Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: November 2015

A foggy week in Paris

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Reuters chose an apt photograph of Paris to illustrate a report on the dim prospects for COP21.  It begins:

The Eiffel Tower is partially covered by an early morning fog in Paris, France, November 27, 2015 as the capital will host the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) from November 30 to December 11.     REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Before a summit on climate change in Paris next week, many governments are citing scientific studies indicating that their plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 will come within 0.7 degrees Celsius of an agreed 2 degrees C target for limiting global warming this century.  Yet the studies they choose to quote are only the most optimistic of a range of projections, and presume that governments will go on to make even deeper emission cuts after 2030, which is far from certain.

Indeed, but there is so much pre-meeting celebration of success that all this is being ignored.  Reuters continued:

Bill Hare, one of the scientists behind Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a group of four European institutes that first estimated 2.7 C, said promises for action until 2030 "mark progress, but current policies are far from enough".  He said the CAT estimate required all countries to continue deeper curbs on emissions right up to 2100 - far stricter than the assumptions by most other research institutes.  

The International Energy Agency also estimates an increase of 2.7 C, but projections by at least 10 research groups range up to a rise of 3.7 C.  Thomas Spencer, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in France, noted that there were huge uncertainties in all projections beyond 2030: "It's like trying to predict the winner of a marathon after only the first 10 km."

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center who won fame with his 2001 book "The Skeptical Environmentalist", reckons current national plans will only make a fraction of a degree of difference to warming this century.

And that's assuming they do as they promise, which would be a first.   There's more in similar vein on the Reuters website.


ESD as Transformation? – a liberal review

📥  Comment, New Publications

What follows is the new thematic essay I have written for Routledge ...

ESD as Transformation? – a liberal review

“We must take the first determined steps toward a sustainable future with dignity for all.  Transformation is our aim.  We must transform our economies, our environment and our societies.  We must change old mindsets, behaviours and destructive patterns.  We must embrace the integrated essential elements of dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice and partnership.  We must build cohesive societies, in pursuit of international peace and stability.  … Such a future is possible if we collectively mobilize political will and the necessary resources to strengthen our nations and the multilateral system.  We have the means and methods to meet these challenges if we decide to employ them and work together.” (UNGA, 2014)

Social critique and transformation

In 1989, the biologist Mary Clark argued that in Western history there have only been two major periods of conscious social change and transformation where societies deliberately critiqued themselves and created new worldviews.  The first occurred in the Greek city states (500 – 400 BC) where old ways of thinking became suspect and the first schools emerged.  Philosophers purposefully asked different kinds of questions through public dialogues, new lines of thought and social action emerged, and a new status quo was established whose ideas and practices spread.  The second time, Clark said, was through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment when Western culture, through its natural and social philosophers, subjected itself to critical thought and renewal.  The result was the modern worldview that the West more or less retains today, and which many believe has resulted in the sustainability problems that affect us all.  The irony is, of course, that the Enlightenment also brought new values and political and social freedoms that many live by, and would wish to defend.  Clark (1989: 235) argued that we need to “collectively create a new worldview that curbs ecological and social exploitation, and recreates social meaning”.  She saw that this process needed to be a society-wide, citizenly, phenomenon involving everyone – not just political, social, religeous or cultural elites.

It is clear that such processes need to be global in scale and scope, and optimists will want to find evidence of their happening in phenomena ranging from the UN-focused COP climate change discussions and the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals, to ground-up social action such as the Occupy, Anonymous, Divestment and Transition movements.  All these, and more, might well be seen as unco-ordinated attempts to address the sustainability problematique: how can we all live well, without compromising the planet’s continuing ability to enable us all to live well.  But just to write this down is to illustrate its inchoate state.

Education as transformation

Clark saw such transformational endeavours as educational in the widest sense, but she understood that the process could not just be trusted to formal educational institutions.  She made a clear distinction between dominant processes of moulding society to fit in with the status quo and its received wisdoms (which takes place in schools, etc), and the enabling of a critique of beliefs and assumptions which aids transformative change and the creation of new ways of thinking and being.

