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A company ethic that spells magic

Value added has been my mission this term. No don't stop reading. It does matter - I promise. Let me explain.

Year 11 examination success interviews have kept us busy, advising on which subjects to drop and which to push We've just completed them in time for the sixth form open evening nexct term. All the information we need is provided. Each pupil's very heart and soul is laid bare in data analysis. You name it and there is a column predicting it. I'm sure that if we asked the Sims manager, our Data Wizard, to analyse them by star sign he could: "All Librans are on target for 10 A-stars ... while the Leos are borderline 5A-Cs."

We're lucky there are no data protection issues around performance information or I'd have been locked up long ago. And, in case you're wondering, we're not sending out any data on CDs by post.

Many of the year group could do well and they are a pleasure to meet individually to discuss their grade projections. I've learned a lot about their plans and heard something of their dreams for the future.

I hope I've been encouraging enough to make sure the nation will have a good supply of teachers, doctors, lawyers, vets, electricians, carpenters, engineers and artists. I've asked several to let me have details when they qualify.

You never know when you'll need a good plumber, but I'm not sure I'll ever need the midwife or the equine vet come to think of it. Sorry, ladies.

It's a fascinating range and mix of talents from a delightful year group. Many are out-performing the baseline indicator grades (stick with it please) the Wizard gave them in Year 9. If they can really do this in the summer, we will have great value added. The government norm (don't laugh or even ask why) is 1,000. Anything above is giving extra value. Anything below ... well we don't want to know, but let's just say it's not healthy. We were at about 1010 last year. Yes, that's a respectable figure and no, it's not the four-digit code to get you into the building.

But where South Dartmoor really scores on value added, no government official has dared to tread. I've been overwhelmed by the sight and sound of nearly 100 youngsters performing the musical Starchild at the very limits of professionalism. A step further and we would have to give them Equity cards and a salary. But professional theatre can't match the inspirational edge of a volunteer cast with the joy of youth and the energy of teenagers. One hundred in the young company acting as one inter-dependent creature, an intelligence with many parts.

How can you count the extra that productions, sport and extra-curricular activities of all kinds give? Perhaps we can tot up the hundreds of hours given over by the cast and staff? Or perhaps we can count the hundreds of Wow responses this show received? Really it's beyond measure - the sheer dazzling quality of what has been achieved, the spine-tingling impact and the knowledge that this will change the lives of those who took part.

So it's hands off to the civil servants who try to use statistics to compare schools. What really matters to our children and their parents is not the number 1010 but the enriching experience of education at its best. On that stage the magic spell is cast and even the Data Wizard will gasp in amazement.

Ray Tarleton, Headteacher, South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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