Tom Richmond: Education needs to be a three-way partnership

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IS it ‘patronising’ to encourage parents to turn off the family television until children have completed their homework?

Labour thinks so. Its backbencher Chris Williamson has this week attacked leading Yorkshire MP Graham Stuart who says children from poor white families are being held back because of the extent to which the television is allowed to rule certain homes.


I would have thought the intervention by Parliament’s widely-respected education select committee chairman was a considered one given that around half of all teenagers in Britain fail to leave school with a minimum of five GCSE passes at Grade C or better.

I’m willing to wager that the majority of these youngsters come from homes where the importance of homework, and its diligent completion, is not fully appreciated.

The point Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness, made was a profound one. It is not an optional extra – education needs to be a three-way partnership between pupils, parents and teachers.

He has made a personal choice in telling his two daughters that they cannot watch television until they have done their school studies and music practice.

That is his prerogative as a parent and it seems, to me, to be a pragmatic approach which offers his children an incentive to complete their work before they can watch their favourite programme.

The challenge is for headteachers and policy-makers to find a way to engage with those parents who believe that the education of their children begins and ends at the school gates.

But, as Stuart says, what chance do these pupils have if their parents set a poor example? And what does it say about the work ethic when higher attainers at school can be children from ethnic minority backgrounds who, according to the Tory, are growing up in “dire housing and dire poverty”?

That’s not being patronising. It is taking a pragmatic approach to one of the most pressing issues of this day – the future prospects of each and every young person at a time when the emergence of the global economy places an even greater premium on the possession of key skills. Or does Labour disagree?

SOME free advice to both coalition partners. Start listening to the coherence of backbenchers if the Tories and Liberal Democrats want to counter Labour’s attacks on spending cuts.

Highlighting the £16m of new investment in the Leeds College of Building, Greg Mulholland told Parliament: “For every pound spent on an apprentice, £18 is invested in the economy.” With youth unemployment still far too high, the Government needs to do more to embrace the mantra behind this message.

Ditto healthcare. Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones says the number of health visitors, which dropped by 16 per cent in the last Parliament, has now increased by 1,000 while there has been a further 1,500 rise in midwives – with 5,000 more undergoing training.

Again, why is the Government so slow in highlighting this?

I’M afraid David Cameron only has himself to blame for becoming a parody figure on social media websites after tweeting a photograph of him discussing the Ukraine crisis on the telephone with President Barack Obama.

I would have been more impressed if the PM had taken time out from his tweets – there must be an election approaching judging by their prolific nature – to lead a day-long debate in the House of Commons on foreign affairs and Britain’s role in a turbulent world, rather than being forced to make a perfunctory statement to a half-empty Commons on Monday.

This is what a statesman would have done. Ah, I forgot. Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and, yes, Tony Blair had a foreign policy. It does help.

And, if the coalition was clearer with its objectives, Cameron may have been in a better position to answer this intervention from former Minister John Redwood: “Will the Prime Minister now seek fundamental changes in EU energy policy? Some member states are far too dependent on Russian gas, and the rest of us are far too dependent on intermittent, dear and scarce sources of energy, owing to EU directives.”

NOW the Cheltenham Festival is over for another year, thoughts will soon turn to the 2014 Flat campaign and leading Middleham trainer Mark Johnston has one plea. He wants his sport to embrace Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, the man who persuaded the Tour de France to bring the Grand Depart to these parts.

Johnston, writing in his Kingsley Klarion stable magazine, is still embarrassed that racing did not get behind his former neighbour when he raised the possibility of turning the Ebor, Europe’s richest handicap, into a £1m race. “We missed the boat there. A man with great ideas and the determination to make things happen was not welcomed into the racing fold. Now, I am certain, he would get a very different reaction,” writes the Classic-winning trainer.

True, but Verity could be a man in demand. His talents have not gone unnoticed at his beloved Leeds United while Leeds is a city bereft of the type of dynamism, flair and oomph that is the DNA of the tourism supremo.

WOULDN’T Britain be better off if everyone embraced the spirit of Yorkshire Paralympian Hannah Cockroft? With typical modesty, she said this week: “People say I’m an inspiration and I think ‘no, I’m not. Everything I do is because I enjoying doing it’.”