Whilst it is the case that a transformative ideal has long been near the heart of some visions of education, particularly liberal ones, this has mostly been in the sense of personal growth and fulfilment.  Even to consider that formal education as we know it could lead attempts to transform society and resolve the sustainability problematique, is to reveal a core paradox; that to change society, education and schools would themselves first need to be changed by that society.  This is doubly problematic because two main purposes for schooling are conservative ones of values and cultural transmission, and a preparation for citizenly and economic participation in the society that exists; in this, education is necessarily seen in instrumental, not transformative, terms.

Anyway, as some such as Andy Stables (2010) have argued, school students are only ever likely to pick up a general and diffuse sense of concern about and for the world’s problems, that is led or reinforced by any involvement they may have in the overall public discourse.  Because of this, Stables says, curriculum should focus on the development of skills of critical thinking, dialogue and debate, with sustainability as one possible theme.  Through this, young people would be enabled, should they choose, to take an increasing role in society and social change.  The position of students in colleges and universities is similar, although their depths of understandings are greater, as is the influence they might bring to bear within those institutions, and in the jobs they subsequently take up.

ESD and transformation

For others, it is not education, per se, but education for sustainable development (ESD) that has, alongside transition, divestment, etc, this socially-transformative potential.  This is partly because ESD has both the imprimatur of the United Nations, and because of its ability to bring together a wide variety of educational groups and strategies aimed at addressing our existential problems.  UNESCO (2012a:33) has encouraged this view:

“ESD is far more than teaching knowledge and principles related to sustainability.  ESD, in the broadest sense is education for social transformation with the goal of creating more sustainable societies.  ESD touches every aspect of education including planning, policy development, programme implementation, finance, curricula, teaching, learning, assessment, administration.  ESD aims  to provide a coherent interaction between education, public awareness, and training with a view to creating a more sustainable future.”

However, despite UN endorsement, UNESCO sponsorship, NGO activity, and much individual effort, ESD has not fulfilled that promise, and a core difficulty is something we have seen already, albeit in different language.  Stephen Sterling (2015: 4) terms it the central paradox of ESD:

 “It is seen as critical to any prospect of a more sustainable future, but … it challenges mainstream thinking, policy and practice in much formal education.  … The more transformative and holistic approach that sustainability requires is often difficult to implement, requiring systemic change and organisational learning over time ...”

Indeed, if education, per se cannot do this, how could ESD be more successful?  An artful response to this question is to advance a co-evolutionary argument: that successful ESD would lead to change in the demands made of education by society, which would then reinforce the need for more ESD, leading, eventually to a positive transformative cycle.  Thus, the argument goes, with ESD working symbiotically within both the education system and within society more generally, those in power would soon come to understand the error of their ways.  This view, however, relies too heavily on disingenuous appeals to false consciousness to be taken seriously.

That said, the appeal of ESD is clear as it can claim to bring together forms of education whose geneses lie in learning activities that examine [i] how living things depend on each other and on the biosphere, [ii] why there is such a widespread lack of social justice and human fulfillment across the world and what might be done about this, and [iii] how everyone’s quality of life is increasingly imperiled by our current economic models.  Thus the potential of ESD is that it might enable such deeply inter-related issues to be addressed together so that we might come to understand, address, and then resolve, the sustainability problematique.  This, as we have seen, links the quality of people’s lives (now and in the future), the economic and political systems these are embedded in, and the continuing supply of goods and services from the biosphere that underpin and drive such systems.

A potential strength of ESD is the variation that is found from one context to another which has arisen from local interpretations and developments as the concept is shaped to fit, more or less comfortably, with existing policy and practice. Inevitably, this all involves accommodations with preferred ideological and epistemological dispositions.  Equally inevitably, all interpretations of ESD rest on understandings of what sustainable development itself is, even if the conceptual links are loose.  This diversity within ESD, which is clear to see from emerging practice, is also a considerable weakness as it rests on a lack of shared understandings which, in turn, inhibit communication and collaboration.

