Tom Richmond: It’s time to get personal to help close yawning skills gap

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne
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THE late, great Fred Trueman once said that his beloved Yorkshire County Cricket Club only needed to whistle down the nearest coal mine if it was short of cover in the fast bowling department. This production line yielded a rich seam.

However it’s not just Yorkshire, the champion cricket county for the past two summers, which is having to change direction when it comes to recruitment. Businesses across the region are being left stumped by the number of school leavers who don’t have suitable skills.

Yet what do these industry leaders intend to do? It’s a question which is even more pertinent after new research by the IPPR North think-tank, carried out in conjunction Teach First, revealed secondary school pupils receive £1,300 less funding than their peers in London. It is little wonder Yorkshire’s schools continue to languish at the bottom of the Government’s national league tables for academic attainment when this funding divide is so stark.

It remains to be seen whether the Government will revise, still further, a funding formula which appear to have been devised by career bureaucrats for the benefit of career bureaucrats – Ministers appear to have lost after George Osborne’s plan to force every primary and secondary school to convert to an academy independent of LEA control was quietly dropped following mounting opposition.

Yet, while the Tories have gone out of their way to persuade entrepreneurs and others to sponsor school chains and so on, this political controversy must not detract attention away from the need – some would say obligation – for successful Yorkshire firms to forge closer links with the education sector.

While independent schools in particular have derived huge benefit – both in terms of finance and expertise – from their alumni links, an equal number of schools, particularly those in the most challenging communities, struggle on this score.

It should not be like this. It is surely possible for those with a proven track record of success to give up one morning each term and talk to children about why school mattered to them and how it shaped their lives.

There should be nothing to stop a car mechanic who has worked hard to build up their business explaining why English and maths lessons helped them, or a nurse talking about their ability to save lives because they did revise tirelessly in order to pass the requisite exams.

Yet these are precisely the type of personal experiences and encounters which can make a difference. Not only do they have a potential to fire a young person’s imagination, but they make a welcome change from the tedious monotony of some lessons.

Rather than business leaders, politicians and policy-makers focusing exclusively on new transport links to turn the Northern Powerhouse rhetoric into reality, they need to remember the importance of equipping pupils with the necessary skills so they can take advantage of the new generation of highly-skilled specialist jobs that are envisaged for this region.

Two things should happen. First, the region’s business elite should come together and look how they can develop even more effective links with schools across Yorkshire so opportunities are not lost.

Second, every company boss educated in the state sector should reappraise themselves of President John F Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961 when he challenged his fellow Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Fast forward 55 years and the notion should be ‘Ask not what your school can do for you, ask what you can do for your school’ and Yorkshire might have the fresh impetus urgently required to encourage pupils of all ages and abilities to embrace the skills which will enable them to make the grade in a 21st century global and digital economy.

The days of huffing and puffing, like Fred Trueman, are long gone when it comes to investing in the future...