Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: March 2014

€zillions for the YOUNG at heart

📥  News and Updates

The EU Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020, has funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020).  It comprises various research areas, one of which is YOUNG-4-2015: The young as a driver of social change.

This is how the descriptor starts:

“Meeting the challenges of the ageing population and a transformation into a more sustainable social and economic model, characterised by growing scarcity of resources, greater consideration for the natural environment, living under a shifting climate with uncertain consequences, and more gender equality, necessitates profound changes in the European society concerning our lifestyles, consumption patterns, the way we do business, develop our cities and design our homes, but also the way we build and govern our societies, forge intra- and intergenerational relations and organise our daily lives.  …”

Phew!  Did you follow all that?  Of course, beginning a call with an 86 word-sentence is a classic €urocrat's trick – ensuring that concepts jostle and compete for attention, so that the hapless applicant never quite knows what’s important.

As for the research focus, well, everything’s in there:

“Research should analyse the norms, values and attitudes of young people in Europe, as well as their expectations regarding public policy and organisation of economic, social and private life, including the organisation of cities and space more generally, as well as the types of business ethos.  This should include young adults of different ages and sexes, and coming from different geographical, socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds, taking into account both individuals and young families that in particular experience new challenges.”

“Research should also investigate their attitudes towards a more sustainable socio-economic model and its various features in comparison with older generations, including the evolution of gender relationships, in order to assess the potential and readiness of young people to be a driver of change and their propensity to creative solutions and practices.  It should also identify the opportunities and obstacles that young people see as catalysts and inhibitors of the socio-ecological transition and how they could be addressed by policy in order to foster a sustainable and innovative society in Europe, including through formal and informal education.  Research should examine how change in cultural values could contribute to achieving an inclusive and sustainable society.”

Phew!  Phew!!  Tripple-phew!!!  My head reels, but no matter; as I am no longer under intense institutional pressure to bring home the €uro bacon, I don’t have to take any of this more seriously than it warrants.


Beautiful and elegant as a theory, and pragmatic and practical in application

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There were two events yesterday competing for my attention; sadly, I could go to neither, but I was able to follow parts of each on Twitter.

One was an Ellen MacArthur Foundation conference in Bradford on Rethinking the Future [ #rethinking ].  The other was an ESD Policy Forum in London, run by SEEd [#ESDevidence ].   Of course, Twitter is hardly a perfect way of experiencing such events, but as far as I could see, the two had much in common, methodologically speaking, in that there were lots of experts telling other people how it is.

However, Twitter does help you see something of what others were thinking about what was going on, and this comment from Ella Jamsin struck me most forcibly:

"beautiful and elegant as a theory, and pragmatic and practical in application"

The question is: was she talking about ESD or the circular economy?   You know the answer …







Ofsted is eloquently quiet on sustainability in FE

📥  Comment, New Publications

The 2013 Ofsted annual report on the further education and skills sector (available here)  has little to say about sustainability.  It’s a gloomy, and really rather shocking, read.  This is from the Executive Summary:

2. … there is still too much provision that is not responsive to local employment needs. This provision is therefore inappropriate for young people, regardless of the quality of teaching. 

In most regions, many providers struggle to understand the priorities or the business opportunities in their area.  There is currently no structure, accountability measure or system of incentives to ensure that FE and skills provision is adapted to local economic and social needs.  Our case study on the City of Bristol on page 18 of this report exemplifies what goes wrong at a local level when lines of accountability are opaque.  If the government is committed to raising employment through better skills and to secure economic competitiveness, it will need to fill this gap in strategic accountability urgently.

3. Training providers need to ensure that vocational provision is better matched to the needs of local businesses and communities. 

Over the next year, we will be looking closely at the appropriateness of provision in meeting local needs and the early impact of government reforms in this area. This will include the provision of English and mathematics, where the quality of current provision is weak.

7. Far too many young people from poorer backgrounds fail to achieve in their post-16 destination and drop out of education, employment or training. 

