Monday 31 August 2009

League tables

I’ve been having earfuls about the inadequacy and demotivating effect of school league tables, and it is depressing how politicians and the media collude in encouraging people to judge schools by the simplistic but misleading raw data which make up these tables. In different places in the last few days some of those involved in Primary School tests, in GCSE results and in A level results have been saying the same things; they all seem resigned to the quality of their work being systematically misunderstood and misrepresented.

Recently the Government named some schools which such tables showed to be most in need of improvement, and it was a little put out when it was revealed how well Ofsted had rated some of them. This revelation could have prompted it to rethink labelling and targeting schools in this naive way. It didn’t. Instead, Ofsted has been asked to reduce its reliance on the quality it encounters when it visits schools and increase its reliance on the raw data it collects from them. At each level the same story comes back: inspectors tell those involved off the record that, however outstanding their provision, the system is rigged so that they cannot be judged to be ‘outstanding’.

Lots of information exists which could show how well some schools with low levels of pupil achievement are doing. There are forms of ‘added value’ score which attempt to show whether schools have taken individual pupils to results beyond what might have been predicted based on the individuals starting levels. There are ways of grouping schools by the social setting of pupils and then comparing results between those in the same ‘basket’. It is sad and strange that the media does not use these indicators as their staple. It is offensive and unforgiveable that the Government does not do so.

And year groups differ as well. One provider was modest about its particular contribution to a dramatic improvement in some raw data this year; ‘we’ve known for several years that this year group would perform much better than the previous one’. Another is resigned to being pilloried in a year’s time; ‘there is no way that the same quality of teaching is going to deliver the same results next year’.

There are a range of other factors. I’ve been looking in detail at the results for one school. The results for the two thirds of the pupils with whom it had worked for the whole Key Stage was exactly in line with what its ‘basket’ of schools would be expected to achieve. The results for the one third who had arrived at different times during the Key Stage was dramatically lower than this, as was the resulting public average raw data score. And so it goes on.

The green man is in Southwell Cathedral.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Saturday 22 August 2009

Less straw

The ‘credit crunch’ isn’t helping my guess work about how the finances to provide clergy posts in Grimsby and Cleethorpes will balance.

We can’t say that we are being asked to make bricks without straw. The historic assets of the diocese are in fact generating a significant subsidy for our present budgets. But the figures finally sent us last week indicate that the share of this rich legacy allocated to us for 2010 is £31 000 less than it was in 2009, which is a significant amount less with which to make the same number of bricks.

There are other pressures as well. We have to go on financing one post which is filled but which isn’t part of our ‘Mission Area Plan’. The diocese is determined to go on seeking a further £38 000 from us as a remaining contribution to the cost of this post in 2004-8. The diocesan Chief Executive simply won’t reply to enquiries about either the justification for this or about another totally unrelated aspect of diocesan policy. And its issuing the figures in August and requesting a response by the end of the month doesn’t help anyone like me consult others in our ‘Mission Area Planning Group’ before suggesting a budget.

Anyway, I spent a chunk of yesterday working over figures for 2010 and projecting forward for 2011 and 2012, with guess work about how much parishes really will contribute to this budget and about dates on which clergy might or might not move or retire, and have sent off a work of fiction (I’ve called it an ‘illustration’, which seems more tactful) about how we’d balance the books in each of the years 2009-2012 with perhaps nine stipendiary clergy in planned posts at any given moment.

The picture is the most modern of the statues of Our Lady we saw on street corners on our trip to Brugge.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

London trip

People are more likely to vote in local elections in Italy if they live in an area which was formally a Republic than in one which was formally a Kingdom. Italian unification was in 1870, so it is the expectations and habits of their pre-1870 ancestors which still leaves a discernable footprint today.

This is something which I keep repeating as we explore the major Inspiring Communities grant aimed at tackling educational expectations. I’m not fatalistic or deterministic about the impact of the legacy of the fishing industry on such things, but the story does provide some realistic balance to any over optimistic language about identifying the right levers and then achieving change by pulling them.

The educational consultant who helped put together the local bid for the programme and I went to an event in London on Monday when we met people from the other fourteen locations which are being funded and the those who are leading the programme from central Government. They want things to move very fast and have consultants lined up to research in each area in the next two weeks and to work with us on developing and finalising our plans in September and October.