Another view of ESD

Of course, not all its proponents see ESD as transformational, per se, understanding that the aim must be to effect change where possible, and usually in systems not well disposed to it.  This was broadly the UN’s view when it agreed to an ESD Decade (2005 – 2014), and identified (UNESCO 2005:5) four overarching goals for “all Decade stakeholders”:

  • Promote and improve the quality of education
  • Reorient curriculum
  • Raise public awareness and understanding of sustainable development
  • Train the workforce

There is nothing here which suggests that the UN thought that educational systems or institutions should set out to be socially transformative in the Mary Clark sense.  Rather, it took its cue from the Tbilisi Declaration (UNESCO-UNEP, 1978) and Agenda 21, building on the rich (though largely ineffective) legacy of environmental education provision whose intertwined social and environmental goals were summed up by Stapp et al., (1979: 92):

“The evolving goal of environmental education is to foster an environmentally literate global citizenry that will work together in building an acceptable quality of life for all people.”

In the two decades following this, policy proposals, curriculum and teacher development programmes, and innovative educational resources were all developed in largely unsuccessful attempts to nudge mainstream education practice towards the Tbilisi goals.  Whilst there was some modest influence on curriculum and professional development, this was not ultimately significant and made little lasting impact on education systems.  Looking back on all this in 1995, John Smyth argued that the adjective environmental had been a significant barrier, as it signalled that environmental education was something separate from established disciplines and practice, and was thereby outside mainstream educational activity and influence.  The fact that environmental education tended to be promoted by ministries of the environment, rather than education, both reflected the problem, and further entrenched it.

Much the same can be said today of ESD, but it is now the term, with its implicit reification, that embodies the problem.  Just as we think of the UN, WHO, IMF, UNESCO, etc as institutions, so it is with ESD which, rather than being an influence on education systems and practice, has become thought and talked about as an alternative to these, and / or as equivalent to a subject or discipline.  For example:

"ESD is difficult to teach in traditional school settings where studies are divided and taught in a disciplinary framework." (McKeown 2002: 32)

This reification is particularly pronounced in higher education where much emphasis has been placed on ‘introducing ESD’ (which hardly anyone had heard about) rather than further developing the considerable professional sustainability-focused activity and expertise that already exists.  The result is that no one who really matters in education systems takes ESD seriously, and, although UNESCO (2012b:5) does say that "the need for ESD [has become] well established in national policy frameworks", the evidence for this is nugatory.

A liberal end view

The more liberal view of all this (Scott, 2014) is that educational institutions need to prioritise student learning over institutional, behaviour or social change, whilst making use of any such change to support and broaden that learning.  In this sense, it is fine for a school, college or university to encourage its students to save energy, create less waste, promote biodiversity, enhance social justice, work in the community, or get involved with initiatives such as fair trade, provided that these are developed with student learning and their actual studies in mind.  To do otherwise is to forget why educational institutions exist.  Being restorative of social or natural capital is laudable, but not if it neglects or negates the development of learning, and doing all this in collaboration with the communities within which institutions are socially, economically and environmentally embedded, will aid everyone's learning, and perhaps even sustainable development.

Thus, a successful liberal education today will take sustainability seriously in everything it does.  In particular, at its heart will be students asking critical questions of society, looking for the need for change, and getting involved.  Whilst some will see this as ESD, for the majority it will just be education.  Paradoxically, it may well be through such small-scale, on-the-ground, open-minded developments that the potential for transformation may well be enhanced.



Agenda 21

Clark ME (1989) Ariadne's Thread. New York: St. Martin's Press

McKeown R (2002) ESD Toolkit.

Scott WAH (2014) Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): a critical review of concept, potential and risk.  In R Matar & R Jucker (Eds) Schooling for Sustainable Development in Europe: Concepts, Policies and Educational Experiences at the End of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Dordrecht: Springer. pps 47-70

Smyth J (1995) Environment and Education: a view from a changing scene. Environmental Education Research, 1(1), 1–20

Stables AWG (2010) New Worlds Rising. Policy Futures in Education, 8(5), 593–601

Stapp W et al. (1979) Towards [a] National Strategy for Environmental Education. In AB Sacks & CB Davis (Eds.), Current Issues in EE and Environmental Studies (pp. 92–125). Columbus, OH: ERIC/SMEAC.

