Tom Richmond: Timid Minister misses a vital careers opportunity

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I DIDN’T realise that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had such a high opinion of her own superiority until she was put on the spot this week by Labour veteran David Blunkett.

It came when Mr Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary in Tony Blair’s first government, suggested that schools should not be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted inspectors unless their careers advice is up to scratch.

What an inspired idea from the vastly experienced Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP – David Cameron’s government is committed to abolishing youth unemployment so why should all youngsters not be entitled to the very best expertise as they consider their career options rather than the present piecemeal approach?

This is what Mr Blunkett respectfully asked: “Will the Secretary of State put in place a monitoring process and, at the very least, instruct Ofsted to give no school a mark greater than ‘requires improvement’ if its careers education and advice is not up to scratch?”

The Minister’s response? Monitoring work is already taking place, said Ms Morgan, and 86 per cent of students in her Loughborough constituency in the East Midlands “already had access to some form of careers advice”.

I’m sorry. This is simply not good enough – even more so from a Minister who has forbidden Ofsted from carrying out snap inspections at failing schools on one of her first decisions since succeeding Michael Gove. Access to advice is very different to 86 per cent of youngsters being happy with the service available to them. And what about the remaining 14 per cent? Is the Minister content for them just to fend for themselves?

Tellingly, Ms Morgan appeared more comfortable answering a question from Beverley MP Graham Stuart – the Education Select Committee chairman – about the Humber LEP’s “gold standard” scheme that is being rolled out across the country. “We need to work with businesses, employer organisations, schools and colleges to ensure that such opportunities are available to all students right across the country,” she said.

At last, I thought, Ms Morgan was making some progress until Nic Dakin, the Labour MP for Scunthorpe, suggested careers advice being provided on a regional basis so there was a closer tie up between schools and the needs of employers. “I shall certainly look at the funding, but I would never like to pre-empt any Treasury approvals,” replied the Minister.

In short, I can only conclude that the Department for Education and Skills is run by a timid politician who is not prepared to take any decisions for herself – or work on a cross-party basis when there is common ground. I’m not alone, the National Audit Office concluded this week that more than 1.5 million children are still not getting a good education, and that the Government and local councils are failing to deal with under-performing schools consistently.

As such, my half-term exam mark for Nicky Morgan is D for disappointing.

HOW ironic that the anticipated date of next year’s general election – May 7 – will precede the 70th anniversary of VE Day by 24 hours.

Seven decades after this country celebrated its role in the successful liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny, this could be the liberating election that paves the way for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

I’m sure it won’t be long before each of the main parties starts to exploit the close proximity of these two events. I just hope that there is a mature debate about this country’s future relationship with Europe rather than jingoistic politicians evoking the Churchillian spirit.

After all, today’s political challenges are different to those of 1945 and I do fear that today’s soundbite generation of leaders are not versed in the most important political skill – diplomacy.

MY latest hunch on the outcome of the 2015 poll is deadlock – Labour will lose key seats to the Scottish Nationalists while Ukip will prevent the Tories from securing an overall majority.

On this basis, a coalition of sorts is the obvious outcome. However there will be one critical difference between any negotiations next May and the frantic events after the 2010 election.

Then the scale of the economic crisis – and jitters on the financial markets – forced the Tories and Lib Dems to come together in the national interest. There will not be the same degree of urgency if there’s another hung parliament.

As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a repeat of 1974, when it took two elections for Harold Wilson to secure a slender majority. You have been warned.

SPEAKING to Andrea Atzeni, the young Flat jockey with a big future after his St Leger and Racing Post Trophy winners, it is astonishing to think that the Sardinian-born rider was initially refused a licence in this country because his English was not good enough. It is now word perfect. Contrast this with the challenges at Leeds City Academy where English is a second language to so many of its pupils who come from 50 different nationalities.

However, without linguistic skills and a proper command of English as their first language, how do the children concerned expect to succeed if Britain does, in fact, become their permanent home?

I WATCHED with the heaviest of hearts as the last British troops left Afghanistan after almost 13 years trying to build a more stable country following the 9/11 atrocity. Did 453 members of the Armed Forces die in vain? I hope not, though future events will be the judge of this. The only comfort – and it is a small one – is that the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have strengthened the bonds between the public and the military.

I HOPE rugby star Sam Burgess is not becoming embarrassed of his Dewsbury roots after joining Bath’s rugby union club. Back from Australia, he said on Radio Four’s Today programme that he’s “just a kid from the north of England”.

Come on Sam, you can do better than that. Don’t be afraid to tell the world you’re from Dewsbury – the town needs role models who can inspire. Forget this “Sam the slammer” nickname nonsense, the “Dewsbury dude” has a much better ring to it – especially if his transition to rugby union ends in a World Cup call-up.