Getting to London at short notice is a nightmare. There are no trains between Grimsby and the main east coast line for the whole summer, and what they are pleased to call the ‘walk on’ fare is £190 for one person. My wife and I decided to drive down to leave the car at her parents at St Alban’s, take a train from there, and then spend a night in a hotel, all for less than the £190 between us. We enjoyed a Prom on Monday evening and a walk in Hyde Park as part of a Day Off yesterday where I took the photograph.

Sunday 16 August 2009


I took five weddings yesterday (well, four weddings and a blessing) which isn’t something I’ve done before or would really want to do again. I used the fact that their anniversaries will always fall on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary to encourage them to spend at least one of these somewhere where people would be keeping a fiesta for her and for them. From among the set readings for the day I gave each of them ‘God has robed me with righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels’. Some members of the choir were just a little ribald when I told yet another ungarlanded bridegroom that a bride as lovely as his didn't need to be bedecked in jewels, but it was true. Meanwhile, the pictures are two more of the statues of Mary which are a feature of endless street corners in Brugge.

Friday 14 August 2009

After my blood

One of the most striking images from our holiday came learning about Charles Darwin who allowed a dangerous South American insect to bite him so he could monitor the rate at which it digested his blood. So, in the week after returning from holiday, my observation of the odds being stacked against me for this autumn have been objective and detached.

We look forward very much to a half-time Team Vicar joining us next month, but we announced the departure of our Curate just before we went away and heard about the announcement of the departure of the Team Vicar in our neighbouring parish as soon as we returned. While this is good news for both of them (and for the parishes near Louth and Skegness which will be receiving two impressive priests) it sharply reduces our resource of stipendiary clergy.

The last Diocesan Directory was published for 2006/7. For the two neighbouring Teams which cover most of Grimsby it lists six and half filled stipendiary clergy posts (serving 5% of the population of the diocese and seven churches). By November we’ll be down to two and a half.

And there is sharp evidence that the sorts of pressures this creates are already exacerbating the temptations of the parishes either side of this one to react to requests for Baptisms in a way those involved do not find supportive. In my first week back I had one family from each side approach me about whether we can help instead, with a mother in tears in one case, so dealing with more such casualties than usual may also be an additional feature this autumn.

No doubt others will be encountering casualties of whatever lack of attention or care this all provokes in me as well, but I probably won’t hear about them. All I will do now is sit back to see how much blood is wanted and how quickly people and the diocese come back for more.

The picture is another one of those taken in the greenhouse at Down House last month.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Tackling low aspirations

Low aspiration is one of the biggest local barriers to educational progression. It is something I keep going on about, and it is something about which I’ve accumulated a lot of anecdotal illustrations from both my own work (in the parish and through the local FE and HE College) and from my wife’s work in a Primary School in a different deprived area of town.

Now I’ve suddenly found myself with the role of ‘community champion’ and Chair of a Partnership Board to see whether sustained intervention can make any difference in the area served by Whitgift Comprehensive in the parish by spending a very substantial grant as one of only fifteen pilots for a Government ‘Inspiring Communities’ programme (following a bid mentioned in passing in this blog on 15th and 23rd May.)

What possessed the Department for Communities and Local Government to announce this bang in the middle of the school holiday we do not know. We’d been told to expect a decision next month but an e-mail soon after my return from holiday alerted me to a Press Release about to go out. I had to scrabble around to make sure the Chair of Governors knew before reading about me talking about it in the local paper, which is where the Extended Schools coordinator among others learnt about it.

The Headteacher was abroad on holiday, and he may not know about it himself yet. It will be good picking things up with him as soon as he is back following up any material the Department may issue about the first steps to take to develop our outline plan with other partners. At the moment there isn’t any paperwork but instead a witty official from there is already trying to call an all day meeting in London at less than a weeks notice.

Meanwhile, the mosaic comes from the Roman villa at Lullingstone (pictures from whose church I posted on 3rd August). Although the abduction of Europa is a pagan subject, the villa is also home of one of the best evidenced Roman Christian congregations.

Monday 10 August 2009

Friday 7 August 2009

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Monday 3 August 2009

Sunday 2 August 2009