Sterling SR (2015) ‘Learner Drivers’ for the Future: a different education for a different world. Routledge Education for Sustainable Development Thematic Essay

UNESCO-UNEP (1978) Inter-governmental Conference on Environmental Education. Paris

UNESCO (2005) Promotion of a Global Partnership for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable development: the International Implementation Scheme for the Decade in brief. Paris UNESCO.

UNESCO (2012a) ESD Sourcebook, Learning and Training Tools No. 4, UNESCO: Paris

UNESCO (2012b) Shaping the Education of Tomorrow: Full-length Report on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Paris

UNGA (2014) UN General Assembly. 4th December, 2014. A/69/700. The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet. Synthesis report of the Secretary-General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda


Securing the UK’s Energy Future – maybe

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

The I-SEE seminar on Monday was given by Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Advisor at DECC – the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  His title, ‘Securing the UK’s Energy Future’ could hardly be more important.

This is what the Abstract for the talk said:

The UK has set itself one the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in the world: an 80% cut by 2050.  Much of the reduction will have to come from our energy systems, and that will mean great changes both in their design and in how we all use energy.  What might our future electricity, transport, and housing systems look like, and from where will the energy come?  How will we ensure the highly reliable energy supply that is critical to modern society?  What are the engineering and social challenges that lie ahead?

Devising practical solutions to the problems of “keeping the lights on”, at an affordable price, with security of supply, is challenging.  As CSA to DECC, at the heart of this debate, John will discuss some of the objective evidence behind the choices of a mixed supply of energy (imported gas, nuclear, tidal, PV, onshore and offshore wind, and Hydraulic Fracturing for gas).  This latter source is very topical here in South West England.

Loughhead was slick, and here are the points that caught my ear:

  • 45% of energy goes into heating – mostly space heating
  • electricity grids are 8 x the cost of gas grids
  • no one with any sense would use batteries for transport – something I thought about on the way home in my electric car
  • By 2050 significant greenhouse gas emissions will come from agriculture
  • We need innovation in business models around energy – and also in markets
  • We need a continuous source of zero emission power to enable us to realise our targets; that means nuclear and/or carbon capture & storage

Loughhead was particularly good with graphs.  One, from an outfit called Elexon, was particularly fine; it showed how electricity was generated from various fuels throughout a particular day.  What was striking was the steady contribution of nuclear and coal and the fluctuating dance of gas and wind as they (together but not always at the same time) provided most of the rest of the supply.  He said that if the UK has 20GW of zero-emissions power and 40GW of wind power, we'd be somewhere near the target.  As I write this, nuclear is providing 8GW (and coal 13).  Wind is 3 and a bit.  Umm.

It was, I thought, a strange meeting.  The room was full – some 200 souls – but there was next to no challenge to Loughhead.

What was particularly odd was that there were many people there who regard nuclear, oil, coal, gas and fracking (especially fracking) as the work of the devil, but they didn't say boo to the Loughhead goose; they just let him make the case for baseload nuclear and carbon capture without demur.

I expect they went away muttering into the night though, explaining to each other (again) how he'd got it all wrong.



Snakes and ladders in the natural environment

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I spent an enjoyable day in London last week at a joint meeting of two of Natural England's strategic research groups: the National Outdoors for All SRG, and the Learning in Natural Environments SRG.  I am part of the latter, but it was very good to have this joint session.

The meeting began with lots of input – catchings up of all kinds – but really came to life for me (and I sensed for others, too) when a ‘life pathways’ model was set out with its “draft theory of change”.
It’s difficult to justice to this without seeing the model with its factors, stages and flows, but it began with direct experiences in natural environments and ended with behaviour change for healthy lifestyles and healthy environment.

