October 9: Schools and the role of teachers

ANY ASSESSMENT of the so-called Pupil Premium would be incomplete without an acknowledgement that this Lib Dem-inspired policy was introduced with the best of intentions; namely to ensure that extra funding was allocated to students from deprived backgrounds in order to break the link between poverty and academic attainment.

Five years on, and there is evidence to suggest that this flagship policy is making a difference to the life chances of some young people. This is welcome. But there are also concerns, highlighted by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, that the results have been inconsistent at best.

Two possible factors are identified in today’s constructive report – the amount that each school receives for each disadvantaged pupil on its book can vary by as much as £3,000 and the introduction of the Universal Credit, the centrepiece of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare revolution, has evidently made it harder to identify those students who qualify for additional financial support because of their home circumstances.

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Both issues need to be investigated further alongside a third possible cause which was largely overlooked by the report; namely the quality, and effectiveness, of teaching at those under-performing schools which regularly prop up league tables.

As exam results across Yorkshire to demonstrate, these schools are invariably in run-down communities blighted by above-average levels of poverty. And, irrespective of the amount of money made available through well-meaning schemes like the Pupil Premium, they will continue to struggle unless they can find a way of attracting the very best teachers who can inspire youngsters, and work with their families, to help them make the grade and maximise their opportunities in later life.

There are no easy answers – the teaching profession, like the NHS, is beset by staff shortages – but this should not stop all policy-makers from coming up with innovative ways to raise standards so every child, regardless of their background, receives the world-class education to which they are entitled. On this, there must be no poverty of ambition.

Queen of cakes

Nadiya sets an example to all

IT would be a backwards step if quotas were introduced to reverse the under-representation of Muslims in top professions; Britain has always prided itself on being a meritocracy because it believes that everyone, whether it be women in politics or Asians in business, should reach the top because of their own endeavour rather than positive discrimination.

That said, today’s report by the Demos think-tank does show how employment can help to build better community relations. It is imperative that Muslims are not viewed by society through the prism of extremism; only a tiny minority hold views which challenge British values.

Yet, while David Cameron was right to make closer integration one of the centrepieces of his party conference speech, the Government can only do so much – the wider Muslim community needs to lead by example, whether it be younger generations studying hard at school or ensuring that religious beliefs do not preclude women from going out to work.

In many respects, Leeds mother Nadiya Jamir Hussain’s success on The Great British Bake-off provides timely inspiration. She did not allow her ethnicity to stand in the way of the chance to live her dream and become the new queen of cakes. Though her success has been portrayed as a triumph for social integration, it will have a far greater impact because it was achieved on merit. That must not be forgotten.

Breath of fresh air

Sheffield and the great outdoors

GIVEN how the landscape of Sheffield has been shaped by seven hills, it is only natural that it begins to market itself as ‘the outdoors city’ – its natural topography was self-evident when the world’s best cyclists were confronted by the renamed Cote de Jenkin Road on day two of last year’s Tour de France.

However its proximity to the Peak District, and also the Pennines, means it is the obvious visitor destination for those who like the best of both worlds – a bustling city centre, whether it be shopping, culture, sport or a vibrant night-life, and also the great outdoors.

Not only can this initiative help to keep this proud city on the map, but it the type of pro-active enterprise which could, potentially, a breath of a fresh air to the wider economy because of its probable appeal to the next generation of business investor for whom “location, location, location” is priceless.