Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

The OECE strides into a quagmire

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher, has written an article for the BBC about his brave 'n' bold plans to have a focus on "global competence" in forthcoming PISA exams.  Good luck, I thought when I read it.  This is a lot more difficult than testing math(s), but it's not clear that Schleicher understand this.  The clue is in the definition:

Global Competence:

"The capacity to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives, to understand how differences affect perceptions, judgements, and ideas of self and others, and to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds on the basis of a shared respect for human dignity".

Schleicher says:

"[education is] about making sure that children develop a reliable compass, the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.  Schools need to prepare students for a world where many will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins.  They will need to appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values.  It's a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across differences.  Schools can provide opportunities for young people to learn about global development, equip them with the means of accessing and analysing different cultures, help students engage in international and intercultural relations, and foster the value of the diversity of people.

That's as may be, and as Schleicher says, there's a lot of this already going on in schools.  But that does not mean it can, or should, be tested.  It is clear from the OECD's own definition of global competence (above) that this is something that can only be developed over time, and through practice in real-life contexts.  It also seems a possibility that, in order to get the right answers – unlike in math(s) – young people will have to align themselves to OECD's values, which won't be universally popular.  My prediction is that these tests will not see the light of day.


GEEP, GEEP, geep and geep

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've decided to collect GEEPs.  So far, I have four.

You might recall that I wrote about the international one last year when I attended a meeting in San Diego.  The Global Environmental Education Partnership [GEEP] is coming to the UK this weekend for a steering committee and no doubt I'll have something to say about that.

More locally, there's the Gloucestershire Environmental Education Partnership [GEEP] which works with the Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning [GHLL].

And there's a new Irish geep, as the BBC informed us a little while ago.  This poor creature is a goat / sheep hybrid which has done well even to be born alive, judging by past experience.  Inevitably, it has its own YouTube video, and is more photogenic than anyone I know in either GEEP or GEEP.  Not everyone is convinced it's real, however.  NB, if we're getting technical here, the geep is different from a goat-sheep chimera.

Then there's geep: global electric electronic processing which "is a growing company with a professional team committed to sustainability that works hard to consistently exceed its customers’ expectations – one piece of electronics at a time."  I've no idea what this means, but it's in there, and, uniquely, it has a geepstore.


Compensation for VCs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Times Higher has a feature this week on VC pay, or "compensation package" as we're being encouraged to call it.  Here's the THE:

"Vice-chancellors have again come in for flak over what they are paid.  We look at how their compensation packages compare with those of their international peers"

The article is here.

Compensation for what, you have to wonder.  For the inconvenience of having their precious time taken up by having to go to work, presumably.  How language corrupts our ideas.


The nature of Nature

📥  Comment, New Publications

Thanks to the SEEd / NAEE blogs for alerting me to  recent paper in The Conservation by Hannah Pitt, Research Associate at Cardiff, comments on research by Natural England on the extent to which youth is ‘engaging with nature’.

I’ve been commenting on this research for a while now through an internal support / reference group, and some of the points Pitt makes are familiar to me: for example, the broad definition of ‘natural environment’ (an urban outdoor exercise area counts as much as a nature reserve, even though the amount of ’nature’ in them might be quite different).  Pitt notes that the often relatively wildlife-rich back garden doesn’t count in all this as spending time there is not seen as being away from the house, which is seen as important by those who count such things.

The best point that Pitt makes (for me) is to point to the importance of focusing on what youth (and everybody else for that matter) does when it is in nature, as opposed just being pleased that they are out there.  She says,

"Rather than thinking of all places with a good amount of greenery as natural and therefore beneficial, we need to distinguish which features and characteristics can have positive effects.  By understanding this it becomes possible to plan environments which support positive, healthy engagement. … what one does when outdoors is as significant in terms of well-being as the very fact of getting out and among the plants.”

Just so, even if you do very little, as sometimes being is as good as doing – as Wordsworth knew.

Pitt mentions research that suggests that different cultural groups have varied motivations for spending time outdoors, and that there is more to learn here.  I’m sure that this is right, but might it also be the case that differences within groups are now becoming as great as those between them?  Does anyone know?


Liberate your degree

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Rather inevitably, perhaps, since my post on Wednesday following my meeting at the NUS, I've been reading around the notion of a "liberated and sustainable curriculum".  Here's something of what NUS has to say about it:

Universities rely on rigid curricula and assessment methods that privilege some groups while systematically shutting out those most marginalised from succeeding in education: women, working class, disabled, LGBT+, Black students and those with caring responsibilities.

In 2013, 16 per cent more white British students graduated with a first or 2:1 degree than UK domiciled Black students (ECU, 2014). Research conducted by NUS (Race for Equality, 2011) and the HEA (2012) on the attainment gap and retention of Black students highlights the need for representative curricula and diversifying assessment practices.