The difficulty of setting this out in two dimensions was also clear, especially given that it was implicit that any sense of wellbeing was always going to be work in progress; that is, a state of becoming.  This seems realistic as it’s going to be something to work on right to the end.  Thus the model is probably a spiral one, or akin to some infinite snakes and ladders game where the ladders are something you have to work constantly on (good diet, exercise, fresh air, socialising, positive thinking, a sense of proportion, etc), but where the snakes are everywhere (sitting at a computer, processed food, that third glass of wine, driving those extra miles, air pollution, too much TV (and TV dinners), etc, etc.  A point about the natural environment is that it's a great place to facilitate the climbing of  ladders.  In fact, when you're in the natural environment, the ladders are everywhere, but there are not quite so many snakes.  I sense a board game developing ...

It was a great model to unpick and unpack and it stimulated much conversation (if not quite discussion).  One trouble with all this, as I've noted before, is the slipperiness of the ideas.  Just what is a 'natural' environment?  And is it better for you, the higher the quality of the nature you are in?  And does 'quality' here mean biodiversity, or something broader like a sense of place?  I certainly know that most of my purposeful trips to the natural environment are because of place rather than biodiversity, and yet it is biodiversity that matters because of its significance to natural capital and a well-functioning biosphere.

The model was accompanied by a series of "axes of interest” which were all continua of one sort or other.  They covered adventurousness / social interaction / quality of space / location / nature interaction, but it wasn't clear how they intersected with each other or hung together.

Work in progress ...



Make Mine a Moritorium

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

As I noted a few days ago, I went to listen to an I-SEE seminar by Richard Denniss.  It was an enjoyable event, delivered with some style, although I thought that we were reminded once too often that Australia was a continent.  But the size of the place means that coal (and other) mines, even gynormous ones, are not only out of sight but, for much of civic society, out of mind as well.

The message of the seminar was that if there is no moratorium on new coal mines, we can kiss goodbye to an effective COP21 agreement, and all the hopes that hang on this.  This is because new mines will mean much more cheap coal flooding onto the market, thus making other forms of electricity generation less competitive and likely – not to mention all that CO2

All such new mines will not be in Australia, but the ones there will be big.  The proposed Carmichael mine in the Galliee Basin in Queensland has 4bn tonnes of coal in it, and the corporate plan, it seems, is to extract 2bn of that. Despite the fall in the global coal price, this will be profitable because of the subsidies provided by the generous ever-Australian taxpayer. These include a free rail link and a new (no cost) port that is rather close to the Barrier Reef.

Richard Denniss said that those who matter in Australia want COP21 to fail to achieve anything significant so that its extractive industries can continue as if there is no tomorrow, but it is widely reckoned that 80% of proven coal reserves will have to be left alone if the battle against global warming is to be won – or at least fought out to a draw.

Global coal production has increased by 50% since 1990, despite all the talk of climate change, and Denniss invoked the green paradox to explain this: that sometimes problems are caused by talk of solutions.  In other words, all the chatter about climate change has alerted coal conglomerates to the need to sell the stuff as quickly as possible even if the profit is lower than optimal.

President Tong of Kiribati is urging a global moritorium on new coal mines, and has the support of 12 pacific island countries, not to mention the likes of Stern, Klein and Figuerres (and probably Bono, et al.). "Make mine a moratorium” says Ross Gittins of the Sydney Morning Herald, showing that not everyone in Australia things like a coal owner – See also NoMoreCoal.  Ironically, a moritorium on new mines might drive a wedge between old mine-owners and new ones, which would be good for the hard-pressed old mine companies such as Peabody and Glencore, whose business could then carry on (regardless) – producing coal.

Denniss said that support for a moratorium from the UK and others would be devastating to the Australian government, but will the UK do that?  Probably not.  Ow will the sclerotic and dysfunctional EU?  Doubtful, given the dependence of key member states on the black rock for power.  Anyway who would police it?  The UN?  UNESCO?  The Vatican?  Bono's band?

I came away even gloomier than usual about the future.  By the way, if  you planning that trip of a lifetime to Kiribati, best to get there asap before the sea rises even higher.



Real World Learning outdoors

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I commented on the web-based Real World Learning [RWL] model a couple of months ago, and I wasn't impressed.  I said:

"Too clever by half, would be a kind judgement.  More muddle than model, another.  A pity, as there might just be something interesting in all the turmoil."

