Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Neither an optimist nor a pessimist be

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After my talk last week, I was asked whether I was optimistic about the future for sustainable schools (or at least positive).  My response was my stock one with such queries, that I thought that optimism and pessimism were morally degenerate states, with the former even more reprehensible than the latter.

Optimism, it seems to me, risks leading to a "something will turn up" mentality; and pessimism to a "there's nothing to be done" one.  The result can be equally dire – action paralysis.  The Devil's Dictionary is instructive:

OPTIMISMn. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof — an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.

Later in the Dictionary, we find the following:

A pessimist applied to God for relief.  "Ah, you wish me to restore your hope and cheerfulness," said God. "No," replied the petitioner, "I wish you to create something that would justify them."  "The world is all created," said God, "but you have overlooked something — the mortality of the optimist."

Quite so.  But so much better to be a meliorist – a word that's probably too positive to be in the Dictionary to cope with: the idea that the world can be made better through concerted human effort.  In that sense, I am positive.


Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

📥  New Publications

This 383 page book by David JC MacKay is dedicated to "those who will not have the benefits of two billion years' accumulated energy reserves"; that is, to all those who, unwittingly, will follow us onto the Earth – the unborn and unbegot – and unaware.

It begins: "I'm concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about sustainable energy. ... Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional ... and no one talks about numbers.  ...  This is a straight-talking book about the numbers.  The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up."

Of course, I've not read it yet, but the (no cost) PDF is on the iPad.  Fewer blogs and more reading needed, perhaps.


Don't mention the Decade!

📥  Talks and Presentations

I gave a seminar in the University on Tuesday to Mark my retirement.  A little late, of course, but that was just about scheduling.  I talked about the way that an interest in sustainability and learning had developed over the last 9 years since my inaugural professorial lecture in April 2002, and tried to look to where the successes had been [ HEFCE & DCSF ] and what had been much less successful [ HEA & LSC/SFA/LSIS/etc. ], and why this was the case.  I looked across schools, colleges and universities in doing this.  Not many jokes, someone complained, and somebody else said, you didn't mention the Decade, and I suddenly realised that this was so.  Not deliberate, but I'd just not given it a thought.  Dear me!

But why, I now wonder.

Well, I was talking about changes in UK (mostly English as it happens) policy and practice, and it seems to me that all the successful policy shifts were internally pushed by very able senior managers, who were convinced that a focus on sustainability was hugely important, and who worked closely (and strategically) with experts in collaboration with well-managed formal and informal advisory groups.  And it does seem to me that the very limited external pull that the Decade can offer provided next to no traction for these processes.   This is not to say that the Decade isn't an international activity worthy of note, or that the UK ESD reports have no usefulness, but let's not pretend that these have contributed much strategy to English education (for sustainable development) successes and failures.   And before anyone asks, yes, I do wonder (once again) whether I'm the best person to chair the UK National Commission's ESD Co-ordinating Group and Forum.

Illiberal Liberals

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I see that Nick Clegg is threatening universities with all sorts of punishments if they don't do as they are told about "fair access".  Not quite the freedom that institutions were promised, I note.  Not very liberal either.  Just another politician seeing universities as "creatures of Whitehall to be bossed around by ministers" as Iain Martin blogged recently.  And all this despite institutions' efforts over many years to widen access and build relationships with schools which are to count for little it seems; in the end it will be a crude numbers exercise.  Clegg sounds increasingly like Gordon Brown in his Laura Spence moment, no doubt trying to curry some favour after breaking all those promises to students, and just a little bit embarrassed about the decline in social mobility which he and the Cabinet (and the Labour front bench) represents.  I'm not the only person to note that lowering access grades seems a cheaper policy than raising school standards.  Pity.


For academics everywhere

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Colmcille the scribe

My hand is cramped from penwork.

My quill has a tapered point.

Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark

Beetle-sparkle of ink.

Wisdom keeps welling in streams

From my fine-drawn sallow hand:

Riverrun on the vellum

Of ink from green-skinned holly.

My small runny pen keeps going

Through books, through thick and thin,

To enrich the scholars' holdings —

Penwork that cramps my hand.


Quite so.  An Irish 12th C text; translation by Seamus Heaney


Another day, another questionnaire ...

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The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust [SSAT] has returned to the issue of how to support schools in their efforts to address sustainability.  Could this have anything to do, I wonder, with the advent of the Sustainable Schools Alliance .

Although there is nothing on the homepage about sustainable schools, details of what SSAT is doing is, as they say, only one click away.   Another click takes you to publications – except there aren't any, it seems – they must have forgotten about the ones that Alma Harris and I wrote for them in 2008.  Rather passé, maybe.

Anyway, back to the questionnaire which is on surveymonkey.  The SSAT introduction says, ...

Following feedback from schools about the benefits and challenges of progressing sustainability in the school context, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is about  to launch a package of initiatives to help individuals working to embed sustainability in their schools.

Schools who have embraced sustainability are gaining enormous benefits which range from cost saving, improved school environments, additional creative teaching and learning opportunities increased community involvement and enhanced reputations. In some cases schools have generated significant additional revenue through their initiatives.

As you probably know, the SSAT is dedicated to raising levels of achievement in schools. It does this through its work with headteachers, teachers and students to help develop and share ideas and practice around teaching and learning and other aspects of school life. In practice headteachers, and teachers design, lead and deliver SSAT’s work.

In December 2010, the community team at the SSAT ran a workshop with six schools, to understand more about what kind of support is needed.  We are now asking for your help in understanding more about your experience of implementing sustainability in your school, what you have found useful and your successes.

Our survey should take you no more than 10 minutes, please click on this link:

Gemma Courtney

PS  As an incentive for completing the survey we are offering one lucky school the chance to win £500 worth of support or training to help develop their sustainability approach. We will announce the name of the successful school in February, once the survey is closed.


This instrument covers a lot of ground, but not in a particularly coherent way.  It is focused on the doorways, which is a pity as this limits what it can do – and there's no mention of biodiversity, of course.  It attempts to be developmental but sees this in terms of progress and benefits with the following as boxes to tick when discussing a range of activities and initiatives:

We are just starting to develop out approach

We are developing our approach and making good progress

We can see that we are already accruing benefits

This is embedded in school plans and our thinking

But there is no mention of anyone learning anything, or of how all this contributes to sustainable development.  Pity.