Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: April 2015

Election Manifestos – Take 7; Liberal Democrats

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The Liberal Democrats manifesto is here.  It was no surprise (to me) that I liked what this said, particularly the separate sections on:

  • Environment and nature – protecting our natural environment
  • Climate change – growing the green economy

Here's a flavour:

"Our manifesto includes plans for a Nature Law which will protect the UK’s wildlife, green spaces, plants and trees, improve waste and boost recycling.  We will put nature at the heart of government decision-making, making our “Natural Capital Committee” permanent, with legal status so its recommendations have to be listened to.  We will protect habitats from forests to oceans, and the creatures that call them home, from bees to birds.  And because we believe everyone should have access to nature, we’ll complete the coastal path around the UK, improve the Right to Roam, protect more of the local green spaces people value as National Nature Parks and create a new public body to protect our forests for future generations."

On Education, there were no links across to these sorts of policies which seems a shame.  I was struck by this:

"We have a clear ambition to eradicate child illiteracy: our changes will mean every child leaves primary school able to read well by 2025."

Commendable; but a sad reflection on the state of our schools today.



Election Manifestos – Take 5; the SNP

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Why does the SNP support a policy of reducing English university fees to £6k?  Solidarity, perhaps?  High principle, maybe?  Well, there's generous of you, if you think that.

More like it's the certainty of more cash flowing up the Barnet formula pipeline as the THE explained last week.

Reducing the fee level from £9k to £6k means more tax-payer cash going to English universities – about £2.7bn of it each year (assuming that all the shortfall is made up, which may well be optimistic).  Under Barnet, this means that ~£270m additional money would flow to Edinburgh for the Scottish government to spend on whatever it likes.  There is absolutely no guarantee that any of it would flow into higher education.

The THE piece ends:

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, ... argued that the SNP’s decision should not overshadow the fact that the protection of free tuition in Scotland had been accompanied by student support being switched from grants to loans.  This meant that Scotland was the only part of the UK where the poorest students took on more debt than their richer peers, Mr Hillman said.

Now that's really progressive politics.


Election Manifestos – Take 4; Plaid Cymru

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I eventually stumbled across PC's election manifesto on their muddled website, but couldn't find a version to download, and so had to make do with the easy read text.  It says this:

We want better education

  • Better teacher training.
  • No schoolchild to be left behind – more schools having more say on how they are run, the best of which will act as benchmark schools; those less successful to get the help they need.
  • ‘On the spot’ inspections for failing schools.
  • An independent examination regulator to guarantee high standards.
  • Better child protection provision.
  • A ‘healthy relationship’ education emphasis focussing on tolerance and respect for all.
  • A new National Curriculum which would feature much better grounding in Welsh history.
  • Better ‘key skills’ education for all children – literacy, numeracy, IT skills and thinking skills, and a crucial understanding of climate change from an early age.
  • A compulsory modern language GCSE.
  • All children to remain in education or training until they are 18.
  • More help for poorer children with our Pupil Deprivation Grant.
  • Better Welsh language education at a local level.
  • Better special needs education.
  • New or modernised school buildings.
  • NO free schools in Wales.

We want better, fairer university education

  • We believe in free higher education and will continue to look at ways to provide it.
  • Financial help for Wales students and no tuition fees for those studying subjects crucial to our economy such as science, technology and healthcare.
  • Special help for students from difficult backgrounds.
  • Increased research capacity and funding for Welsh universities.
  • Long-term sustainable funding for the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to guarantee more higher education in Welsh.
  • More Higher Level Apprenticeships.
  • More vocational and non-academic qualifications to increase the skills of our workforce.
  • Our Citizens’ Service to help young people prepare for the world of work.
  • Better gender equality and understanding throughout higher education.

No mention of ESDGC, I note, though that might not be in the 'easy read' version.

There is much to agree (and disagree) with in this, and it's clear that Plaid understands just how dire Welsh school education has become over recent years.  I highlighted the only 'easy read' reference to sustainability, although there is more in the 'We want more international equality', and 'We want a greener Wales' sections.  I particularly liked:

"We will oppose artificially imposed limits on our resources."

... although I've absolutely no idea what this means.  I confess that I gave up when I got to the section headed: "We want everyone to be equal".  Indeed; but as the American proverb has it, not before the grave.


It was Earth Day yesterday

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And, do you know, I almost missed it!  It was only late that day that I remembered, when I saw an email from CASSE reminding us all that Earth Day is 45 years old.

