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The Changing Colours of the Murray River

I am loving Sarah Wills’ travel blog- inspired! 🙂

Pope thanks final audience at Vatican

Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican for Pope Benedict’s final general audience.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a crowd of thousands cheering him in St Peter’s square, thanking them from the bottom of his heart for coming out to see him. He admitted he faced “choppy waters” during his eight years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, but says he was guided by God and felt his presence every day.

“I feel I need to thank God who guides the church and feeds faith. Right now my soul is open to embrace the entire church and I’d like to thank everybody for the help I have received”.

The 85 year old will retire tomorrow and will be the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415. His successor will be chosen in a conclave to take place in March, before Holy Week in the lead up to Easter.

Pope Benedict told the crowd his papacy had been “a heavy burden” but he accepted it because he was sure that God would guide him.

At times he said he felt like “St Peter with his apostles on the Lake of Galilee”, making reference to the Biblical story when the disciples were battling against heavy waves and Jesus Christ appeared to them.

The surprise announcement of his abdication, that shocked Catholics around the world, has required the rules of electing a successor to be changed to allow the next pope to be chosen.

“I took this step [resignation] in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit,” he said in his address.

After Benedict XVI steps down, he will become known as “pope emeritus”.

Beautifully explained

Sarah Alexander

Spiritual Intelligence is our connection to, and awareness of, the intelligence of Spirit that is within us all. This intelligence is guiding us through our inner wisdom, our gut feelings and the gentle nudges we receive guiding us on our path. It is there for us to rely on and have trust in at all times. All we have to do is be willing to act on this guidance and allow it to direct every aspect of our lives.

Spiritual Intelligence creates a clear distinction between us as a personality or ego, and us as spiritual essence. As a personality we live our daily lives, think our normal thoughts, and believe that we are the body that we inhabit with all its faults and foibles. As spiritual essence, we still go about our daily lives in the same way in the knowledge that we are not really the body that…

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Should more students study abroad?

Hannah Smithson asks why more UK students don’t pursue education and employment abroad, and what attracts international students to the UK.

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Studying at home

The thought of travelling to far off lands to live and study can be a scary yet exciting prospect. Different cultures, languages, food and people are just some of the delights of travelling and reasons why brave fledglings choose to fly outside their comfort zone and take the plunge into a new life abroad. But for many Brits it seems there is no better place than home.

According to the latest research from the British Council fewer than 2% of UK students are studying abroad despite the opportunities it presents. Mark Moulding from the British Council said their research shows ‘businesses are saying that international skills are more important than exam results, but graduates are lacking in these skills. So many UK students don’t quite realise how studying abroad could have a real, positive impact on their career prospects. That’s something we’re working to change.’

Compared to countries like China which offers a comprehensive set of scholarships for domestic students to study overseas, the UK looks like it’s stumbling behind. ‘There’s a real risk that the UK ’s competitive edge could be damaged if our graduates don’t have enough experience of the wider world,’ Mark explained ‘We know that this is the kind of experience that employers want, and other countries including France and Germany are sending many more students abroad each year than we are.’

So why do so many UK students choose to stay in Britain for their education?

Beatrice Merrick, Director of Services and Research at UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs), explained that there has never been a real need for UK students to study abroad as domestically there are enough quality places at UK universities compared with other countries.

‘You get the UCAS stories every year where students don’t get places but it is a comparatively small number compared to many other countries, like South Africa at the moment, with a huge demand that just can’t be met domestically. And the UK has a good reputation for quality education with Russell Group universities.’

Sarah Nash, Director of Study Options, a company working with UK students wanting to study in Australia and New Zealand, said that often people are put off studying abroad due to the costs involved and language barriers.

‘Certainly UK students are very keen to go to English speaking countries which I can understand because to study in a foreign language, however fluent you are at tertiary level, is no mean feat.

‘I think that money is a very key consideration. Even though fees here have risen to £9,000 a year at some universities, you can still access a student loan. If you go abroad, you cannot use your student loan. If you’re an 18 year old, that is quite a sum of money to find. You have to be from a family background where your parents can afford to pay for that cost of education upfront which will automatically rule out a lot of people.

