School standards; how buck now stops with Boris Johnson – Tom Richmond

IT appears that Boris Johnson is finally being taught one of the most important lessons of his premiership; namely that he’s ultimately responsible for education policy and, in turn, the success of the nation’s schools.

Boris Johnson during a recent school visit.

This, by all accounts, has come as news to the Prime Minister whose only contribution, since July 2019, was appointing the unqualified Gavin Williamson – and then sticking by the hapless Education Secretary.

But it appears that Sir Kevan Jones, the Government’s newly-appointed education recovery tsar, is not afraid to speak his mind and, unlike Williamson and other Cabinet sycophants, tell the PM some home truths.

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Jones and the PM have previous – the former was chief executive of Tower Hamlets Council, and oversaw huge improvements in academic attainment, while the latter was in his first term as mayor of London.

Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson on a school visit prior to the lockdown.

Yet Jones began his career in education, and local government, as a primary school teacher and it is why he did not hold back when it emerged 200,000 children will make the transition to secondary school this year without basic reading skills. Evidently this equates to one third of primary school leavers this summer and is a 30,000 increase on last year.

He went into No 10 Downing Street and told a complacent Johnson that this was unacceptable from a political, social and societal standpoint.

The result? A change in tone. “Making sure children can read and write properly, and have the skills they need to prosper, is the Prime Minister’s real central focus,” No 10 sources have been saying.

About time. There’s also talking of a “four-year emergency plan” to get learning back on track following Covid – and a major policy speech by Johnson after next month’s local council elections.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Now this is all very well, but it poses more questions than answers. Why can’t the well-educated Johnson speak for himself on such matters? Was Williamson’s appointment a mistake in retrospect? Why is he waiting to take action when the learning crisis is immediate, and when will education become integral to the wider (and still undefined) levelling up mission?

Let’s hope the PM seizes the initiative. After all, his own aide says the buck stops with him.

MY column last week on the more lackadaisical GP practices coincided 
with NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens promising a community care shake-up with bin collectors, for example, reporting any concerns they spot about the elderly to medical 
centres.

Sir Simon, how do you expect this to work, and doctors to respond, when some surgeries appear to want minimal contact with their patients?

Some respondents say I do not understand the workload of GPs. One nurse chose to make it personal and ventured: “It would also help the NHS is people would try to look after themselves to help resources. From your photograph you look to be one of those categories.”

Talk about false assumptions. Others, on the other hand, have sent, in confidence, harrowing stories about how they have been let down by their doctors. Either way, this part of the NHS needs root and branch reform if it is to command greater respect and pave the way for the earlier diagnosis of serious illnesses.

I DID do my civic duty this week – and took a plastic bag so I could pick up the discarded plastic bottles and cans that I spotted on my walk and then put them in the recycling bin.

I didn’t see any of the culprits who dropped the said items, but I do think there would be less detritus like this if the Government actually rolled up its sleeves and implemented its much-promised deposit return scheme.

After all, it’s only three-and-a-half years since Michael Gove, the then Environment Secretary, first mentioned this at the 2017 Tory conference. “We must protect our oceans and marine life from plastic waste if we are to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it,” he said.

What’s taking you so long, Mr Gove?

NOT sure Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew quite got the tone right in the Tory party’s local election leaflet, talking about “literally thousands of pieces of casework from constituents” during the lockdown and how “keeping on top of this has been a challenge”.

If this is all too much, perhaps he needs to resign as the Tory party’s deputy chief whip – a post which requires him to pootle and potter around Parliament, seemingly busy doing nothing whenever the TV cameras pan on him, while apparently collating the votes of Conservative MPs.

IF you think Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is less frugal, or awkward, when it comes to his horse racing interests, you’d be mistaken.

Aintree press supremo Nigel Payne’s Diaries of a Racing Man recall the difficulties trying to persuade the Irish tycoon to return a prestigious trophy in time for one of the recent Grand National meetings.

He and his wife Heather were in Ireland so offered to bring it back. What a mistake, writes Payne, after a rendez-vous with O’Leary’s driver to collect this piece of silverware.

“I had to buy a seat for the damned trophy, and it was a job and a half getting it on and off the plane,” he said. “Wouldn’t you have thought that the airline owner could have had it flown to Liverpool?”

As such, there’s one certainty with this year’s Randox Grand National – O’Leary won’t be the most popular winner.

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