YP Comment: Teachers and funding matter. Lessons for Education Secretary

AS always, context is critical when interpreting education league tables. Let it be made clear at the outset that more than three-quarters of Yorkshire secondary schools hit the Government's new benchmark which rewards academic progress over an elongated period and it would be remiss not to acknowledge the solid progress made by students and teachers alike.

Experienced teachers are imperative if school standards are to improve.

Equally, it’s a concern that nearly one-quarter of this region’s secondaries are deemed to be under-achieving – it means too many pupils are completing their formal education without the expertise that will enable them to obtain a job, never mind flourish in their chosen career. As Britain prepares for Brexit, skills have never been more important.

Yet, while some LEAs and schools like the now trailblazing Sheffield Park Academy fared better than others, it’s important not to make too many sweeping generalisations. As well as the East Riding, Wakefield and Rotherham – the home town of Justine Greening, the current Education Secretary – were the only other towns where the new criteria was met by every school. If they’re doing anything different that works, best practice must be shared widely.

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However two other lessons need to be learned by Ms Greening who was in Scarborough yesterday. First, the reason London accrued the best results is because the capital received unprecedented funding to boost standards. Theresa May’s ‘shared society’ surely means this approach being expanded nationally rather than the Government being sidetracked about the merits of grammar schools.

Second, teachers matter and it is imperative that the education profession does not lose even more experienced classroom leaders prematurely. Just 
as pupils need energising and enthusing, it falls to 
Ms Greening to motivate and respect teachers in equal measure. She cannot afford to fail this test.

Fuel for thought

DAVID CAMERON and George Osborne were never shy when it came to highlighting the virtues of their ‘long-term economic plan’ – and acquiescent Tory MPs never missed an opportunity to indulge the then Prime Minister and Chancellor with mentions of their favourite soundbite.

Yet, as Theresa May is learning, politics is not just about slogans. It’s about the detail and the failure of successive governments to link the economy to energy policy, and vice-versa, threatens to compromise this country’s future productivity and prosperity.

Take carbon capture and storage, the concept which was supposed to drive Yorkshire’s clean energy revolution while helping traditional manufacturing industries to reduce the harmful emissions released into the atmosphere.

A notion which grew in importance following Mr Cameron’s ‘hug a husky’ photo-call in the Arctic in April 2006, mismanagement led to £100m of public money being squandered before Ministers pulled the plug last year on the White Rose project which was earmarked for the site of Drax power station.

Why were there not more effective cost controls in check? Equally, why did ministers and officials at the former Department of Energy & Climate Change proceed on a £1bn scheme without prior authorisation by the Treasury?

This country has to find the money to innovate 
when it comes to energy provision. Equally it’s not in a position to squander public money on an industrial scale – just think Kellingley Colliery could have been reprieved if a long-term energy plan was in place. Once again, it falls to Mrs May to make sense of the mess created by others.

Put victims first

IT is 15 years – and seven Home Secretaries – since Tony Blair promised to put victims “at the heart” of the criminal justice system. Yet, despite the efforts of a succession of ministers from David Blunkett to Theresa May and Amber Rudd, there remain many instances when the human impact of serious offences is downplayed or, worse still, ignored by the courts.

Victims Commissioner Helen Newlove knows this from harrowing personal experience – her husband Garry was beaten to death by a gang vandalising his car a decade ago. When she says there needs to be legislation compelling magistrates and judges to allow victims to address the court, the Government should act.

Though not all families may wish to do so, just 15 per cent were given the invitation to do so in 2015-16 – further proof that the scales of justice are still tipped in favour of criminals, and the litany of excuses that they put forward, rather than the lifetime of torment inflicted upon their victims.