Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: January 2016

Christmas message from Ofsted

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Thanks to Chris Southwood for alerting me to the Christmas message [ actually, a school inspection update ] to all Ofsted Inspectors from its national director (education), Sean Hartford.  By and large, it is not full of festive cheer.

The update – essential reading from now on, I think – contains:

  • clarification of the timings and types of inspections certain schools can expect;
  • an explanation of when two-year-old provision forms part of a school inspection;
  • staffing ratios for governor-led nursery provision;
  • information on cadet units in schools and the global learning programme;
  • updates on provision of data; and
  • details of recent relevant publications and consultations.

All these were highlighted by the national director in his letter.  What Chris pointed out to me can be found lurking on page 8.  It's about global learning.  Here it is:

Following a review of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) development awareness and education programmes in 2009, it was agreed that funding to help schools deliver development education should be brought under a single programme.  To ensure that DFID support is consistent with education policy, separate projects are funded in each UK nation.

Every child growing up in the UK should have the chance to learn about the world around them, the facts of poverty and underdevelopment, and about the potential to build a freer and more prosperous world.  The Global Learning Programme (GLP)  will work with primary, secondary and special schools across the UK to ensure that young people have this opportunity.

GLP will seek to help pupils to develop the skills needed to work in a global economy through learning about key themes of development education such as knowledge of:

  • developing countries, their economies, histories and human geography
  • the basic elements of globalisation
  • different ways to achieve global poverty reduction and the arguments around the merits of these different approaches.

Hartford said that he was drawing attention to the GLP as it "maps onto the four Ofsted core judgements and to SMSC".  Therefore, he said, during an inspection, "it should be possible for schools to set out how the GLP is contributing to their provision and outcomes for pupils." .

However, he said, in a move that will surely disappoint Pearson,

"it is not for inspectors to ask if the school uses this programme, it would be up to the school to make the link and to present the evidence to inspectors."

What strikes me about all this is how narrow the examples of global learning are that Hartford cites (the 4 bullet points, above, and the text immediately preceding it).  Why, for example, is there no reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (which set a global context for development), or to the Paris Agreement about climate change?

Let's hope Ofsted inspectors read round the subject and don't just rely on this festive message.



The power of the SDGs as a means of exchange

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I have been a bit critical of the bloated nature of the new sustainable development goals, but that should not blind us to the potential that they have for focusing attention on solutions to the world's problems.

In particular, the breadth of the issues covered by the Goals has the power to be useful in education institutions as a means of bringing academics, students and external activists together.  I say this because it seems to be that every university in the UK will already have teaching and research that is focused on one or (more likely) more of the SDGs – quite often in partnership with external groups.  And the goals are already of interest to student unions in their various activities.  Add to this mix the fact that many graduates get jobs that focus on the goals, one way or another, and you see the potential for constructive synergies.  They are also reasonably respectable, given their UN sponsorship and the existential crises that drive them.

So, unlike ESD – which has to be patiently explained to bewildered audiences over and over again – the SDGs offer a currency and means of exchange that all can understand and get involved in.  They may even have the power to bring those interested in environmental education and global learning to the same table.


A backward defensive stroke from the DfE

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Back in the mists of time – it was October 2103 – I wrote about a letter I'd received from the DfE explaining what it wasn't doing about sustainable development.  I commented, with what I felt were pleasing cricket metaphors ...

This is the DfE straight bat; a solid defensive stance trying to cover all the stumps, and with both feet well inside the crease.  I'd say that it will take an in-swinging yorker to discomfort them.  SEEd is having a go at this, assembling a team of strike bowlers from its friends in the campaigning business to try to influence what the main 2015 election manifestos say.  In reality, it will likely be finesse rather than pace that will break the resistance.  Let's hope Graham Swann is on the team.

Of course, this is a limited overs match, and SEEd may well be hoping for most luck with the side currently fielding.  We shall see.

And see we did.  To everyone's surprise, including its own, the home team won (to mix metaphors) by a short head.  But, to no one's great surprise, the SEEd horse was unplaced.

I'm reminded of all this by a letter written by DfE minister, Nick Gibb, to the admirably persistent Chris Southwood.  Chris wrote asking if DfE would be going to respond in any way to the Paris Agreement to help future generations understand climate change and to actively participate in achieving the targets set.  This seemed a very reasonable enquiry – the full text of her letter is here.

Gibbs response is here.  Needless to say it does not answer Chris's question – except to say that the government thinks it important that young people study the facts about climate change and the environment, and that, happily, the national curriculum provides opportunities to do so.  Huzzah!

