DAVID Blunkett, one of Britain’s most prominent politicians of recent decades, has returned to the University of Huddersfield – where he studied for a teaching qualification in the 1970s – in order to receive an Honorary Doctorate.
After receiving the award at one of the University’s summer 2017 graduate ceremonies, Lord Blunkett – who was made a Peer in 2015 after leaving the Commons – said how proud he was of the University for its achievement in gaining a Gold Award in the new Teaching Excellence Framework.
“It means I am able to bask in the reflected glory of being taught to teach at this university!” he told the audience.
An oration for Lord Blunkett was delivered by Professor Roy Fisher, Head of the Department of Initial Teacher Education at the University of Huddersfield’s School of Education and Professional Development. He told how the future Cabinet Minister had studied for his Postgraduate Certificate in Education at the institution’s former Holly Bank campus.
“It is, of course, a matter of great pride that one of our former trainee teachers should go on to becomeSecretary of State for Education and Employment. This, in a government which encapsulated its priorities in the mantra of ‘education, education, education’,” said Professor Fisher.
“In that office Lord Blunkett was determined to ensure basic standards of literacy and numeracy improved,” he continued.
“And under his stewardship they did. He oversaw the introduction of Sure Start, providing support for pre-school children and their families. He promoted the teaching of Citizenship in schools. There was also expansion in higher education with large investment in universities.”
In his response, Lord Blunkett revealed another connection with the University of Huddersfield. His third son Andrew studied there for a degree in automotive engineering – graduating in 2006 – and whilst at the University he met a fellow student who became his wife.
“Huddersfield also turned out to be one of the special places where people fall in love!” he said, to audience applause.
Lord Blunkett said that his spell at Holly Bank was a very interesting nine months.
“I learned an enormous amount about myself as well as about teaching. I never dreamed I would become Education Secretary.
“Education for me has been an opportunity to transform my life and to contribute to changing the lives of others,” continued Lord Blunkett, telling the assembled graduates that “all of you can change someone’s life for the better”.
Professor Fisher’s oration outlined the career, achievements and political philosophy of Lord Blunkett, who has been blind since birth – he was accompanied at the University of Huddersfield ceremony by his latest guide dog, Cosby.
He became a Labour councillor in his native Sheffield at the age of 22 and was its leader during the 1980s. He was elected MP for Sheffield Brightside in 1987 and remained in the Commons for 28 years.
After Labour’s 1997 General Election victory, David Blunkett was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Employment and in 2001 became Home Secretary. Following the 2005 General Election he returned to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
On 28 September 2015, he was created Baron Blunkett of Brightside and Hillsborough in the City of Sheffield.
His lifelong passion for Sheffield Wednesday FC was also a theme of the oration, and Lord Blunkett returned to it in his response with a bittersweet reference to the fact that Huddersfield Town eliminated Wednesday from the 2017 Premiership play-offs, after a penalty shootout.