Government no-show at North of England Education Conference means plan for schools heads south

This year, for the first time, no government speaker was billed to appear at the conference

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Education's traditional curtain-raiser for the New Year has been cancelled this year – due to a lack of interest.

For years, since the North of England Education Conference made its first appearance on the education scene in 1903, it was obligatory for whoever was Education Secretary to defy foul weather to visit a northern town or city and make a keynote speech outlining Government plans for the following 12 months. Kenneth Baker announced the national curriculum there and David Blunkett announced his plans for tackling failing schools.

It fell out of favour during the last years of the Labour Government, and Michael Gove decided that there were better places to float his ideas that the North of England, following the Coalition taking office in 2010.

This year, for the first time, no government speaker was billed to appear and – perhaps not surprisingly – few people booked themselves a place at the conference. Only Labour's Tristram Hunt was due to make an appearance on behalf of the politicians at the Manchester conference.

A bit sad, though, that the start of 2015 – an election year – should be characterised by a lack of debate and discussion on the education front.

Meanwhile, a trawl through the New Year's Honours List reveals that inveterate campaigner Fred Jarvis has become the proud owner of a CBE. For Fred, the former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who celebrated his 90th birthday last year, the award came out of the blue and he confessed to being a bit surprised by it.

His main claim to fame last year was publishing a book, You Never Know Your Luck, which included a blistering attack on Michael Gove's record as Education Secretary. Two weeks after its publication, Gove was gone (although the two events were entirely unconnected).

Fred was thinking that any chance of public recognition for his campaigning (he still attends all the key education conferences) had gone while the Conservatives had their hands on the country's tiller. Nice to see that he was wrong!