I'm now sitting looking at a huge poster produced by RWL to see if this makes more sense.  My first observation is that what my poster says is not quite the same as the web-version, which is either curious or careless.  My money's on the latter.

My second point would be that, although this is supposed to be about outdoor learning for sustainability, there is very little here that is specific to the outdoors.   In fact, on the side of the poster with the model writ large (there's a big blue hand in the middle), the word outdoor is used once, and there is nothing here that is exclusively about the outdoors.  In fact most of it is about learning in authentic settings which might be in or out, or even under or over for that matter.  As such, it is a potentially interesting model of learning related to sustainability.  What a pity it wasn't flagged up as such or explained.

But it's still a muddle.   The hand at the heart of the model is, it seems, a "metaphor for outdoor learning for sustainability", although why this is the case is neither explained nor clear.

The hand has 5 fingers, each of which is labelled, though what these labels represent is never revealed.  The palm is about 'frames'.  Where the fingers touch the water they cause ripples which "find synergy with each other" and provide a "whole that's greater than the parts".  In this whole (or hole, perhaps) you find, they say, "interconnected learning".  I fear it's all babble.

The useless poster is already shredded and in the compost.



Natural Connections calls the DfE

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is my last post about the Natural Connections event in Plymouth last week.

The most telling point came at the end of the day when someone asked: "What about the DfE?” What indeed, I thought.  The response was that the team has an "advocacy strategy, using our Defra contacts”. Good, I thought, but to do what?

Someone said that, with Lynn Truss being an ex-DfE minister, the DfE will "start to hear this [and] will start to listen.” Incredible, I thought, in every sense.

I wondered, to myself, what the project team would say to DfE, if it ever got an audience; what it might ask DfE to do?  Perhaps I ought to have said it out loud.  But, anyway, here’s what DfE would be likely to say:

“What an interesting project this has been. We certainly hope that headteachers and governors will take note of what you have found.  Of course, what schools decide to do about this is up to them, as it is DfE policy to delegate to schools how to interpret and implement the curriculum, and we should never seek to dictate to schools, particularly in relation to how they teach.”

Of course, they might not bother with the first sentence now that the assiduously polite Mr Gove has moved on to bashing judges.


Question Time in Plymouth

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is my third post about the Natural Connections event in Plymouth last week.

When the audience was eventually allowed to have a say, here are the "questions" and responses I heard, together with my comments ...

A. "Can you separate the Primary & Secondary school data."
We combined data for today but it will be possible to separate out data.

Me: Well, as there were only about 9 secondary schools in the project, it will be hard to say anything sensible about them.

B. "Can we magpie the findings?"

Me. I confess that I had to ask what this question meant, but when I found out, I was saddened anyone had ask.

C. "Why don’t children’s inter-personal problems follow them into the outdoors."
This isn’t like being in the playground, as there is focused activity for the children to get involved and absorbed in.

Me: Good question and response.

D. "Do schools with embedded outdoor learning have lower incidents of bullying?"
We have no idea.

Me: An even better question. If the answer turns out to be “yes”, even the DfE might take note.

E. "What are the negatives to outdoor learning?"
Children can get cold, wet and grumpy, and it can be hard to get them outside.

Me: indeed it can; and probably not just children.  But I thought the question might have been about something else – about inefficiency and ineffectiveness, perhaps. Whilst being out there is “fun” (as everyone said, except for those who’d got cold and wet), was the bother of getting out and getting back always worth it?  And how was outdoor learning integrated with indoor learning? How indeed.  Did anyone ask?

F. "Was there funding for schools to buy kit?"
Hub leaders gave a 'green grant’ (£500-1000) to Beacon schools (to use with other schools). But the cost of providing kit (wellies, etc) is not high.

G. "????"
We’ve worked with lots of partners (of all kinds). Whilst outdoor learning activity has increased, links to other providers hasn’t, suggesting teachers are doing more for themselves. There is certainly more potential for outdoor learning providers to work with schools.

Me: I never heard the question.

H. "Have you demonstrated an attainment difference through outdoor learning?"
No. But outdoor learning gives children foundational affective learning such that there are more likely to attain.