‘Interestingly now, I think the rise in tuition fees has made people stop and think – actually if I’m going to spend this kind of money, what do I get for that investment?’

With companies such as Study Options raising awareness, it has become much easier to find out about studying abroad but, according to Beatrice, ‘we have to acknowledge that the number of UK students who leave school with a good enough knowledge of another language to be able to study in that language is probably quite small compared to students in many parts of the world who study English from a young age and have much much greater fluency.’

Studying away

‘I always knew I was going to do it,’ said Eleanor Linton, a UK student who studied at the University of Hong Kong last year as part of her sandwich Fashion Retail degree.

‘I picked my course because I knew I had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong. There was just one place but few people applied and I was the lucky one who got it. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to think that they couldn’t afford to do it and that it would look better on their CV if they did work placements rather than going abroad but then speaking to them afterwards, they said they wish they’d done study abroad.’

Eleanor studied Mandarin but said most people didn’t study a language there.

‘I think so many English people are totally intimidated by learning a new language and they think there is a massive preconception that they are going to have be fluent in somewhere like Hong Kong. When I got back, a lot of people thought I had my lectures in Chinese. I definitely didn’t. I had them all in English.

‘It’s just made me realise that there isn’t just a set thing that you have to go to university and get a graduate job and live in London – there is just so much more.’

Another perspective on being an international student comes from Cristina, an English language student from Spain studying in Bournemouth and she says she came over to England to improve her future career prospects.

‘I know now that if I want a good job in the future then I must know English. Many jobs in Spain require a certain level and I thought what better time to do it whilst Spain is going through crisis. There are no jobs there at the moment, so I may as well stay here and invest in my future while I can.’

People sometimes argue that education is a recession proof industry because when the job prospects are dim it is often a good time to go and study.

Debbie Cambone, Marketing Assistant at Anglo-Continental language school in Bournemouth, said that she had actually seen an increase in language students, especially the Spanish market, since the recession.

‘What people tend to do is invest in their education when they can’t get a job. We have a range of ages from a wide range of countries – people in their 20s up to a gentleman in his 50s. We had over 68 nationalities last year, from all over western Europe, eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.’

Helena Weir, Digital Marketing Administrator, thinks studying abroad should work a bit more two way but said that numbers of UK students studying abroad probably wouldn’t increase unless the government backed it more.

‘I think that the language school industry in England is very large by now and something that should be recognised and supported more because it brings a lot of investment into the country which is needed in a recession. I don’t think English people do look outside their borders enough and I think when it comes to looking for jobs, if a foreign workforce has more skills or is more intelligent then they will be the ones to get the jobs over us.’

Do free schools mean a freer education?

Academies are paid millions and are not controlled by LEAs so where does all the money go and are results reflecting investment? Hannah Smithson investigates

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A free education sounds idyllic, financially and ideologically and something which every child should be entitled to but since the introduction of free schools last year and with the number of academies on the increase around the country, concerns have been raised into the quality of education in these new schools, promising to better the lives of generations to come.

What makes academies and free schools different, is primarily the way they are run and funded. Academies are funded by central government and no longer controlled by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) but by staff, governors and parents.

Similarly, free schools were set up last year by Educational Secretary Michael Gove, to provide new schools in often under privaledged areas, educational opportuinities pioneered by parents, staff and local governors. Both are really in their infancy but it is time to reflect on whether they are working or not?

League tables

St. Aldhelm’s Academy in Poole was announced as the worst scoring school in the country this year as only 3% of pupils who left last summer achieved 5 A to C GCSE grades.

On arrival to the school, I was asked to sit in the foyer and wait to speak to principal Cheryl Heron. I had made an appointment and everything seemed to run to schedule in this school.

At exactly 12 noon I was met by Cheryls’ Personal Assistant Tracy, who I’d been emailing to arrange an interview and escorted through many key coded doors and pristine corridors to Cheryls office.

As I waited I couldn’t help feeling as though I was waiting to meet the Prime Minister rather than the head of a struggling academy. I sensed that perhaps this wasn’t the only media attention they’d had since the results came out and that they quite rightfully wanted to be professional yet wary about my presence and intentions as a journalist.

