October 27: Giving children best start in life

Key role of early years education

HOW can teachers be expected to perform miracles in the classroom, and lift the county off the bottom of national league tables, when so many under-fives in this region are failing the most basic reading and writing tests at the time they begin their education? This is the question that goes to the heart of today’s annual State of the North report, published by the widely-respected IPPR North think-tank, which cites early years education as the key issue if academic attainment is to improve and pupils are to be equipped with the skills that enable them to prosper in a global economy.

Yet, while the recent political focus has been on the Northern Powerhouse and providing this region with a world-class infrastructure, this initiative will not deliver its full potential unless more young people from Yorkshire become more proficient at school and start meeting the Government’s basic benchmarks. This is borne out by disturbing data which reveals that just 47 per cent of children from the poorest backgrounds in the North have achieved a good level of development when they start full-time school compared to nearly 60 per cent of comparable children in London.

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The size of this disparity cannot be ignored. Is it because nurseries in Yorkshire are not up to standard or could it be that too many parents are abdicating their duty to nurture the learning of their children because they do not realise its importance – or because they struggled with their own education?

Perhaps the Government and LEAs need to find a more effective way of identifying those children falling behind their peers, rather than continuing their ideological war of words over academies, free schools and so on, so remedial action can be taken. Irrespective of their background, all youngsters have the right to the best education possible. Doing nothing is simply not an option – it will simply lead to another generation of young people leaving school with inadequate qualifications and, therefore, becoming an even greater drain on the welfare system because of the lost potential.

Too little, too late: TalkTalk ‘horse has bolted’

THE phrase “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted” should not be lost on TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding who has called in defence giant BAE Systems to help investigate the hacking scandal now engulfing her firm – she is steeped in horse racing and owned 
the 1998 Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn.

If call centre staff at the communications company had taken the complaints more seriously rather than dismissing them out of hand, Baroness Harding of Winscombe – she was made a full-time Tory peer in September last year – would not be in such a desperate fight to salvage not only her reputation but that of TalkTalk. The firm is paying a very heavy price for its complacency, even though Baroness Harding admitted that cyber security is “the crime of our era” as one of Britain’s top detectives spoke at a conference in Leeds about the need for greater collaboration between the police and academia.

The remarks of Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, could not be more timely. Not only do they focus attention on the need to learn lessons from the TalkTalk episode, and the worry that this has caused, but it also focuses the attention of those forces who have to decide whether they should invest in street patrols or computer experts who have the ability to trace online fraudsters. Like it or not, it is further evidence of the need for the police to move with the times.

Heroes of the sea

EVEN WHEN the waters off the East Coast appear becalmed, the dangers are constant as one family learned to their cost when Ben Biltcliffe and his 11-year-old daughter Grace were washed out to sea by a riptide off the Whitby coast.

They only survived to tell the tale thanks to the amazing professionalism of the town’s RNLI lifeboat crew who, with the assistance of an air-sea helicopter, managed to rescue the pair after they had been stranded in the water for 45 minutes.

It’s a timely reminder, at the start of the half-term holiday, that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution should never be taken for granted. The charity has saved 140,000 lives since its inception in 1824 and is totally dependent on donations for its heroic work. As such, it can only be hoped that holiday-makers continue to give generously.

As Mr Biltcliffe said: “We are incredibly thankful to the RNLI for saving our lives – without them we wouldn’t have been able to get back to the shore.”