Friday, 9 September 2016

Pete North Politics Blog: A model of inefficieny

Pete North Politics Blog: A model of inefficieny: There's nothing like a personal anecdote to bring clarity to a political point of view. In those times when I am usefully employed by...

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

New Passport

Phew...passport has arrived. Looks like Durham Passport Office are betting on ‪#‎BREXIT‬

Far superior to the EU Style passport: more authoritative, commands respect, and it has the word "QUIM" in the middle - what's not to like.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Pete North Politics Blog: Brexit is a process, not an event

Pete North Politics Blog: Brexit is a process, not an event: While this blog is on the subject of select committee meetings, I happened to watch Owen Paterson in action yesterday afternoon . While h...

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Pete North Politics Blog: Give the Brexit bullshit a rest!

Pete North Politics Blog: Give the Brexit bullshit a rest!: By trade, I am a database developer who dabbles in web technologies. I have in the past made a respectable living out of it and I've d...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Durham Cathedral Lego - 200,000th Brick laid

The miniature Lego of Durham Cathedral is almost two-thrids complete!  On 21 January 2016, the 200,000 brick was laid.  Durham Cathedral is recreating a Lego model of the cathedral brick by brick to help raise funds for the Open Treasure project.  Visitors can pay £1 to sponsor a brick (and place it on the model). By the time it is complete, will raise £350,000 towards the scheme.  So, just another 150,000 bricks to go.

Monday, 4 January 2016


Dry January started well.  So did the post-Xmas diet.

Ever wondered what is in that elephant leg sizzling away in the corner of your local takeaway?

Mutton Flaps! A cheap and fatty cut of sheep meat which forms the main ingredient in doner kebabs.  
The donner kebab is a calorie and saturated-fat laden dish but is, nevertheless, delicious - to be enjoyed drunk or sober!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Education Consultant honoured

At long last, following her incredibly successful stint at Redby Primary Academy, Sunderland, in 2014, Sheelagh Tickell has at last been given recognition of her achievements.  The outstanding education consultant, renowned for her unconventional teaching methods and attitudes towards part-time working, was instrumental in developing Redby Primary Academy's "not fit for purpose"* action plan to get the school out of special measures.  
*Ofsted's description of the action plan.
During her six month sinecure at the Sunderland academy, a number of staff left including the headteacher she was helping, part-time teaching was virtually eradicated, a not fit for purpose action plan was drafted, and zero progress was made in getting the school out of special measures.
For the purposes of impartiality, this is what she says about herself on her website:
"Sheelagh has extensive practical and positive experience in both training and coaching. She is able to work with headteachers and senior management to help them set, take action and reach their personal goals.
'The SIP provides exceptional support. She makes the best use of her time in school and she has established a very productive working relationship with the headteacher. Her evaluations of the school’s progress are accurate and astute and she has made a significant contribution to the school’s recent improvement’ HMI comments about Sheelagh’s support for Blyth Horton Grange, in Special Measures July 2009"

Sheelagh Tickell - Education Consultant

Headship successes include :
  • Three outstanding Ofsted inspections as a headteacher in 1997, 2002 and 2007 . January 2007, led by HMI, described every aspect of the school as Grade 1 (Outstanding)
  • Named in HMCI Report as an effective school 2005
  • Named in HMCI Report 2007 as an outstanding school
  • Developed staff within school to produce 7 headteachers (one now HMI) also 3 deputy headteachers as well as numerous other staff to promotion
  • Since becoming headteacher the school doubled in roll to 450 pupils
  • Goathland is an inclusive school with a communications support base serving a very diverse catchment, in Longbenton, North Tyneside. No child has ever been permanently excluded, though we have taken many pupils excluded from other schools
  • Standards have over the years been consistently above the national averages at both KS1 and KS2
Extensive and successful primary teaching and senior management posts from 1970 to December 2007 in the following local authorities: Newcastle, Northumberland, Gateshead, Clywd North Wales and North Tyneside.
Early Retirement, December 2007 as headteacher of Goathland Primary School, North Tyneside after 18 effective years. Education Consultant from January 2008 working with Primary schools and LAs across Northern Region."

