Tom Richmond: Schools Minister could do with a lesson in humility and let Ed Balls take some credit

Who should take the credit for improvements in literacy?Who should take the credit for improvements in literacy?
Who should take the credit for improvements in literacy?
I'M sorry to report that Nick Gibb, the Schools Standards Minister, now finds himself on the growing list of politicians who could do with a lesson in courtesy.

He attributed the country’s rise up the international reading rankings for 10-year-olds this week to “our increased emphasis on phonics”.

Though I don’t wish to pour cold water on the Government’s efforts in recent years, this approach was, in fact, introduced by Ed Balls when the then Morley and Outwood MP was Education Secretary in 2008. His mission at the time was to get 100 per cent of schools “using phonics in a systematic way” throughout their primary education in order to raise standards and boost pupil confidence.

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Even though Mr Gibb does not have the humility to acknowledge this, I’m happy to set the record straight – not least because no political party should have a monopoly on good ideas.

If politics was more collaborative – each party does, after all, want the best for children – Britain’s public services would be in a far better state because they would not have been subjected to so much change for change’s sake.

I suspect the reasons behind Britain’s rise up the reading tables are two-fold: the patience of teachers, who were praised by Theresa May at PMQs, and some continuity in official policy for once.

Yet I note Mr Gibb has been slightly less forthcoming on Ofsted’s criticism of early years education that means a third of all children, and half of poor pupils, are playing catch-up after their very first year in school.

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The education regulator’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, was blunt. “For too many children, their reception year is a missed opportunity that can leave them exposed to all the painful and unnecessary consequences of falling behind their peers,” she said.

Given the pupils concerned weren’t even born when Mr Gibb’s party came to power in 2010, this is one fundamental failing where he can’t blame Labour. However it shows that this Government, like its predecessors, needs to make more resources, and specialist staff, available to primary schools.

The earlier children learn the basics, the greater the likelihood that they will succeed in secondary school – and later life. It’s not a political point, it’s just a simple fact that all parties would be advised to grasp when they’re not scoring cheap points off each other.

UNLIKE others, I will keep my own counsel on the fate of Damian Green – Theresa May’s de facto deputy – until official inquiries have been concluded.

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Yet one aspect of his ongoing ‘Trial by BBC’ perturbs me. The Corporation gave huge credence to two retired officers who said pornography was found on the MP’s computer when his office was raided in 2008 as part of a separate leak inquiry.

Why, therefore, did the BBC not give equal prominence to the views of Cressida Dick when she said that the officers concerned had breached their duty of confidentiality?

After all, she’s only the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

ANOTHER source of bafflement is Northern Ireland’s DUP party. Given the Stormont power-sharing agreement is still in abeyance, why was Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, able to use the historic building for her press conference on Monday that torpedoed Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU before it was salvaged in the early hours of yesterday?

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Either the DUP wants to be a responsible party of government in Belfast – or not.

ON the one hand you have to grudgingly respect Chris Grayling – the Transport Secretary is about the only Brexiteer prepared to go on Radio 4’s Today programme, as he did on Thursday, and defend the Government’s handling of EU negotiations after his fellow Eurosceptics went to ground.

And then you remember that this is the same Cabinet minister who snubbed a House of Commons debate on Northern Powerhouse rail, has let down Yorkshire commuters on numerous occasions and who, I presume, is only sticking up for the Government because it gets him out of his day job.

IF the Ministry of Defence and Treasury can’t agree who foots the bill when Chancellor Philip Hammond uses a RAF jet to attend official business in Britain, or overseas, what does this say about the manner in which the Government is being run and the priorities of Ministers as they allow feuds to fester in public?

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WELL done, Virgin Media. After signing up to its text alert service when the broadband connection went down at Richmond Towers (irritatingly at the start of rugby league’s World Cup final), I’m still waiting for the message to say the internet was back up and running after 11 hours. And, funnily enough, the missive about remuneration for lost service is still missing in action.

GIVEN the promotional blurb says the Tour de Yorkshire generated £64m last year, let’s hope local authorities are not out of pocket when next May’s race is extended to four days.

After all, the sheer complexity of the routes is going to test the organisation – and resources – of the police, and others, to the limit. They’re the unsung heroes who should be acknowledged.

FINALLY it must have been a small mercy for Theresa May that the lights on the 10 Downing Street Christmas tree did not fuse when she switched them on this week.

Will she still be in a position to do so next year? Or, after the past week, switch them off on Twelfth Night in early January? I’m more hopeful than I was.