One of the benefits of the Internet is that there is a lot of information readily available to us to help inform our prayers. Local authorities produce a lot of statistics and information about our areas which can help us to have a factual understanding of issues affecting our area.

Goldthorpe is situated in the Dearne North Ward of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council. In Barnsley as a whole, currently 18% of the population is under 16 and 23.8% of Barnsley’s children aged under 16 years are currently living in poverty. Statistics are often meaningless to me as I’m not that good at maths! But apparently that equates to approximately 8,700 children in Barnsley living in the 20% worst areas in England for low wellbeing. I find numbers easier to deal with than percentages, and that is an awful lot of children who are in difficult circumstances. All children need our prayers, but there is no doubt that it is doubly difficult for those living in poverty.

In 2009, 39.3% of young people in Barnsley schools achieved five A*-C passes (including GCSE English and Mathematics) and at the end of March 2010, the percentage of young people defined as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) was 8.1%. These figures are all higher than the national average and reflect the difficulties many young people face. Because of their lack of qualifications, they struggle to find jobs and there is a sense in which other problems (lifestyle factors, the risk of involvement in drugs and other criminal activities) become exacerbated by their educational failures. In our area, the picture is even worse, with only 29.8% achieving five A*-C passes (including GCSE English and Mathematics.) As we are praying for schools throughout February, we need to pray that pupils will be able to do well in their learning and that they will leave school with some form of qualifications and life skills that can help them to find work and purpose in their adult lives.

Statistics can obviously be interpreted in a number of different ways, however. If we look at the above statistics, they mean that 60.1% of young people in Barnsley schools did achieve five A*-C passes (including GCSE English and Mathematics) and that a huge number of young people are in education, employment or training. That is a far more positive way to look at things! We need to be careful to look at the whole picture. It is easy to be gloomy and despondent about the situation in our local area, but there is indeed much to be positive about. Nonetheless, we need to pray for our schools and for the children and teachers working there.

Education is not the answer to life’s ills in itself. As C.S. Lewis wryly pointed out, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” The secular world view which is so prevalent in our Western society is nowhere more evident than in schools, especially secondary schools where evolution is taught as fact and humanism is the prevailing philosophy. There is also far more to life than paper qualifications. As we are praying for schools, let’s pray that children will learn well in all areas of the curriculum, but that they will also learn moral values and spiritual truths that are consistent with Christianity and that they will be encouraged to seek a personal relationship with God through Christ. Many schools work hard to give pupils some moral framework that is consistent with Christianity and there are many youth organisations and church organisations which seek to have a positive input into schools. Pray that headteachers and governors will understand the need to look at the spiritual values and ethos of their schools as much as the need to do well in ‘league tables’ and achieve good academic results.

(Statistics used here are available from LASOS (Local Area Statistics Online Service))