But what about all those youngsters who no longer have to study the national curriculum in England?   They now comprise the majority of secondary school students, because of the shift to Academy status, and a growing proportion in primary schools.

It is certainly telling that Gibb's response was in relation to the increasingly irrelevant national curriculum, rather than in relation to the 2002 Education Act which still applies to all schools.  Section 78 is key.  It begins ...

78 – General requirements in relation to curriculum

(1) The curriculum for a maintained school or maintained nursery school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which ...

(a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and

(b) prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

If I had the energy, I'd ask Gibb how schools are supposed to do this without critically addressing the Paris Agreement, reminding him that, to do so, will involve more than setting out facts.  And I'd also ask him when he is going to act on his responsibility to remind schools to do this.



Bye Bye to the HEA?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A gloomy report in last week's THE about the not quite market-ready HEA, now that it is increasingly bereft of taxpayer funding.

Not only are institutional fees set to double, but academics will have to pay "modest fees" to be members, and Fellows will have to do some CPD (ie, training) to hold onto their status.  In future,  large universities (those with > 30,000 fte students) will need to pay £65,000 if they want to accredit their CPD courses and have access to fellowships.

The THE report ends:

"The HEA’s latest accounts, which were published recently, show that the organisation made a loss of £94,000 in 2014-15, compared with a surplus of £1.57 million the previous year, mainly as a result of falling grant funding.  The organisation nearly halved its workforce, which now stands at 93, but missed its targets for increasing subscription and commercial income."

This looks like a slippery slope.


Outdoor learning seems just as incoherent as I feared

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've been reading the research report on outdoor learning recently published by the Blagrave Trust, UCL, the IoL, and Giving Evidence: The Existing Evidence-Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning.

It will not make comfortable reading for anyone who has been banging on recently about how great outdoor learning [ OL ] is – that is, for most of those involved in OL who want to publicise what they do – that is, for most of them.  You don't have to read the report for long to realise how threadbare these various claims turn out to be.  It's not helped, of course, that outdoor learning is such a fuzzy 'n' floppy idea: outdoor learning turns out to be any learning that accrues from an experience out of doors, as opposed, say, to indoor learning which ...  You get the picture.

Thus the Ten Tors expedition, a field trip to a rocky shore, a scout camp, a nature walk, learning maths at a forest school, a visit to an outdoor theatre, painting al fresco, skinny dipping, fox hunting, detectoring, working on the allotment, a walk with the Ramblers, plane spotting, etc, etc can all lead to outdoor learning, and the only thing they all have in common is that they take place outdoors.

What next, you have to wonder?  A claim that indoor learning is good for you as well?  But nobody ever talks of indoor learning because it makes little sense to do so (as it is so varied in every sense).  Why, then, is it sensible to talk of outdoor learning?

I have thought for a while now that outdoor learning lacked conceptual clarity, and that, because of this, some (at least) of the claims it makes for itself were perhaps open to question.  This report suggests that there is no perhaps about it.

Here are a few extracts from the summary of findings

1. A sense of the sector as a whole

There is no comprehensive or regular (repeated) survey of the scale of outdoor learning in the UK. There are some studies of specific outdoor learning activities (e.g., of particular types, or in particular parts of the UK). In these, some authors express concern about barriers to delivering outdoor learning and a reduction in outdoor learning.

2. The current research base 

Crowdsourcing UK research revealed an enthusiasm for research and sharing of knowledge amongst people who deliver outdoor learning activities. However, some of the material submitted were data or reflections which included named individuals, rather than anonymized research reports. This raises some issues around practitioners’ understanding of research ethics.

There is a growing body of individual studies and systematic reviews about the development and effectiveness of outdoor learning. We found 15 systematic reviews of the effects of outdoor learning. They provide extensive evidence of the effects of outdoor learning. However, the set is somewhat confusing because many of them overlap in terms of the primary studies they include. Moreover, some systematic reviews include other systematic reviews, or are an update of an earlier review. This overlap therefore repeatedly reports the same evidence without necessarily strengthening it.

Distinctions between types of interventions and outcomes employed to categorise studies are not always clear. For instance, ‘healthy lifestyles’ and ‘health and well-being’ were part of the ‘learning and development’ domain, while ‘health behaviour’ and ‘health, physical / mental’ were part of the ‘health’ domain.