Me: As I wrote down "foundational affective learning”, I thought we might hear more of it.

I. "Are there assessment tools to measure attainment through outdoor learning?"
No.  We need a set of tools to do this?”

Me: There is probably a US-based literature as they have the inclination (and the cash) to fund the large longitudinal studies needed.


Me: We never knew what this question was as it was time to have a break, we were told, and the would-be speaker was asked to put his question at the end (he didn't).

The 15 minutes allocated for questions had already spread to 20 and we were behind schedule because the inputs had overrun.  It was a great pity that we had to sit through 80 minutes of repetitive and often rambling input to get us to the point where people were stopped from asking questions.

This was not a great way to run a meeting that was supposed to be for the benefit of those attending.


Natural Disconnections in Plymouth

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

This is my second post about the Natural Connections event in Plymouth last week.  As I noted on Thursday morning, I set off for the meeting with a heavy heart, as the format of the programme suggested they'd learned nothing about organising a meeting from their East London near 'n' far disaster last summer.  And so it proved.

It began with a scene setting, although this had more to do with Plymouth and the ESRC than with natural connections.  We were meeting in an up-market tent while the wind bashed and crashed outside. Hey, it was almost LiNE!

The first speaker said that outdoor learning was an opportunity to encourage teachers and schools "to teach and learn the curriculum”, and I wondered if anyone knew what that meant.  I’m still wondering, but I now know that outdoor learning is an opportunity to "bring children and nature closer together.”  If only.

After the scene-setting, the next speaker provided some data.  The project has worked with 1600 teachers and 1450 teaching assistants in 130 schools (>90% were primary) and has reached 31,000 students.  It has been based around the idea of hub leaders and beacon schools, with every beacon being the inspirational core of a cluster of other schools.

There was then a film, but this mostly repeated what the speaker said.  I wrote down that the project had led to "acclimatising children to learning out of doors" – although learning what exactly, was still vague.  It’s fair to say there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the what, but, hey, being outdoors is fun – unless you’re cold and wet, that is, when you can get grumpy.  More on grumpy, later.  But does it really matter what, I hear you say, especially if it's fun.  Well, I bet the DfE thinks it matters quite a lot.  More on the DfE tomorrow.

A key session (the third) was about what the evaluation revealed. The headline outcome is that, as a result of an injection of countless £zillions of tax-payer cash, “more teachers and TAs are doing more outdoor learning”.  I have to say that I was relieved.  There were then a lot of before and after percentages which I didn’t follow all that well. That might not have been entirely my fault, as it wasn’t always clear when the before was, or, indeed, if it really was before.

For example, the mentions of outdoor learning in school documentation had gone up from 68% to 75%, and the number of teachers doing outdoor learning-focused CPD had gone from 55% to 67%.  But school spending on outdoor learning fell from 76% to 64% (2014 to 2015), which seemed to be a good thing, so maybe before was after after in some cases – or after, before.  Confused?  Me too.  I hope the final report is clearer.

There were survey results about why there should be more outdoor learning, but we were not shown the questions.  No matter, because the results are impressive in an East German election sort of way.  Here are the percentages of teachers giving these as reasons for engaging in outdoor learning:

  • children enjoy learning outdoors – 95%
  • children engage with / understand nature – 94%
  • children’s social skills improve – 93%
  • children’s engagement with learning (sic) improves – 92%
  • children’s health & well-being is enhanced – 92%
  • children’s behaviour improves – 85%
  • children’s attainment goes up – 57%

The children said that outdoor learning is “fun” most of the time, and I particularly liked this comment:

“We were learning how to use axes and saws and mallets.  It was very good.”

Teachers in their turn thought that outdoor learning had a positive effect on their practice and job satisfaction.

Finally, we were told that, as the support of the headteacher is essential, we should get them to experience outdoor learning for themselves. Good plan, I thought.  Then, finally, finally, (after an hour and twenty minutes) there were questions, but it’s a pity there were no roving microphones as big tents are not great spaces for audibility, and the questions were hard to hear, and not all were repeated.

I'll discuss the questions in my next posting.  I thought this was the best bit of the day.