Black students are over-represented in HE institutions in relation to the general population, yet vastly under-represented in the curricula and within academic ranks.

For the past few years NUS has made huge and significant progress in bringing those issues to the forefront of the national agenda in education and working with the government and sector bodies on strategic approaches to be disseminated. Only in the last year, NUS has made significant progress with the Office For Fair Access and HEFCE on prioritising solutions to attainment gaps at national level and embedding measures in access agreements as well as with BIS on addressing the gaps at postgraduate level.

Now it’s time for us to co-ordinate the empowerment of students’ unions to push for change and challenge issues on the ground through the students who are affected, and do this collectively. It’s time for our institutions to listen to their students.

The NUS Liberate My Degree campaign has begun as a collaboration between the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and the HE Zone, which aims to empower student reps from academic and liberation groups with the tools to transform and decolonise education so that it is more representative of the diverse student body, as well as amplifying local campaigns and initiatives to liberate education to a national level.

This hub is a repository of resources for students’ unions to use for bringing their students, course reps and liberation groups together to discuss specific approaches to campaigning to dismantle the Eurocentric education system and develop institutional strategies that suit them. 

To begin with we will be exploring the following:

  • briefings on access for different liberation groups
  • approaches to tackling the Black attainment gap
  • students and staff co-designing curricula
  • student-led alternative education spaces
  • student involvement in developing alternative assessments which test a wide range of skills (coming soon)

The hub is in continual development and will expand through future collaborations with the other NUS Liberation campaigns.  We are also collecting case studies of local campaigns to showcase on the hub so do get in touch with details about your campaign!

For workshops and presentations at your union please contact the officers - and also get in touch to let us know what you’d find useful as a resource!


Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer
Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President (Higher Education)


I'm not sure I'm much the wiser after all this, although I should say that I found the contrast between the breadth of the opening paragraph, and the narrowness of what followed, quite instructive.  There is, of course, a hierarchy of disadvantage, and I searched in vain for the identity of the NUS Male Working Class Students Officer – whoever she is.

NB, Ms Bouattia is now the NUS President elect.  Expect more on all this.


The role of education institutions in tackling climate change

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This morning's blog comes from Steve Martin ...

The University and College Union (UCU) along with support from the National Union of Students held a one day conference last week (May 13th) at the University of Manchester, to look at the role that education can play in the delivery of a low carbon economy.   This was a timely event given that on Friday April 21st, the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in New York.  Education, research and finance all form part of this agreement, hence the tertiary sectors of education should have a significant role to play in the delivery of a low carbon future.  But did the Manchester event illuminate how this might take place in any credible and rigorous way?

The UCU set out a number of key questions which they believe the sector must address if it is going to make a decisive contribution to the transition to a new economy. These were:

  • What do we mean by carbon literacy and are institutions doing enough for their staff, students and their local communities?
  • How is the sector performing on climate research and how should it shape government and industrial policy?
  • What role for institutions engaging with fossil fuel companies to shift their trajectory to a more sustainable footing?
  • What are the policy priorities to ensure that the sector is aligned with the vision of a zero carbon economy?

All good questions, but the speakers from FE and HE; researchers and student representatives failed on many counts to address them.  The biggest failure is the huge disconnect between the massive capital building programme the sector has put in place over the past decade and the concept of a low carbon economy.  Whatever the best building standards are, like BREEM Excellence, the embodied carbon and the carbon emissions from all of these buildings will have significantly enhanced the sector's combined carbon footprint.  And, I came away rather unclear whether we had any real idea of what “carbon literacy" means, conceptually, and in practice too.

The NUS want more disinvestment from fossil fuels by the sector (especially, stranded assets like coal and gas), but as we learned from a delegate from the University of Edinburgh, the issue becomes where to put the fossil fuel rich investment assets of universities – some of which are considerable, comprising many hundreds of millions of pounds – when there a few low carbon, high quality businesses in the world in which to invest.  Not so easy then to meet the UN Principles of Sustainable Investment until there is a credible set of benchmark data on a company’s resource efficiency?  It seems to me this is where university researchers and businesses might collaborate on some worthwhile research.

The Vice Chancellor of Aston University spoke eloquently about their approach to “scaling up" their climate change curriculum offer to their undergraduates.  All 2,800 second year students are invited to attend a series of events at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham for 5 days, all of which are designed to inform, challenge and catalyse the students to take action on climate change.  Last year only 1,400 attended, and by day 3 most of them failed to turn up.  Maybe, they were conserving carbon?  So, from attendance being a mere “requirement” in previous years, for this year the 5 days will now be part of a credit award for the student’s final degree classification, so that should sort that out!  Or will it?  We will see, but the VC is convinced this is the right approach to scaling up, and of course it by-passes all of those conservative academic silos too.  This year’s event, which I hope to attend (without Credits), will also involve students from Birmingham City University.  Brave and resilient leadership: but sad that there is so little of it to be seen elsewhere in the sector.