Four features of the 58 primary UK studies are striking:

a. They are spread thinly across many populations (types and age groups), interventions, settings and outcomes, such that few topics have been researched more than a handful of times. This leads to our suggestion that the sector collectively identify and prioritise the important unanswered questions, and then focuses its (presumably limited) research resources on those priority questions.

b. The activities and participants on which studies focus may not be where the sector would choose that research should focus. For example, the most common study topics are: adventure or residential activity; 11-14 year olds; and the general population. This leaves very few studies on (and hence little insight about) other age groups, popular activity such as Scouts or Ramblers, or people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET), have disabilities or are post-trauma.

c. That there seems surprisingly little linkage between the outcomes measured by the studies and the agenda of ‘customers’ and funders. The outcomes measured are mainly around ‘character development-type’ outcomes (communication skills, teamwork, self-confidence etc. Very few studies addressed interventions with strong links to core curriculum subjects. There was only one primary study of educational outcomes at Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds), few of educational outcomes at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, and none at or beyond Key Stage 5 (sixth form). There is also a mismatch with the interests of employers: ‘employability’ is only measured in relation to offenders but not young people generally. Looking internationally, only six of the 15 systematic reviews looked at educational attainment, and only one addressed employability.

d. Safety is little covered in the systematic reviews and was not measured as an outcome in any of the primary studies. Safety is obviously a major issue in outdoor learning since it can be dangerous: few social interventions can result in broken limbs or fatalities. Even if safety isn’t the primary focus of a study, data could be gathered about safety: this is often how patient safety data and insights are gathered in medical research.

3. Outcomes assessed

This evidence, both in the UK and internationally, and in both primary studies and systematic reviews, is very varied in terms of the populations who are offered outdoor learning, the type of outdoor learning and the outcomes assessed. The categorisation that informed this study captured some interventions and outcomes, but others emerged from the literature. Generally, there is considerable consensus in the general aims of interventions, but little consensus on the outcomes for assessing their effects.

4. The designs of individual evaluations 

We compared reports of UK studies in terms of attributes on a scale developed by Project Oracle, which looks at the extent of plans for an intervention and the evidence for it (described further in the document). Using this scale was challenging because the Project Oracle scale was designed for organisations to plan and assess their own interventions and evaluations, rather than to assess research reported elsewhere.

Many UK studies did not reach Level One of the Project Oracle scale, normally because they did not cite or appear to use a Theory of Change (also known as a logic model: an articulation of the inputs, the intended outcomes, how the inputs are meant to produce those outcomes, and assumptions about context, participants or other conditions). Clear theories of change serve a couple of useful purposes: first, they demonstrate that the practitioners understand their intervention; and second, they are invaluable for other practitioners reading the research in estimating whether they will achieve the same outcomes with those interventions in their contexts. To be clear, a practitioner may have a theory of change but not cite it in their research, but (a) citing it in the research is useful and (b) experience from many other social sectors suggests that practitioners may need support to develop or articulate their theories of change.  No UK study, or set of studies, featured the more demanding attributes of Levels Four or Five, around the intervention having been replicated in several places.

Implications for practice and policy

The study did not set out to look at implications of the research for practice and policy.  Nonetheless, we found:

Almost all outdoor learning interventions have a positive effect.  The effect attenuates over time: the effect as measured immediately after the intervention is stronger than in follow-up measures after a few months. This is common for social interventions. However, one meta-analysis found that effects relating to self-control were high and were normally maintained over time.

Evidence for the value of longer interventions. The systematic reviews found that overnight and multi-day activities had a stronger effect than shorter ones. While this is perhaps unsurprising, it does pose a challenge for funders / funding since it obviously forces a trade-off with the number of participants.


For providers of outdoor learning

Outdoor learning organisations can refer to systematic reviews of research about outdoor learning when planning their programmes. Careful reading is required to (a) check the rigour of each review and the studies they include (for instance, did the review include a systematic search and critical appraisal of the studies included?); and (b) check the precise types of programmes, populations and outcomes they studied.

Implications for the outdoor learning sector about developing its research

Because the existing research is spread quite thinly, few questions about effectiveness are yet answered reliably. We therefore recommend that the outdoor learning sector collectively prioritise the various unanswered questions in order to focus its research resources on those which are most important.

We recommend that the outdoor learning sector:

1. Types and volume of activity: Pull together the various data sources on this to give the current picture, and create a system to regularly capture data on the types and volumes of activity.

2. Improve practitioners’ theories of change, enabling practitioners’ to both create and to use them. Theories of change are explained in Box 4: they are invaluable for understanding why an intervention works and hence whether it is likely to work in other contexts, but only few evaluations of UK outdoor learning activity cited them.

3. Convene practitioners, researchers and others to prioritise research topics.

4. Manage the resulting sector-wide research agenda, through relationships with funders, and possibly by creating partnerships between practitioners and researchers.

5. Ensure that both interventions and research are described clearly, fully and publicly.

Outdoor learning organisations need to have systems in place to support ethical practices for monitoring and research, particularly the storage and sharing of data from evaluations.

