the nORTHERN Powerhouse policy debate has, understandably, focused on transport because congested roads and overcrowded trains offer conclusive and visible evidence that Whitehall has shortchanged this region with impunity.
However, the need to overhaul transport and business infrastructure must go hand in hand with new strategies to transform education standards so school leavers harness the skills that allow them to prosper in a high-tech 21st century economy.
This is fundamental. Yorkshire’s exam results are the lowest in the country, in spite of the outstanding work undertaken at many schools.
It’s not surprising when secondary school pupils in the North still receive £1,300 less funding than their peers in the South – a disparity which undermines the notion that every child is an equal and deserving of the best possible start to life.
Of course, much depends on the quality of teaching – Redcar and Cleveland’s primary schools, for example, rank amongst the best in Britain despite being homes to areas of deep-seated deprivation. Parental support is key. Today’s research by IPPR North and Teach First shows a preponderance pupils from poorer backgrounds lacking the most basic skills when they first start at school.
What are the lessons? First, education begins at home – and these formative years are critical to youngsters making the grade at GCSE level. Second, teaching matters and new ways are required to recruit and retain classroom leaders who can engage and inspire. Third, the London Challenge needs to be replicated in Yorkshire. The capital was bottom of the class until the Government targeted resources, and expertise, at areas with below-average attainment. Now its schools are the envy of the rest of the country, even those where English is the second language for youngsters from ethnic backgrounds.
If it’s good enough for London, it should be a good enough for Yorkshire – and anything less will be a betrayal of David Cameron’s One Nation vow, the Northern Powerhouse and, most crucial of all, future generations.
This report must be the last of its kind – it will be a criminal betrayal if the next study of its kind is not focusing, for once, on the progress made and lessons actually learned.
Amazing Grace: An Archbishop like no other
HOW apt that Dr John Sentamu should have been serenaded by a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace on his return to York after his six-month pilgrimage of prayer, witness and blessing.
Its poignant and uplifting words, Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home, are emblematic of an inspirational figure whose spiritual journey has taken him from Uganda to York Minster where he marked the culmination of his latest odyssey with the ordination of 22 priests.
They know that they were in the presence of an Archbishop of York like no other. Yorkshire, and the Church of England, are blessed to be in the presence of such an inspirational individual who continues to lead by deed and example rather than pontificate from the sidelines, whether it be his condemnation of Robert Mugabe, prayer vigils for causes close to his conscience or simply meeting the people.
It is a measure of the Archbishop’s energy that he feels both recuperated and re-energised by a deeply personal pilgrimage which saw this tireless 66-year-old walk 2,000 miles in all weathers. The restorative and recuperative powers of this mission should not be under-estimated.
Yet it also showed Dr Sentamu that the Church will be diminished in status if it allows internal wrangling to stand in the way of positive engagement with the communities, and people, that it purports to serve. After his own Pilgrim’s Progress which provided great insight into issues like education and farming, the Archbishop is likely to be an even greater force for good now that he has resumed official duties.
Making his Mark: Yorkshire’s Chelsea winner
UNLIKE A tiresome football manager back in the headlines, one man does know how to win at Chelsea – Yorkshire gardener Mark Gregory.
His tally of 23 gold prizes at the Chelsea Flower Show, horticulture’s equivalent of the Premier League or FA Cup, is unsurpassed in the history of this showcase event.
No doubt Mr Gregory, originally from East Cowick, will make his mark as Yorkshire blossoms at Chelsea, the one social gathering where the tedious words ‘Jose Mourinho’ will only feature if a new weed takes root and is named after him. And that’s not going to happen.