School days

St. Aidan’s, Darlington. Image from

As it was Schools’ Week at Cranmer, Phil Morton and I spent three days at St. Aidan’s in Darlington. Three years ago it was a failing school, locally reputed to be the worst in the country. Now with a visionary leadership team and having moved into an architecturally impressive £16m new building, it is being transformed into a school with a real buzz in the air.

We were guests of the chaplain, Sally Milner, who enabled us to chat with staff and students. Most revealing were the conversations with some of the year 11s. Asked what had changed most at the school, every single one said either ‘behaviour’ or ‘discipline’. It was striking how they enjoyed having a disciplined environment. In fact, both Phil and I were impressed by the air of calm in the school.

We led an assembly one morning – based around a ten-minute tour of the universe! Then Phil used Psalm 8 to say that the same God who created this magnifient universe is the same God who loves and cares for each individual person in the room. We also enjoyed a couple of “Grill-a-Christian” sessions with two of the year 7 classes – both classes were lively and engaged.

The evidence

Wildlife antics

On Tuesday I came back from St. Aidan’s to find that the bird feeder had fallen off – having little doubt as to the culprit, I thought “Poor squirrel, it must have had a shock”. I then observed the bag of bird seed whch I had carelessly left under an open window.

I present the evidence in the image at left. Note the pile of sunflower seed husks on the floor (lower arrow). Next, note the small hole carefully nibbled in the side of the bag (red circle). Finally, observe the slightly open window (top arrow).

Clearly, while I had been gone, a squirrel had got into my room, sat on the floor, enjoyed a pleasant meal and, when it was replete, departed whence it came. I rest my case.

Sedge warbler, really giving it the chirp, and a linnet who thinks he’s more handsome.

On Saturday morning I made an early start, as I wanted to see how the Great Crested Grebes had done which I’d seen before. Having parked in a side road, I was immediately drawn to activity in the nearby bramble hedge – in particular a very loud, rasping warbler. My identification skills are not great, and for me warblers are at the limit, so I decided to take a photograph for later study. As I did so I noticed a flurry and found myself snapping a female linnet instead. The male posed on a nearby stem moments later. I’d never seen a linnet before – but this one was not difficult to identify! (Back home I discovered that the warbler was ‘just’ a sedge – but I’m unlikely to forget it in a hurry)

The Great Crested Grebe family: three chicks, one hitching a ride.

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