A disproportionate number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds go into the FE sector.  In schools, there is an increasing focus on the achievement of this group of children, influenced by national incentives such as the pupil premium.  In the FE and skills sector, it is too often the case that managers and staff do not know who these young people are or what provision and support would be most appropriate for them.  The best providers take steps to overcome this, but the regulations that govern the transfer of information from schools are burdensome and bureaucratic.

On a brighter note, here’s a comment on what happens in Walsall:

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council’s Adult and Community College placed exemplary focus on sustainability that benefited learners, the college and the community through very good use of resources.  The quality of learners’ work was exceptional and showed their considerable progress throughout their programmes.

… about which the College Principal said:

‘Know your patch, and be clear that is the patch you serve.  Have a good understanding of your context: the demography, the social and financial challenges, and development needs...  Make sure you have brilliant teachers...  It is leaders’ responsibility to remove obstacles to great teaching; to get the best performance from teachers, and to be honest if performance is not up to standard...  Everyone contributes to aims of the college, whatever their role; the whole college makes the difference.’

So, there is life and hope, ...



They do it differently; they do it better; …

📥  Comment, News and Updates

… and they’re doing it now.  Scotland’s Learning for Sustainability implementation group is up and running; its membership and terms of reference are here

Learning for Sustainability – the report of the One Planet Schools working group was published in December 2012 with the aim of embedding learning for sustainability in every school in a way that encompasses learning and teaching, professional development, leadership, ethos, buildings and grounds.  Learning for sustainability is viewed in this way:

A whole school approach that enables the school, and its wider community to build the values, attitudes, knowledge, skills and confidence to develop practices and take decisions which are compatible with a sustainable and equitable society

Whilst I could have a really enjoyable time pulling on all the loose conceptual threads [1] in this statement, such unravelling would risk belittling what has been already achieved in Scotland.  However, writing a (rather good) report, and getting (a radical) government to endorse it, were always going to be the easy bits.  Implementation is quite another matter, especially if ambitious goals in relation to learning are to be realised.

Implementation brings you fore-square against the conservatism of schools and teachers, the preoccupations of parents, and the interests of teacher professional associations.  Here, inertia is not just taught in physics, nor scepticism in philosophy.  All this takes you deep into questions of curriculum, responsibility and agency.  One issue to watch will be the development of the implementation group’s ideas around evaluation and strategic performance indicators, as these will reveal the group’s own ambitions and their sense of what is possible.


[1] For example, I wonder about the conceptual frame that holds sustainable and equitable together in a coherent and convincing fashion – a tension at the very heart of sustainable development, itself.


When Quality meets the common (wo)man

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Two great stories this week about Quality meeting representatives of the common (wo)man.

One such was the Federation of Cumbria Commoners which was holding its AGM at Newton Rigg agricultural college near Penrith, where they encountered environmentalist George Monbiot (Stowe, Brasenose Oxford & The Guardian), who tried to explain his re-wilding, anti-sheep policies that would return the Lake District to what he claims is nature.  Unsurprisingly, GM got short shrift, as the Independent (and Spectator blog) entertainingly recounted.

Meanwhile, another representative of Quality fared somewhat better.  After his difficult January visit to Somerset to see the flooding, Defra Secretary of State Owen Patterson (Radley, Corpus Christi Cambridge & Freeman of the City of London) got a much more positive reception from the representatives of ordinary folk (and a few county landowners) this time around.  This was unsurprising as he went clutching taxpayer subsidies designed to show how much the government cares.  Always a winning strategy, of course – even if it involves dredging, which not everyone (including GM) thinks is much of a strategy.

If only GM could persuade the tax-payer (and sheep-farmer) to get wild about re-wilding.  Unlikely, I'd say.  A few years back it nearly happened when foot and mouth disease in Cumbria almost reached the high fell sheep.  Had it done so, and the animals' hefted nature been lost, then re-wilding might have been the cheapest (though surely not the best-value) option.  The problem with re-wilding in the Lakes is that it favours bracken (and rank grasses), as this extract from the Cumberland & Westmoreland Herald (31st March 2001) explains:

“In the long term, a lot of rarer grassland plants require grazing to survive.  Without it, some heather would come back but there would also be things you don’t want like rank grass and bracken.  The spread of bracken would be unstoppable because it’s very hard to get rid of it.  It’s all a question of balance and the loss of the Herdwicks would not help this.”