I assessed my surroundings and I would clearly not be alone interviewing Cheryl, as her trusty PA stood by. I was being monitored.

Finally, this very tall, well groomed figure emerged from her office and I stood up to shake her hand as she introduced herself as the Principal. If I wasn’t intimidated already I certainly was now, as she explained she was a keen basketball player and I could see why from her towering shadow.

She sat down her body language open yet protective and began to explain to me the academies situation.

“What people have to understand is we only opened in September 2010 so our first year 11 results were with a group of year 11s we only had for eight months and although we did everything within our power we only achieved three percent five A to C’s in English and Maths.”

“We have pressure on us to do better which we will do – that’s why we’ve become a sponsored Academy but everything takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Cheryls point was to not criticise the academy for the results that were achieved last year under this new status as the school was still working under an old system, with the same curriculum and old classrooms, waiting for an £11 million renovation to take place in August.

Money, money money

So in spite of the different way academies are funded, is it a case of pouring money into academies and free schools to help them recover or upgrade their status to academies if they are doing well. Does this create unfair competition between state schools and new academies as other colleges may not have the same budget to compete with the education an academy can offer children?

Time and co-operation

Academies and free schools are still subject to Ofsted inspections and so can still be held to account.

Attendance and standards of behaviour have both improved remarkably since St. Aldhelm’s became an academy, according to a recent Ofsted report and David Ball, Vice Chair of Governors at St. Aldhelm’s and head of academic development at Bournemouth University, said: “The principal and staff at St. Aldhelm’s are dedicated and fully committed to improving the educational attainment at all levels of young people in the community.

Ball believes there are strategies in place to improve achievement and has noticed a difference in the attitudes of the young people since the school became an academy. He said: “They take pride in the academy and recognise the value of education.”

The borough of Poole said it had no involvement in the running of the school since it became an academy, which controls it’s own budget and curriculum, and that the responsibility lay with the school’s private sponsors.

Ball added: “As a co-sponsor, the university fully supports, and has a complete confidence in the principal and her staff. The proof will be seen in future years as new cohorts move through the academy, benefit from its pupil centered educational ethos and fulfil their potential.”

Critics of academies question their ethos and ‘innovative’ teaching methods, asking whether they are working or eroding traditional teaching disciplines and replacing core subjects with vocational qualifications. Principal Heron explained that there will be a large focus on vocational studies at St. Aldhelm’s and her freedom with the curriculum allows this.

“I have to do English and Maths, but then I can do whatever I want and there is more emphasis placed on vocational qualifications and apprenticeships nowadays.”

The Wolf report seems to put a spanner in the works however as professor Wolf recommended last year that only some vocational qualifications should count towards GCSE league tables whilst criticising that many vocational qualifications were not leading to higher education or a job for graduating pupils. How will St. Aldhelm’s fair in future years in the league tables?

Success stories

Some better established academies are however coming out on top. The Bishop of Winchester Academy on Mallard Road, was five years ago a school with special measures and is now facing being over subscribed for the coming September cohort 2012-13.

Hayleigh Edwards, Key stage 4 progress leader at the academy believes academies can be beneficial. She said: “Extra funding has been an enormous help, particularly for KS4 where I am able to reward trips and put incentives in place. Without the additional budget, I would struggle to do this.”

Other plans to improve Bournemouth include a £10million  investment to extend and refurbish The Bourne Academy.

Barry Goldbart, Cabinet member for Education and Childrens services, said: “Bournemouth has been very fortunate in receiving such a large investment for two of our academies.

“Academies are a good thing and a trend that I think will continue.”

He added: “The only loss is of the high quality officers within the council who deal with education and with losing them we lose the experience to make those tough decisions.”

The coalition government wants schools considered ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted to convert to academies. It also wants those successful schools to mentor others in the areas that are more disadvantaged.

Free school plans

Plans to open a free school in Bournemouth are going ahead for September 2012. The new school, called Parkfield school will be offering a alternative education to the children of Bouremouth and Poole.

It will be offering an international curriculum and combining the Montessori method into the classroom which follows a ‘freedom within limits’ ethos.

The new headteacher could not be contacted for comment.