Gore and the Green Alliance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

What follows is Steve Martin's recent posting to the SHED-SHARE network:

Al Gore poses a crucial question: Is David Cameron really willing and able to lead on climate change?

Al Gore is puzzled by David Cameron and the UK political scene, and it has nothing to do with porcine relations or the inherent democratic flaws in the system of House of Lords patronage. Instead, Gore is bemused by the gaping chasm between the Prime Minister's rhetoric and action on climate change and the self-defeating volte faces that define UK energy and climate change policy, to which the only possible response from the UK's battered green business community is ‘you and me both, mate'.

Gore's intervention, delivered this morning at an event hosted by Green Alliance, is surprising only in its forthrightness. The former vice president's analysis of the way the UK government is at risk of squandering a hard-earned reputation for leadership on climate change, as well as historic reputation for leadership in the world's great economic and cultural transitions, is entirely unsurprising. In lamenting the way the UK appears to be making the wrong choice between the "hard right and the easy wrong" he elegantly skewers the manner in which Ministers have repeatedly allowed short term political concerns to override the long term need to provide a stable policy base from which to decarbonise the UK economy.

Crucially, it is an analysis that is increasingly widely shared, and not just by the climate campaigning scamps who this morning sprayed clean graffiti solar panels on the pavement outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). CBI director general John Cridland was this morning just as critical of the UK government's bonfire of green policies and the "worrying signal" it sends businesses, while the Committee on Climate Change's (CCC) politely brutal critique of the manner in which the government opted to obliterate long-standing green policies without having replacements lined up fueled impressions there has been "a weakening of the policy framework" leaves no doubt it shares the concerns of both the business and NGO community.

As the CCC letter makes plain today, there is only so much longer the government can keep parroting the same line about its desire to deliver cost effective decarbonisation in response to this largely justified criticism. Ministers need to urgently deliver their new strategy and hope it is ambitious and credible enough to help business leaders forget about the way in which the transition from the previous government's climate policy framework to this government's policy framework has risked annihilating investor confidence for a generation.

The problem is there are worrying indications the new strategy will struggle to fully address the concerns of the CCC, or anyone else for that matter. Reading between the lines of the policy proposals and rhetoric coming out of the Treasury and DECC in recent months it appears the government is edging towards a new decarbonisation strategy that rests heavily on unproven UK domestic gas reserves, unproven carbon capture technology, unproven and costly new nuclear projects, scaled back renewables deployment, well-meaning but underfunded attempts to bolster energy efficiency, and an ideological resistance to many of the standards, safeguards, incentives, and infrastructure funding that is now driving low carbon development in many other leading economies.

The government may have a surprise up its sleeve and there is little doubt Amber Rudd and her team are serious when they say they want to ensure the UK lives up to its climate change commitments while honouring the tight spending restrictions the Treasury has imposed upon it. But Number 11's seemingly implacable resistance to the idea that there are huge hidden costs attached to the failure to invest now in building low carbon infrastructure and competitive clean tech industries means it is highly unlikely the relatively modest sums of funding that are needed to ease the impact of the recent policy shake up on the green economy will be forthcoming.

There is more on all this here, and these are related articles ...

Climate watchdog demands clarification on UK strategy, as Al Gore says he is 'puzzled' by renewables policy rollback
UK must 'unleash' private sector to deliver low-carbon future
100 Days of Dave – Whatever happened to the husky?
'Davos Man' seeks climate change opportunities

Stephen Martin can be reached at:


I had all this in mind as I read Jonathan Ford's recent Inside Business column for the FT: "Green electricity drive leaves generating capacity in the red".

Ford's point is that the rapid increase in renewable capacity (whose marginal generating costs are essentially zero) has made gas-fired generating uneconomic, with £500m being lost by thermal generators in 2014.  Because of this, small thermal generators, including new ones, are being closed, mothballed, or not built, thus putting the provision of stand-by capacity in doubt.

As a committed supporter of the shift to renewable electricity, I am distraught at how successive governments have mismanaged, not only this, but the reliability of electricity supply as a whole.  My critique, however, is not quite the same as Gore's.