal also overlooks the fact that mothers and fathers should also accept a level of responsibility for making sure that their children study diligently and complete their homework – education is invariably at its most effective when it is a three-way partnership between teachers, parents and pupils.

Rather than introducing a policy which discourages teachers from working at struggling schools where students have the greatest learning needs, they actually need every encouragement. For, without inspirational teaching, the challenges facing all schools and colleges will become even more acute.

Best of motives...

...but will IDS welfare plan work?

EVEN THOUGH Iain Duncan Smith’s latest bid to get the long-term sick, mentally-ill and disabled back into work is driven by the best of intentions, this issue has been handled appallingly. The Work and Pensions Secretary, who showed giddy gleefulness when the latest tranche of welfare cuts were announced in the Budget, should have waited until Parliament’s recall to make the announcement. The fact that his own press office will not publish his speech on the Department’s website because it is “political” will play still further into the hands of Tory opponents.

It is certainly right that the Government reviews the entitlement of the two million-plus people who claim Employment Support Allowance. There is an argument that these payments, left unchecked, actual deter individuals from seeking employment – and that work, even part-time roles, might actually help to stimulate claimants and aid their recovery. This was the point that Mr Duncan Smith was attempting to make while highlighting the need to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

Yet the challenge facing Mr Duncan Smith is how to determine whether an individual is actually fit for work – or not. This remains a matter for GPs rather than officials from the Department of Work and Pensions who are not qualified in medicine. And it is difficult to see how family doctors are going to have sufficient time to assess every individual, and talk about their mental wellbeing, when they can barely find five minutes to see existing patients with routine ailments. This is why the latest proposal only merits the most cautious of welcomes at this stage.

A Hull of a result

Siemens and its jobs dividend

if PROOF was needed about the economic dividend that Hull, and East Yorkshire, will yield from the presence of energy giant Siemens, it is the three major jobs fairs now being planned so local people can find out further details about the 1,000 jobs which are in the pipeline. This is uncharted territory for a proud port city which was allowed to flounder in the economic doldrums for too long before local, regional and national leaders realised that Hull, a city with above-average deprivation levels, would have to reinvent itself if it was to become a new gateway for jobs and investment.

Yet, as Siemens issue very specific instructions on what they expert of potential candidates, it is a powerful reminder that each and every applicant will have to demonstrate a certain level of aptitude to make the first cut. Irrespective of the location, the link between education and employment has never been more crucial to the aspirations of those seeking to advance their careers.