Greater consensus about the important outcomes of interest would allow research findings from different studies to be pooled more easily, and thereby facilitate accumulating knowledge to inform better the whole field.


Enough ...


What NUS did next

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The NUS published two new reports this week.  One is a national status report on university investments in the fossil fuel industry (based on Freedom of Information [FoI] requests); the other is a report on student and staff attitudes towards fossil fuels and renewables.

You can access both reports here.

Here are "a few juicy headlines" from the FoI requests:

  • £98.9m of university endowments is definitely invested in extractors of fossil fuels
  • NUS estimates a grand total of £596.8m in endowment investments in fossil fuels (extractors, suppliers and technology and infrastructure)
  • 9.3% of endowment investments are in fossil fuels, compared to just 0.30% tobacco and 0.81% arms;
  • ~4% (£18.7m) of the ~£450m research funding from UK industry and commerce last year came from fossil fuel companies
  • 14% universities have governors linked to fossil fuels industry.

The attitudes survey (N=5000) revealed:

  • Students and staff are less sure about divestment (44% think their university should divest from fossil fuels), but are united on renewables (87% agree that their university should invest in renewable energy);
  • Half of HE student respondents say that they would be more likely to donate to their university, later in their career, if they knew the institution had stopped investing in fossil fuels;
  • Staff pensions – 47% would consider fossil free pension scheme, but none exist;
  • 61% of all respondents say their institution should use 100% renewable energy.

NUS has a plan ...

Over the next 18 months, it will be working with students’ unions to get:

i)  every penny of the £98.8m known endowment investments in fossil fuels divested and reinvested into energy efficiency / clean-tech / renewables;

ii)  as many universities and colleges as possible to agree not to put further investments into fossil fuels;

iii)  as many universities and colleges as possible to commit to 100% renewable energy by a date of their choosing.  This could be bought (~39% of the energy bought by universities is green), or generated (1.2% of the energy used by universities is self-generated).

There's a short film of the launch event at SOAS here.  100 paper windmills were planted to represent the £100m of university endowments invested in fossil fuel extraction companies.  If only it were so simple.

I think it's worth rooting around in the appendices of the FoI-based report to see what endowments UK universities have, and how much of them are invested in energy, arms and tobacco.  There are some eye-watering numbers.  The £1.7m that Trinity College, Cambridge has invested in Big Tobacco stood out for me.  By comparison, Homerton only has £1m.

It's a drop in the ocean for Trinity, of course, as their total endowment is some £884m.  Whilst that sounds a lot, it, too, is small beer compared to Harvard where the endowment is said to be worth some $36bn.  For comparison, the USS pension fund is worth about £41 bn and has significant holdings in defence, tobacco and fossil fuels.  Then there's the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund that's worth about $790bn.

And the UK's SWF?  Ah!  best not mention that.




TEESNet Conference 2016

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The focus of the 2015 TEESNet Conference was Monitoring Education for Global Citizenship: A Contribution to Debate.  I didn't go as it seems to me that trying to introduce EGC is just as bad as encouraging ESD – that is, it diverts attention from the more substantive goal of changing education.  As John Smyth noted a long while back, whilst adjectival educations might enthuse activists, they only discourages the majority who are getting on with what they see as important.

Anyway, in 2016, TEESNet is having another go, and the focus of this conference is: Measuring What's Valuable or Valuing What's Measurable: Monitoring and Evaluation in Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship.  This is a title that will please the Welsh as it may well breathe some life into their failed ESDGC initiatives.  TEESNet says the conference will "draw together practioners, educators and researchers to consider these issues, and share ideas".  It won't, of course, as most of those who fall into those categories will stay at home.  This will be an event run by activists for activists.

TEESNet adds that, with the PISA review of global competencies coming up, it is a crucial time to be considering this, and no doubt there is something in this.  It also draws attention to a 2015 report from DEEEP that aimed to "provide a stimulus for further thought, work and debate in the design of assessment frameworks for an education that supports people in living fulfilling lives in a changing, globalised world".

I didn't think much of this when I first tried to read it on line.  Maybe the pdf will be better.  Maybe ESDGC will change the world.



The GEEP is launched

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote a while back about a meeting I went to about the GEEP – pronounced jeep – the Global Environmental Education Partnerships.  The website has now been launched.

The idea is that GEEP is a platform where people can learn more about international environmental education.  It includes an interactive map of countries with an overview of their environmental education efforts.  I wrote the section on the UK, following consultation with those who know about such things – although not everyone responded.