Just so.  In this vein, the onset of foot and mouth had prompted a once in a thousand years burst of optimism from the Rank Grass and Bracken Times ( Gaiayear 632.41.a9 ) ...

Encouraging News from the Provinces

"Our special correspondent reports from North-west Sector 9.  Thanks to steadfastness of viral allies, and human greed and folly, a thousand years of occupation look set to end.  Readers with long memories will recall that our high fell country has, this past millennium, been colonised and much perturbed; all its harmonies lie distorted by industriousness.  These occupied lands lie ravaged by Herdwick and Rough Fell sheep.  Incomers.  These alien species, inured to sun and frost, impervious to ticks, stoic in the face of gale and sleet, they select our youngest and most tender shoots on which to feast.  Worse, their hefted nature ensures they return, unerringly, to subdue all traces of stout and valiant resistance.  With good luck, however, and continued human recklessness, they will succumb, and the high fells revert to pre-human days when we, the rank grasses and bracken, were all at one with God."

Well, the rank grass and bracken gods went AWOL when needed most, and the Herdwicks remain – as does the common (wo)man.  Meanwhile, GM dreams on – though not, of course, about 'GM'.

Confusion in the BBC about balance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The issue of the BBC and its search for balance on coverage of climate change was explored recently in the Guardian, with this owing at least some debt to skepticalscience.  It seems to me that the BBC’s problem lies in its confusion of three things:

[i] climate change itself – the evidence for change – the evidence for human agency in relation to the change,

[ii] its implications – informed projections about the physical implications of this (temperature rise / sea level rise / weather pattern change / etc) – and their likely direct effects on life (of all kinds), and

[iii] policy matters – what we might do about any or all of this through global co-operation / within the EU / as UK society / regionally / as families / as businesses and other organisations.

This confusion was evident in the recent inappropriate Radio 4 pairing of Lord Lawson, who understands policy and who's now famous for being opinionated, and Sir Brian Hoskins, who's a climate scientist of some distinction and a member of the UK committee on climate change.  BBC presenters are at their happiest when discussing policy, where everyone can have an opinion, and every opinion counts.  Thus they think they have balance in such discussions, where expertise meets opinion.  The trouble is that, through this, they foster the impression that there is an even split amongst climate scientists about the evidence for change, when there isn't.  Did they invite Lawson because they couldn't find a nay-saying climate scientist?  Or did they really want to have a policy discussion?  Did they know?

Any way, the Hoskins / Lawson combination rather got in the way of anyone learning very much about one of the most important issues of the day.  A pity.  If there were more proper scientists amongst BBC managers and editors this confusion might be less likely, and the public better informed.

Behold the lesser celandine

📥  Comment

As I write this, the first daffodil buds have burst and yellow floods the garden.  Welcome as daffodils are as a sign of advancing spring, I’m no great fan of many of the cultivated varieties we have today – those bred for drama rather than subtlety.  Much kinder on the eye is the native British daffodil, beloved of the Welsh, and immortalised in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal entry about her walk to Ullswater in 1802, and then by her brother, whose verse I learned at school, and remember some of today.

Wordsworth wrote about nature, not to say anything particularly profound about it, but to illuminate the human condition, and his poem Daffodils is about the importance to us of time spent in the natural world, and the fulfilment that memories of this can bring.

Wordsworth wrote three poems about another native spring flower that blooms largely unbidden and often unremarked, even in gardens.  An early source of nectar, it reacts to wind and rain by closing its petals, but as it ages it loses this ability to protect itself.  Unlike humans, however, it is spared this knowledge of change and decay and the temptation to remember, and regret.

There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!

When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distressed,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest.