Although I'm sceptical of these 'days' and 'years', and especially 'decades',  I've been caught up in a few over the years.  CASSE says that

"The first Earth Day mobilized huge numbers of people to become active in efforts to curtail pollution and protect important ecosystems like forests.  As we approach Earth Day this year, the founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Randy Hayes, and other visionary leaders are calling for a doubling of the native forest canopy on the earth.  They are circulating a petition calling on all people to work together to achieve this goal."

This seems unequivocally a good thing.  This is the petition:

To Everyone Seeking a Just and Ecologically Sustainable Society: Doubling the Size of Native Forest Canopy Will Help Us Get There

To live in harmony with the planet and each other we need the courage to act on a shared vision of a better world. And we need to act NOW.

  • We, the undersigned, put forth these collective thoughts and invite others to share their visions.
  • We know forests are a fundamental expression of the natural world and are key to supporting all life on Earth.
  • We have witnessed how the destruction of the world’s forests degrades the quality of human life and undermines the prospects for productive and vibrant economies.
  • We know that carbon-rich natural habitats are critical to the restoration of natural climatic patterns.
  • We believe we must reverse the frightening concentration of greenhouse gases–now at 400 PPM–and get back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels of 280 PPM.
  • We believe that this dramatic mathematical U-turn is our only hope of preventing the blue sky from turning into a toxic furnace.

We, the undersigned, call for:

A halt to all deforestation.
A doubling of the native forest canopy in less than two decades.  Furthermore, we call for this with the intent to:

  • Increase meaningful employment by planting native trees, restoring natural habitats, and removing unneeded roads.
  • Help return the natural balance of greenhouse gases and foster a healthy society.
  • Maintain natural functions to purify the air and water and support the web of life.
  • Finally, we call upon all people–our communities and our business and political leaders–to work together to achieve this goal.

Such a courageous step could help lead us to a future no longer driven by overconsumption of natural resources, technologies that needlessly damage the environment, overpopulation, and political economies that foster problematic consumption.

When heading for the edge of a cliff, the solution may be as simple as turning around and going in a different direction. Native forest protection and restoration is key to this sensible U-turn. A shift to a better world is within our grasp, but we must collectively envision and enact it.  This is the great U-turn we seek.


Randy Hayes, Executive Director Foundation Earth
Eric Dinerstein, Director, Biodiversity & Wildlife Solutions RESOLVE
Don Weeden, Executive Director Weeden Foundation
Andy Kimbrell, Executive Director Center for Food Safety
Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus Friends of the Earth

I have reservations about this notion of "harmony", and about getting back to pre-industrial levels of CO2, but I am in favour of trees, so I signed it, here.


If you're seeking an antidote to all this, look no further than this.



2014 and all that

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It turns out that 2014 may have been a unique year as it seems to have been the first on record where economic growth took place with no increase in carbon emissions.

I've read two articles on this phenomenon recently.  One, by Kurt Cobb, in CASSE, casts some doubt on whether this actually happened, saying it's too soon to tell.  He also brings in a number of different perspectives to the debate, mostly from a steady-state perspective.  He also cites an article in Vox which has some nice graphics on all this.

The Economist had a parallel piece, quoting the IMF and the International Energy Agency [IEA].  Clearly, we should not read too much into these data, or get too euphoric, too soon.  This is how the Economist ends its piece:

"The flattening of global emissions will not of itself make much difference to the climate. Though the quantity did not increase, people still threw a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year.  The standard measurement of atmospheric CO2 concentration, taken at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, has therefore barely flickered in its upward rise.  Though it ebbs and flows on an annual cycle which matches the growth and dormancy of the great forests of the northern hemisphere, it passed 400 parts per million this January, the earliest in the year it has exceeded this benchmark.  Even if emissions stay flat, the world remains on course towards a temperature rise of around 3°C by 2100, compared with pre-industrial levels.  To keep the rise to 2°C (which most climate scientists think is needed) would require emissions to fall.

All the same, the IEA’s finding is remarkable. It happened without either a climate-change treaty or a global carbon price.  And, by providing evidence emissions can actually be reined in, it might make the successful negotiation of a new climate treaty in Paris at the end of this year a bit more likely.  

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist says,

“These numbers make me hopeful for Paris, full stop.  But if nothing comes of those talks, the targets scientists set for us [a 2°C rise] may well be out of reach.”



Notes from the UK Student Sustainability Summit

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I missed the UK Student Sustainability Summit [ SSS15 ] which was part of this year's EAUC conference.  You will find SSS15 video presentations here, and pics of the wider conference here.

There was a strong dose (sex, money and sustainability) of the reliable Sara Parkin at SSS15, with also contributions on the circular economy, nature loss, growing food on campus, how to get Jezza (and others) to drive less, and getting sustainability into the curriculum.  There was something for everybody with presentations from Leeds University Union, Incredible Edible, WWF, Post-Crash Economics, People & Planet, CliMates, and the NUS itself.