It should be noted that there are no successes listed on her CV for over 5 years, and the Northern Education Trust, for which she currently works, has not been that successful either - its own Thorpe Academy went into special measures earlier this year.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Thought for the Day with Elizabeth Oldfield: The Prodigal Son

Another cracking Thought for the Day today on BBC Radio 4 Today, this time from Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos Think Tank, who was talking about the power of literary fiction to have an emotional impact and to help us develop empathy.  She went on to make the link with Jesus's parables and talked in particular about the Prodigal Son.

This one always moves me somehow.   The last time I encountered the story Prodigal Son was a number of years ago, and I suppose, it was sort of a third hand reading of it.  I was reading a short story by Pushkin called The Stationmaster, in which he described spending a night at a rural coaching house and becoming friendly with the stationmaster there.  He describes in detail the office of the stationmaster, including the   series of drawings, hanging on the office wall, depicting the story of the Prodigal Son. 

It got me remembering that there was once a time when I never really understood what prodigal meant. At school, we were told it meant 'lost' and that father celebrated the return of his son because he was prodigal - ie was lost and found again.  It made no sense to me back then, and it is a bit tautological.  It did not occur to me to look the word up in a dictionary.  If I had, I would have realised that  the loss of the son, and his return and redemption have nothing at all to do with the word 'prodigal'.   

In fact, prodigal means "wastefully extravagant". The father calls his son prodigal because he is basically kind hearted and generous but has squandered his father’s inheritance on living a dissolute lifestyle with false friends.  Perhaps he recognises something of himself in his son – the father is extravagant himself in celebrating the return of the son, but his extravagance contrasts sharply with that of his son’s.  

My children have recently been learning about the Prodigal Son at school, so I asked them what they thought ‘prodigal’ meant.  They said ‘lost’.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Redby Primary Academy - Latest Ofsted Report

If I were the Deputy Headteacher at this school I would be properly shitting myself now - after reading Ofsted's latest report published in July 2015.  Ofsted praises the committed headteacher but slates the leadership of the school.  The school leadership comprises:
  • the Governors
  • Executive Headteacher
  • Head of School
  • Deputy headteacher
  • Middle leaders
So who is Ofsted talking about when it criticises the school's leaders?

Each of the above is specifically mentioned with the exception of Deputy headteacher.  The governors are slated, the middle leaders are slated, the Head of School is singled out for praise YET the "leaders" are still not up to scratch.  That only leaves the Deputy Headteacher (the Executive headteacher is not mentioned, but he falls under the governors category).

What do Ofsted say about the leaders in its last report?
  • Leaders do not monitor the quality of teaching with sufficient rigour.
  • As a result, staff are unclear about what they need to do to improve.
  • Leaders’ monitoring of teaching and its impact is not focused enough.
  • Leaders identify areas of concern in teachers’ work but follow-up actions are not prompt.
  • Leaders’ records of discussions about improving teaching are not always rounded off with agreed next steps. As a result, vital action can be too slow.
Who is responsible for this – the visionary head of school or the deputy headteacher?  I would say both, but reading between the lines of the Ofsted report, it seems that the head of school, like a cornered rat, has come out fighting by pinning the blame on to everyone else – including her deputy.

The Governors, however, are quite rightly criticised by Ofsted:
  • Governors do not have a strategic vision for the academy.
  • Governors do not focus relentlessly enough on improvement.
  • Governors do not have clear enough insights into its work and are not holding leaders to account with sufficient rigour.
  • They are not provided with sufficient detail about the progress of the academy in a timely enough fashion.
  • they are not able to monitor the impact of actions.
  • Governors have focused on the more immediate issues of the academy at the expense of the broader,strategic priorities which will ensure the academy’s improvement is sustained.
  • Governors visit the academy regularly. However, this vital aspect of their monitoring role lacks rigour.
  • Governors are not clear about what they are looking for.
  • The records of governors’ actions, including the minutes of meetings, lack detail and are insufficiently focused on what governors have done to hold leaders to account for the inconsistencies at the academy.
This has allowed the mediocrity, downright incompetence, bullying, falling standards, high staff turnover to persist, which is why the school remained in special measures for so long!

The school has improved to the extent that it is now rated as "requires improvement" rather than "inadequate" - BUT it has taken them 20 months to get there.  Its hardly "on the road to outstanding" as their job adverts claim.

