Tom Richmond: Gove’s impatience could undo his bid to drive up standards

WHAT should take precedence in Michael Gove’s new English lessons – letter writing or the works of William Shakespeare and other great literary luminaries?

Education Secretary Michael Gove with children at the Cuckoo Hall Primary School in Edmonton, London

Judging by the experience of a high-flying business acquaintance of mine, a greater premium needs to be placed on the former if school pupils of all abilities are to prosper.

His comments came after he received a ‘thank you’ letter from two 16-year-olds in return for providing them with three days of work experience at his engineering firm. The note in question was so poorly set out, and almost incomprehensible from a grammatical perspective, that he was in a state of despair about the effectiveness of education policy.

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His point was this: if school-leavers do not know how to construct a letter, let alone compile an eye-catching curriculum vitae, in an era when communication for some does not extend beyond the 140 characters of a Twitter rant, how will they get progress in adulthood?

It is particularly vital, he said, to those youngsters who are not academically-gifted and who are likely to leave school after their GCSEs.

And it is even more important, he added, to those young people who have the get-up-and-go to obtain work experience – and then let themselves down with their incomprehension of the English language.

I agree.

I admire the Education Secretary’s efforts to drive up standards – his instincts are the correct ones – but his impatience threatens to be counter-productive on three fronts.

First, he no longer commands the confidence of those teachers who already go the extra mile. How will another set of curriculum changes impact upon those fine individuals at Dewsbury’s Thornhill Community Academy whose commitment shone through in Channel Four’s Educating Yorkshire series?

Second, greater account needs to be taken of the views of employers – the successful people who will be hiring, or firing in some instances, tomorrow’s school-leavers. These people know far more about Yorkshire’s skills requirements than any pontificating politician, even one as cerebral as Gove. Could education be to blame for migrants now filling a fifth of jobs in key industries?

Third, there is a danger that the curriculum will become irrelevant if too much emphasis is placed on literature’s classics in those schools where it is an achievement just to persuade a pupil to put pen to paper. There needs to be greater flexibility. To that youngster, these works will be a step too far.

Yet, despite this, my answer to the conundrum about Shakespeare or letter-writing is a simple one: both are equally valid and important wherever possible.

MORE than two months after I raised the refusal of some GP practices, including my own in Yeadon, to scrap premium-rate 084 numbers for booking appointments, I’m pleased to report a small breakthrough.

NHS England has written to local health bodies to ask them to point out to doctors that practices will be in breach of contract if they do not take all reasonable steps to stop their patients being asked to use these rip-off numbers.

Yet, given new rules came into effect in April 2010 banning surgeries like mine from entering new telephone contracts using the expensive phone lines, why the delay scrapping current deals?

I accept that GPs do not want to terminate poorly-negotiated contracts – the excuse of my practice manager – because they can’t afford the costs, but why should patients pay the price for this short-sightedness?

I SEE Leeds is to get another top-class hotel after the Hilton announced plans to build a complex next to the city’s newly-opened First Direct Arena.

To do this, it is receiving a £4.8m loan from the city’s Local Enterprise Partnership with the blessing of the council-backed Leeds and Partners marketing agency.

I can understand the need to attract new businesses, but did a firm like Hilton really need a cash incentive?

A LEP spokeswoman says the loan should be paid back within five years. She added: “Interest is charged on the loan, the rate is confidential and relates to the security provided and the financial status of the company.”

However I’m certain that a hotel chain could have been attracted to this prime site without the need for a public subsidy.

But, then again, nothing surprises me when it comes to the weak leadership and management of Leeds any more – especially following this month’s disturbing report that 90 per cent of city councillors had little clue about the role, and influence, of the LEP.

Given they’re the ones who are supposed to be driving, and scrutinising policy, it does not inspire confidence in the attempts to Leeds to play catch-up with Manchester.

CONTRARY to some, I accept that MPs with constituencies in Yorkshire should claim a reasonable level of expenses for their second home.

As remains the case nearly five years after this extraordinary scandal erupted, the key word here is the definition of ‘reasonable’.

Take this week’s figures on the amounts claimed by Labour MPs to heat their second homes – despite Ed Miliband making political capital out of this issue.

Can someone explain why the reported claims ranged from £2,182 in the case of Wakefield’s Mary Creagh to £1,773 for York’s Hugh Bayley, £1,446 for Hull’s Diana Johnson, £1,095 in the case of Sheffield’s David Blunkett – and zero in the case of Bassetlaw MP John Mann?

Labour are not alone. Tory Ministers Alan Duncan and David Willetts both claimed in excess of £2,500.

The answer is simple – a flat-rate of £500 or those concerned heeding the advice of David Cameron and wearing thicker jumpers.

WHAT is the BBC – the so-called Olympic broadcaster – playing at?

Despite having the rights to cycling’s World Cup series, it chose to show the latest event on the infuriating red button – and then a highlights package on a Sunday afternoon.

Given the sport’s popularity, didn’t anyone at the BBC think to show these events live on terrestrial television in prime-time on Friday night and Saturday afternoon so sports fans could see the likes of Ed Clancy, the two-time Olympic team pursuit gold medal winner from Huddersfield, win another major prize in his career?

Obviously not.

This is not the first time that 
I’ve happened upon these programming problems – triathlon is another increasingly popular sport given the red button treatment – but I’m afraid it is symptomatic of the BBC’s malaise since it took national institutions like Grandstand off the air.

I WOULDN’T recommend going to the physical extremes undertaken by jump jockey extraordinaire AP McCoy in the pursuit of 4,000 winners, but I do endorse his advice to young riders: “You need to work hard. You would never be able to work too hard. There is no substitute for hard work. No matter how talented you are, you need to work harder.”

It is a mantra that should apply to the whole country, starting with 10 Downing Street.