This was not the only summit at the conference, as there was also one on sustainability in FE .  However, judging by the contents,  this involved climbing hills rather than mountains.  Meanwhile, I'm told that yet another summit, this time on transformational leadership, which had overseas contributors, was as much about campus bike sheds as institutional leadership.


Education Manifestos – Take 3; the Greens

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It is a measure of the Green's unworldliness that it's not possible to copy from the pdf version of their election manifesto.  As a consequence, this comment has fewer bullet points than previous ones.  A good thing, maybe.  If only the Greens were campaigning on a platform to 'abolish bullet points', I might be voting for them.

According to TEESNet, a UK teacher education pressure group, the Green Party proposes: [i] compulsory schooling to begin at 7 years of age with 'class sizes of 20'; [ii] Academies and Free Schools to come under local authority control; [iii] SATs, league tables and Ofsted to be abolished; [iv] PSHE to be compulsory; and [v] Undergraduate tuition fees to be abolished, and student debt cancelled.

The whole thing is both utterly compelling and completely unaffordable.  But they don't expect to be in a position to do anything about it, so it's more a marker for less 'progressive' parties to judge themselves by.

In my own reading of their manifesto, these phrases stuck out:

In relation to schools:

[i] "An increase in outdoor education and physical activity so children establish an early and strong relationship with their local environment", and

[ii] "We are determined to make schools fit for children rather than the other way round".

In relation to FE:

"Prioritise training in the skills needed to build a low-carbon economy".

And for universities:

"Higher Education is in crisis".

Well, that's as may be, but there is certainly no crisis that cannot be made much worse by politicians.





UK universities set to miss their carbon targets

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Research by consultancy Brite Green, predicts the HE sector will achieve just 51% of the 2020 target set by HEFCE as a comment on illustrates.

Looking at the data, there are large differences in how individual HEIs have done with some already achieving significant reductions on the 2005 baseline, whilst others have large increases.  Lancaster and Reading lead the way.

Of greater interest than these data, perhaps, is the question of why there is so much variation, and there has been a lively discussion on the EAUC Members List over the last few days in part about the validity of the data, and the justification of some institution's even being included.  I particularly liked this comment from the Midlands:

"We have managed to reduce our energy consumption per m2 but have increased our Estate by 12% (including 2 swimming pools!) and students by 20% so we came out badly in this table.  Sustainability can't be done at the expense of University's day to day business planning, it must be embedded within strategic decisions and the institution as a whole.  We spend a lot of time and effort educating students about sustainability but get no external recognition for it."

That said (and any institution could plead this), the need to reduce carbon is real, as is the fact that the sector won't make its targets.  Some are complaining about the league table nature of the reporting, but this is a bit rich from a sector where many institutions seem to live by their People & Planet positioning.


Education Manifestos – Take 2; the Conservatives

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As you know, I have decided to read all the main parties' education manifestos.  The second I have come across was from the Conservatives.  The headlines say that they'll:

  • ensure a good primary school place for your child, with zero tolerance for failure
  • turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy and deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them
  • help teachers to make Britain the best country in the world for developing maths, engineering, science and computing skills
  • create 3 million new apprenticeships and make sure there is no cap on university places, so we have aspiration for all.

... and the action points say that "We will ...

  • drive up standards in your child’s school
  • ensure there is a good primary school place for your child, with zero tolerance of failure
  • turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy, and deliver free schools if parents in your area want them
  • continue to protect school funding
  • back your child’s teachers
  • lead the world in maths and science
  • protect children
  • improve skills training
  • improve Further Education
  • ensure that if you want to go to university, you can
  • ensure that our universities remain world-leading."

If you read the whole thing, you will see that it's not quite a curriculum-free zone.  There is, of course, no mention of ESD, etc, etc, or of sustainability – it's clear they think that they've already addressed such peripheral matters through recent revisions to the national curriculum.  They say that they "will require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography", punishing schools that refuse to do this.  This is a clawing back of the ridiculous position that applied a few years back when a vocational course in underwater flower arranging (or somesuch) could count for about 6 "good GCSEs", which cynical school leaders exploited in their pursuit of league table success – a position that was connived at by government.  It also re-establishes an important entitlement of all pupils, irrespective of culture or class background, to courses and qualifications that have meaning in the wider world.  This is not to belittle flower arranging, above or under water; just to re-establish it is it proper place in the hierarchy of things.  That is a worthy curriculum matter.