Tom Richmond: Lessons from Thornhill that Gove would do well to heed

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NOW that the eye-opening Education Yorkshire series has come to an end, the issues raised by Channel 4’s fly-on-the-wall documentary at Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury now need to be put to wider use.

I’m sure David Cameron and Michael Gove are already talking about whether it is possible for Jonny Mitchell, the brilliant headteacher who handles disciplinary matters with great sensitivity, to become their “schools tsar”.

They’re famous for such shallow gimmickry.

When the invitation comes, I hope Mr Mitchell has the sense to turn it down – there is already a shortage of inspirational heads and this role would simply involve writing reports for Ministers, with the conclusions then left to gather dust on a Whitehall bookcase.

Ask Keith Hellawell, who was a very able chief constable of West Yorkshire Police before he became Tony Blair’s drugs tsar – and found his role totally undermined after David Blunkett’s appointment as Home Secretary in 2001.

That said, I do hope that the manic Gove consults more widely in future so any proposals can pass the “Mitchell test”.

In short, every change to the school curriculum – or change of emphasis – must be viewed in the context of the Thornhill experience and whether it will inspire teachers, reduce the likelihood of truancy, improve classroom behaviour and raise literacy and numeracy standards.

Take the Gove plan to rank schools by a pupil’s results in eight GCSEs. Though laudable, doesn’t he need to accept that the priority in deprived areas should be just to teach children to read and write? What does Mr Mitchell say – or his deputy Michael Steer, a brilliant mathematician described as the “brainiest” person in the world by some of his pupils who would have struggled at one point to add two and two together and come up with four as the answer?

I ask this after reading political commentator Matthew D’Ancona’s incisive book In It Together, about the coalition and Michael Gove’s “messianic” speech in Cabinet in support of committing British forces to Libya.

The then Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, responded by saying: “All very well for those who won’t have to write the letters of condolence.”

If this is what Gove is like with military matters, where he has no experience, I dread to think what he is like when devising education policy – his supposed area of expertise. No wonder, there is so much upheaval. That is why the “Mitchell test” is so vital: to bring a touch of much-needed reality to education policy.

ARE Tory MPs totally clueless? A backbencher introduces an eminently sensible Private Member’s Bill that compels drug drivers to undergo rehabilitation if they test positive for specific class A drugs.

Given that such selfish individuals are responsible for at least 200 deaths a year on Britain’s roads, I would have thought it would have gone through on the nod.

No chance – the measure was talked out by a Conservative MP because provision did not extend to cannabis users.

Don’t get me wrong – I think all drug driving is comparable to drink driving which is now socially unacceptable – but why couldn’t MPs back the principle, and then work out the detail at a later stage?

Instead, they send out a totally false message to those who drive while under the influence of drugs.

I despair.

IF I was recommending the subject of a Private Member’s Bill, it would be a law banning anyone under the age of 30 from standing to be a Member of Parliament.

Why? Labour have selected three female candidates for the next general election who are 22, 24 and 28 respectively. I’m sure they’re able people, but wouldn’t it be better if they gained some experience in the real world before joining the political rat race?

AN interesting take on the Scottish independence vote ahead of next autumn’s referendum.

Labour, the mainstream party that would normally favour Scotland going it alone, cannot allow this to happen because it would limit their chances of winning a Westminster election in the long term. They would need a landslide comparable to Tony Blair’s historic win in 1997.

Conversely a “yes” vote would help Tory chances of once again becoming the natural party of government – even though they have been traditionally defined by their Unionist credentials.

I’M intrigued by Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest regret as he launched his memoirs. He says his Manchester United players should have learned chess in order to improve their concentration at key moments in matches.

Let’s hope England manager Roy Hodgson, one of football’s more cerebral intellects, takes the hint ahead of next summer’s World Cup, and that some of our political leaders do likewise.

Perhaps it also explains why Vladimir Putin out-thought David Cameron and Barack Obama over military intervention in Syria and called checkmate – the Russian leader is a chess grandmaster.

AT last the Tories in Leeds have woken up to the Lurene Joseph expenses scandal, governance failings and bullying allegations at Leeds and Partners – the marketing agency instigated by city council chief executive Tom Riordan.

Conservative leader Andrew Carter says the council took “its eye off the ball”. I agree, but why the delay in speaking out? Or were the Tories asleep on the job rather than providing the necessary scrutiny?

Something is afoot. Neither Joseph nor Riordan was actually in Paris on Wednesday to promote Leeds at the global Tour de France launch.

In fairness, Riordan did send his apologies by twitter, pointing out that it clashed with his wife’s birthday and daughter’s parents evening “so right decision!”

Not everyone in the Yorkshire delegation in Paris agreed, pointing out that the Grand Départ will be one of the biggest sporting events in Leeds’ history.

FOLLOWING my call-to-arms last week for £50m to be found to repair Britain’s crumbling royal residences, I see that Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, has revealed his political regret: his failure to save the Royal yacht Britannia from being mothballed.

Even though it would have cost £60m to restore the floating palace, Lord Hurd of Westwell – an occasional contributor to the Yorkshire Post – believes that Britannia would have recouped this investment from trade missions.

The problem is that the Royal Family were personae non gratae in the mid-1990s following the Queen’s “annus horribilis” and a series of messy divorces.

“I spent one cheerful day in the harbour outside Bombay watching Indian businessmen come on board Britannia and sign hefty orders for British goods. Could such varied uses have been extended more widely so that Britannia, or her successor, became identified not just with the Queen and the Royal Family, but with the nation as a whole?” he wrote this week.

“I do not know if such efforts could have changed a Government decision; what I do know is that the attempt was not made.”

How short-sighted.

FINALLY Tour de France champion Chris Froome says cobbled streets could puncture – literally – his defence of the yellow jersey next summer.

He’s obviously not aware of the potholes that he’ll have to negotiate in Leeds on day one.