But lately, one rough day, this Flower I passed,
And recognized it, though an altered form,
Now standing forth an offering to the blast,
And buffeted at will by rain and storm.

I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice,
It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
This neither is its courage nor its choice,
But its necessity in being old.

The sunshine may not cheer it, nor the dew;
It cannot help itself in its decay;
Stiff in its members, withered, changed of hue.
And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.

To be a Prodigal’s Favourite – then, worse truth,
A Miser’s Pensioner – behold our lot!
O Man, that from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not!

School censors science exam papers to remove offensive questions on evolution

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A video report on the BBC, reports extraordinary goings-on in North London, where the tax-payer funded Yesodey Hatorah Girls' School has been removing questions on evolution from GCSE science papers before their students could answer them.

The examination board in question, OCR, rather than being affronted at this practice, merely says it was satisfied that the girls did not have an unfair advantage because they actually lost marks.  However, even more extraordinarily, it seems it now plans to formalise the process, saying it has come to an agreement with the school to "protect the future integrity of the exams", whatever that means.  Maybe, OCR will now send papers to the school already blacked out to save teachers the bother of doing it themselves.  Or perhaps the school will get its own individual exam papers with offending questions removed.  If so, this is quite a service OCR is offering.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, is in catch-up mode and has asked the school for assurances that the children are being taught the full science curriculum.  It must be very doubtful that the school is doing this.  I mean, why would you bother when [i] you don't want your students to learn what is in the science syllabus, and [ii] you've no intention of letting them sit exams on it anyway?   It's most likely, of course, that the school is just being considerate towards its poor students as there is no point their answering the questions, because they've been taught the wrong answers.  Whilst you can understand a school with fundamentalist, if unscientific, ideas about evolution wanting to do this, It is much harder to see why an exam board would even thinking about conniving at it.

This is actually quite an old story.  It appeared in the Guardian, and in the Huffington Post back in October.  This is from the Guardian:

The exam censorship came to light after complaints by the National Secular Society, after comments by Rabbi Avraham Pinter, the principal of Yesodey Hatorah, to the Jewish Chronicle, in which he said "sometimes Charedi schools, if they find anything in the paper which could be offensive to parents, advise children to avoid that question.

The BBC has republished the story, some 5 months on, because it has evidence in email between OCR and Ofqual, the regulator, that this is not just a one-off example of rewriting the curriculum.  I've no idea what Mr Gove is doing to stop this nonsense.  Time for another letter to my MP.


A 20 20 20 Vision for Solar PV

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've written before about our own domestic solar pv generation (most recently here), which is now some 33 months into its life.  To put our modest production (an average of around 11 units / day) into perspective, the UK's installed solar pv capacity is now (23 Feb 2014) 1.85 GW, and this is rising at an average rate of 7.88 MW / week.  There are now over 513,000 installations with an averaged capacity of 3.61 kW each which suggests that most of these are domestic systems – our own is still larger than the average.  How much power they actually generate is another matter, as it depends on latitude, orientation and weather.

It seems to be the government's policy to have 20GW of installed solar capacity by 2020 (see this).  That looks a stretch unless we are to see lots of industrial-scale solar farms being built.  Well, perhaps.  For example, SunEdison is now building 56 MW of capacity, some of it in Wiltshire, much to the distress of the many Friends of CO2 groups, round and about.  Even so, 20 GW seems a long way off.

Real time data for the UK can be viewed here.  As I write this (about noon on an early, and bright March day), we have the following (rounded up) generation:

Coal  – 16 GW

Gas  – 13 GW

Nuclear – 7 GW

Wind – 2 GW

Hydro – 1 GW

Interconnectors – 3 GW

Other – 0.5 GW

Significantly, this 'other' includes solar pv, which throws the 20 20 20 vision / ambition (ie, 20 GW by 2020) into sharp relief.  That said, and educationally speaking, these real time data are quite revealing, and worth some study, even if only to see how the fuel mix varies across a 24 hour period.  Some school somewhere, surely, ...