OPINION: Levelling up will be a focus in Harrogate during 2022 - former headteacher Dennis Richards

I suspect we’re going to hear a lot more about ‘levelling up’ in 2022.

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 2:12 pm
Classroom generic education schools

It may just turn out to be one of those slogans with significant unintended consequences. Used primarily in a geographical sense by politicians, to illustrate the supposed quality of life differences between the North and the South.

It has also opened up several other areas, where ‘levelling up’ is urgent.

The New Year is traditionally the moment to assess where you stand. Or in my case, where I sit. Try the ‘over the hill’ test.

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If you feel stiff and groan when standing up, fall asleep in front of the telly, talk endlessly about ailments, swear at the computer, put your wallet in the fridge you’re getting there. I now need reading glasses. Having consulted the list of ‘over the hill’ indicators, I find that wearing them round your neck is high on the list. So, remembering the glasses is the first challenge. Then they promptly steam up. And they’ve been in the fridge as well. Social care for the elderly? Good luck with that one.

What about the wide disparity between schools? Levelling up is not simply about OFSTED clumsily berating schools for what is far beyond their control.

Inspectors, no more qualified to inspect than the personnel in the schools they are inspecting, swan in and out again after a couple of days. Nevertheless, the disparity between schools is rapidly becoming a crisis.

The academy experiment is reaching its crucial end stage. Levelling up the affluent and socially deprived schools must include instructing, yes instructing, academy chains to take on the more difficult 
schools.

It is taxpayers’ money after all. Not simply one glance at a deficit budget then say “no thanks.” And that applies in Harrogate just as much as anywhere else, especially in the primary sector. In my day the Beacon School initiative... oh damn, that’s on the ‘over the hill’ list.

Next, schools must face up to the fact that areas of the curriculum have had a rotten deal in the past two years, and you might argue, for a decade before that. Sport, music, art, dance and drama have not lost their ancient power to help with mental health, in spite of an unremitting diet of equations and prepositions. The inspiration provided by local secondary schools and their talented students and has been there for all to see in the Advertiser’s recent coverage. Last week, Lucy Ellmore, “after completing her A Levels at Rossett School last year”, is on the road to a professional cycling career. Wow! The week before that, Eve Whitaker from St Aidans finished third in the National Schools Cross Country finals in Newquay. A local school of excellence for cross country. Paul Stansfield and Carey Huegett, both recruited to the Harrogate Town coaching staff from St John Fisher School with its outstanding soccer track record over decades. Lucy Wood’s brilliant Harrogate hockey squad is based at Harrogate High. And fair dos to the powers that be. All the schools have all-weather surfaces. The picture is no doubt much the same in Ripon, Knaresborough and Wetherby. As it will be in the performing arts.

Two national sports are missing. rugby union and cricket. Harrogate GS, however, is in the vanguard of a rugby revolution. Recruiting Tom Ryder, formerly of Saracens and Scotland, to be their rugby performance director is a visionary move. The outcomes are outstanding. (OFSTED speak). As for cricket, heaven help us. Nobody else can. We’ve staggered from one crisis to the next. Headingley one week; MCG the next. 63 per cent of professional cricketers are privately educated. Clearly needs ‘levelling up’. Good luck with that. Happy New Year!