Stephen Martin is an Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester, and a Visiting Professor in Learning for Sustainability at the University of the West of England.  He is President of Change Agents UK, a WWF Fellow, and policy advisor to the UK National Commission for UNESCO.  He can be contacted at:


Pale, Male and Stale

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Another stimulating day at the NUS sustainable development observatory board yesterday – although we’re now an advisory group, I note.  Too many Boards, it seems.

We had a glimpse of the latest survey results about what students think about the need for a focus on sustainability in their university work.  Much the same as they have done for the past 5 years, as you ask.  A remarkable consistency of view, given that the cohort changes every year.  These outcomes cannot be influenced by the universities themselves, given the timing, so might it be what schools do, despite DfE indifference?  Or is it because of DfE indifference?  Maybe it's something in the water – or the air.  All that NOx, maybe.  It is quite perplexing, given how little schools do (or say they do).

We learned that, in future, NUS is going to be lobbing for "a liberated and sustainable curriculum” in universities (and colleges, presumably).  I wondered (aloud) what this was liberation from.  From those who are “pale, male and stale”, someone suggested.  Like me?, I thought, and wondered whether the NUS liberation team has its eye on everyone like me.  Maybe my time on the advisory group is near its overdue end.

Then we talked about the Well Being of Future Generations in Wales Act (WFGAct) with its 7 goals and 5 ways of working – which I had inexplicably missed.  We were enjoined, by Welsh members of the group, to see this in the same light as the sustainable development goals, though the Welsh Goals seems to be quite different.

According to the published Guide, they are:

  • a globally responsible Wales
  • a prosperous Wales
  • a resilient Wales
  • a healthier Wales
  • a more equal Wales
  • a Wales of cohesive communities
  • a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language

These are, of course, to be viewed as a whole, not as separate goals.  I did find myself wondering why, the 4th goal wasn’t a “healthy Wales”. Is that really beyond reach?  More on all this, no doubt.

NUS is supporting the Remain campaign in the referendum, and so is encouraging students to register to vote . I contributed by signing up to the Thunderclap around voter registration.  Whatever you think about Brexodus, encouraging voting always seems a good idea.  It was almost worth going to the meeting to discover what Thunderclaps are.


A ‘green’ focus delivers both educational and financial benefits

📥  Comment, New Publications

Giving your school a ‘green’ focus delivers both educational and financial benefits, said an article in a recent TES.  The abstract (that is, the taster on the page that you could read without paying) said ...

"Not so long ago, sustainability was little more than a buzzword in schools.  These days, its presence on the curriculum is a given and it usually manifests itself in one of a few ways.  For some schools, it’s a dedicated sustainable development week.  For others, it’s a specially formed eco-council that collects recyclable materials and designs posters about turning lights off (on reused paper, naturally). But for a small percentage, it is all that and much, much more.  Take Home Farm Primary School in Colchester, Essex, for example. When headteacher Richard Potter ..."

Before I parted with my cash to read the rest, I went to the school's website to see if Mr Potter's introduction to the school had anything to say about sustainability.  Sadly, although he found the space to confirm that Home Farm was a school where safety is valued, there was no mention of the S word.  Odd, I thought.

No doubt Home Farm is a fine school – a "pretty special place" in Potter's words; one where children's "rewarding and rounded educational experience" allows them to take minor irritants like SATs in their stride, but that seems no reason to buy the TES to read about it when it cannot be bothered to wear its sustainability heart on its homepage sleeve, or make play of how much of an educationally good thing it is.


I thought that the Ethos page might be more informative, but, apart from a passing reference to eco councils, it's not.

Green Scorecard – no data yet

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I don't know about you, but I've been waiting rather impatiently for the launch of the Green Scorecard, and we're told the other day by EAUC that this has been delayed for "technical issues".  Happily, though, these are being "worked on".

I know that some, at least, see this as a successor to LiFE, EAUC's past, and rather inglorious, attempt at an accreditation scheme.  I can only hope that it is more successful, although judging by what AUDE said a while back, that might be a tall order.


What should academics be promoting?

📥  Comment

I've been coming across a lot of articles recently that seem to take it for granted that universities, and the academics within them, should be "promoting sustainable development".  Sometimes this is hedged around with caveats and thoughts of a more nuanced sort; at other times, universities are made to seem as if they're selling soap power, so unsubtle is the message.

Most of these seem to come from those whose goal in life seems to be to tell academics what to do – sadly, universities in the UK are stuffed with such people these days – but some come from academics themselves who, you might think, might know better.

So, what should academics promote, if anything?  Here's my starter for 10, in no particular order:

  • honesty
  • personal integrity
  • a respect for evidence
  • intellectual curiosity
  • skepticism
  • an open  reflexiveness towards their own ideas (and prejudices)
  • ...