OPINION: What does ‘levelling up’ mean for Harrogate schools? - Dennis Richards, former headteacher

Our national agenda, from all sides of the political divide, appears to be focusing on “levelling up”.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:54 pm

Much of it has concentrated thus far on the gross disparity between the North and the South of England. The length of time it takes to travel from Leeds to Manchester being an example.

There has been little focus, so far, on what it might mean for schools, apart from the umpteenth effort to bring some equivalence in status for vocational education, with the introduction of T Levels.

The big education battles are still to come. Over several years now, Academy chains of schools have been taking over the oversight of the education system, which used to be the role of the Local Education Authorities.

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Red Kite, Northern Star, Yorkshire Causeway, Outwood Academy and Arete have become as familiar to us, as North Yorkshire or West Yorkshire County Council used to be.

A recent change in policy seems to mean that Academy Chains can now pick and choose which schools to take on. And guess what. The stronger, richer Academy chains are choosing NOT to take on schools, where the budget is in deficit.

It is the very opposite of “levelling up”. Seemingly the last thing on their minds is the welfare of the children in a “failing school”.

You will not have to look too far to find examples of the practice in the Harrogate area. Of course, the pandemic has not helped. Quite the reverse. But the funding gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” has widened.

And what about the independent school-state school divide? It will be interesting in the coming days to see how seriously the gulf in funding between the two sectors is bridged.

I pretty much knew from the outset as a state school teacher that our schools could never hope to match the sports facilities provided as of right in the private sector. Indeed, in my first school, the gym was so small, the back lines of the basketball court were half-way up the wall, which led to some interesting rulings from the referee.

The outside “pitch” had a public right of way across it. The games lessons were regularly halted as a succession of OAPS and mums with prams marched across to the local estate from the shops. Some would even stop for a chat with someone they recognised. It never happened at Eton.

However let’s be positive. In almost his last move at the DfE, the hapless Gavin Williamson offered £40m to support pilot schemes to introduce Latin into state schools.

For the moment the independent sector has a stranglehold on the Classics. It won’t change the world as it did with the Romans. Half a century ago, it may be, but my school Latin lessons are a memory I continue to cherish.

To be honest, “Trigfor”, our teacher, would fail a modern OFSTED inspection many times over. He had his agenda, and we had ours. As he marched back and forth at the front of the class, his attention totally focused on Virgil’s Aeneid, our attention was entirely on his progress towards a protruding doorstop.

He tripped over it every lesson without fail. The only question was when. Our excited “oohs and aahs” as he sallied back and forth, closer and closer to the doorstop, “Trigfor” took as an indication of our enthusiasm for Virgil. Nevertheless, much of what he taught has “stuck” and I use it still. As do you. Exempli gratia (e.g.), going on ad nauseam, even ad infinitum, et cetera.

Come on schools! Tempus venit. The time has come. Carpe diem. Seize the day.