This website is still in development, and GEEP will continue to build the resources and best practice section, as well as the country profiles and featured programmes.  It will soon be linked to NAAEE's new eePRO site – Click here, and then click on eePRO to get an idea of how that works.  More later, no doubt.



Donald is trumped by the Env. Agency

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I dreamed the other night, in that random way you do, that I was taking tea with Mr Trump – and that I upset him by what I said, and rendered him speechless.  Not sure life can get much better than this.

But why a Trump dream in the first place?  Maybe it was that prize I won last November in San Diego for getting the right answer to the question of what is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the USA – DJT, of course.

But it seems he pollutes here as well.  Climate Action reports that a company owned by Trump has been fined £1,610 by the UK Environment Agency for breaking carbon emissions rules.  The penalty is for a flight to the UK by a plane owned by DJT Operations (*), a part of the Trump empire, and comes under the EU's carbon pollution emissions trading scheme (ETS) which requires polluters to buy a carbon permit for every metric tonne of carbon pollution emitted, or face a $109 per metric tonne fine.  DJT Ops paid the fine.

The Environment Agency fined 25 operators recently more than £750,000 for failing to obtain carbon permits to cover their emissions.  These include include the Bahrain Royal family, AIG and 21st Century Fox America.  Let's hope the EA spends the money on a good green cause.

(*)  Here's a report, of sorts, on the irrepressible



Schools for Future Youth

📥  Comment, New Publications

As part of the Schools for Future Youth Project, a report was published in January on a youth participatory approach to global citizenship education across Europe.

The report by Doug Bourn, Director of the Development Education Research Centre, at UCL,  reviews current literature, policy and practice across Europe on how educational institutions are addressing the engagement of young people in global issues. It looks in depth at the evidence from the four partner countries in the Schools for Future Youth Project: Cyprus, Italy, Poland and the UK.

A theme of the report is that policy-makers and civil society organisations should recognise the different ways in which young people wish to engage in learning and taking action on global issues.  The report says that whilst there has been activity across Europe encouraging youth engagement in democratic institutions,  insufficient attention has been given to the linkages young people themselves make between their outlook on the world, their personal and social identity, and the ways they use areas such as social networking to engage in societies.

The report also suggests that teachers need to address and respond to the interests of young people in issues such as refugees, migration, climate change and global terrorism by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to effectively engage in these debates.  To accompany the report, there are three briefing papers aimed at [i] teachers, [ii] civil society organisations, and [iii] policy-makers.  These provide a series of group-specific recommendations.

There's a very brief mention in the report of ESD.  Here it is:

Whilst sustainable development is included within the North-South Centre’s definition of Global Education, there is evidence that in a number of countries if one emphasises the participatory and engagement aspects of learning, ESD becomes a key vehicle for Global Citizenship. Both the ESD and GCE it could be argued aim to equip students with values, knowledge and skills that are based on respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, gender equality and environmental sustainability.

In Wales the two terms ESD and GC are brought together as a cross curricula theme linking people, the economy and the environment.  Elsewhere in the UK whilst there is still interest and support for ESD, notably in England through the Sustainable Schools initiative (formerly a government led programme) it is now promoted only by civil society organisations.

In Italy, environmental and sustainable development education plays a very important role in the process of empowering citizens and, in particular, students. In this regard, the Education and environment ministries have produced “Guidelines for environmental and sustainable development education (ESDE).”  These guidelines suggest linkages to Citizenship.

In Cyprus, the Education Ministry has a policy on environmental education and sustainable development. For 2015 one of its national targets for education is learning about and protecting the natural environment. Each school unit is expected to set up and implement its own action plan to promote education for sustainable development.

Also in Cyprus, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has recently been integrated in pre-primary and primary education and it is expected to be integrated in secondary education at a later stage. Topics covered in ESD include nutrition (agricultural production, land use, food handling), energy issues, the lack of water, deforestation, climate change, waste, production and consumption, the use of natural resources, sustainable tourism, and urban development.

Research on ESD and Global Citizenship in Spain by Fernandez (2015) supports this linkage between environmental concerns and active participation by young people that can help to promote a “worldview”.

This evidence suggests that education for sustainable development can be an important opportunity for promoting Global Citizenship if the emphasis is on participation, engagement and social action. It is perhaps the focus tends just to be on a series of topics that global themes can be reduced to being one amongst a number, alongside themes such as waste, pollution and climate change.  [sic]

Well, after all this, there still seems little conceptual clarity about the relationships between ESD / GCE / etc.  Another missed opportunity, then?  Or perhaps it just doesn't exist. Maybe it's time to  stop writing reports like this, and to abandon adjectives altogether, and just talk about education and learning.  What a radical thought.