But don’t take my word for it.  Read the report yourself. Compare it with the other reports, in particular, the original Ofsted report from the November 2013 inspection, and ask yourself “what has changed materially from then until now?”  

Leadership and Governance is poor therefore the standard of teaching has fallen and remains inconsistent. “…staff are unclear as to how to improve”. 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

If the governors spent more time actually addressing the deficiencies rather than trying to stifle honest debate in the Sunderland Echo (or stalking bloggers for that matter) perhaps the school wouldn't still be in this mess.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

To Life: Novelty Wedding Dances

To life, to life, l'chaim!

This wedding video from 2010 ranks as my all time favourite novelty / choreographed / surprise wedding dance.  L'chaim (pronounced  le high-em or with a more gutteral 'h') is a toast in Hebrew meaning "to life", and is a song taken from the film: Fiddler on the Roof. Great Song - great video - Mazel Tov!

The trend for novelty wedding dances shows no sign of abating.   The painfully awkward shuffle of the bride and groom's first dance (mine was no exception), often the couple's first ever attempt at anything remotely resembling traditional ballroom dancing, is now increasingly being replaced by choreographed wedding dances.

About 10-15 years ago I knew of couples taking dance lessons before their weddings just to put in a competent performance for their first dance; but over recent years, it has not been enough to be merely competent - the YouTube generation are increasingly opting for polished novelty dances. Recently one such dance to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk went viral and has been viewed over 4 million times on YouTube.

I think, unless you can pull it off with something spectacular, these dances are becoming a bit naff - as parodied in the 2013 film "I'll Give it a Year":

Friday, 10 July 2015

Durham Cathedral Lego Model - Update

It's over a year and a half since I first spotted the Lego model of Durham Cathedral being built in the vaulted undercroft off the Cloisters.  At that time, only a small part of the altar and parts of the outer walls had been completed.

18 months later and it really is beginning to take shape. . .

You sponsor a brick at £1 a time the you are given a piece and instructed where to place it on the model.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Shipping Forecast: "Only Connect" Quiz Show question

On a recent trip to North Yorkshire coast, I spotted this Shipping Forecast Compass Rose on the promenade at Filey, and it reminded me of a few things to do with the shipping forecast. So, here is a possible contender for a question on the "Only Connect" quiz show (or any other quiz for that matter):

What connects the following: BBC Radio 4's Shipping Forecast, a 1980's children's programme and a song by Blur?

They all reference the names given to the defined areas in the waters surrounding the British Isles, which are used by the Met Office and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.  The BBC's Shipping Forecast provides weather reports and forecasts for these areas and the distinctive sound of these broadcasts can be soothing with their hypnotic repetition of the sea areas.

Indeed, in his autobiography, A Bit Of A Blur, bassist Alex James revealed that when Blur were on tour in America they would listen to the Shipping Forecast on the BBC World Service to remind themselves of home.  During the recording of the Parklife album, Damon Albarn was struggling to come up with some lyrics for an instrumental piece which had been written by Graham Coxon.  Alex James had given a Damon Albarn for Christmas a handkerchief with a map of the shipping forecast regions on it.  This served as inspiration for the instrumental piece which was to become "This is a low" which name-checked a number of the sea areas of the shipping forecast: Biscay, Tyne, Forth, Cromarty, Dogger, Forties, Malin, Thames.

Which brings me to my favourite children's cartoon from the 1980's - The Adventures of Portland Bill - which I loved at the time - and not in an ironic sort of way.    The show centered around the lives of a lighthouse keeper, Portland Bill, who lived on a lighthouse island with his assistants and his dog.  All of the characters, animals and places featured were named after the sea areas or other UK coastal features: there was Portland Bill, the lighthouse keeper;  his assistants, Ross and Cromarty; and, of course, his dog: Dogger.

On the mainland there was Eddy Stone who owned the village shop, named after Eddystone; two sheep  called Flotsam and Jetsam, a bull named Boulmer.  Other characters in the village were Fastnet the fisherman, Mrs. Lundy, Grandma Tiree, Inspector Ronaldsway (belongs to the lighthouse service, not a police officer), Finisterre, and Young Gail lives in McGuillycuddy.  Fantastic! another connection.  If you to play Led Zeppelin's Over The Hills and Far Away really badly - it sounds a bit like the theme tune to Portland Bill.