Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: August 2016

Post EERA-ECER 2014 reflections

📥  Comment, New Publications

The latest EER contains papers from a symposium in Network 30 at the EERA-ECER conference in Porto in 2014.

The symposium had an international and inter-disciplinary focus on environmental, sustainability, global and development education research looking at ethical and political issues within these areas.  It brought together researchers from Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

Helpfully, the journal has not just their papers but the contributions from two discussants as well: Sharon Todd and Stephen Gough.  Reading these may well guide you to which papers are worth reading, and which might be best left well alone.  There's a dedicated page promoting the special issue through which you can get free access to all the papers.



Has Earth anything to show more fair in Dublin

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I'm not going to EERA-ECER in Dublin which starts next week.  It would have been good to see so many familiar faces, but I no longer appreciate sitting around all day (for several days) listening to people read their papers.  In fact, physically, I find it hard to do; retirement has meant I walk around more, and I find I now need to do it.

I'll be there in spirit, though, and will be re-reading John Wyse Jackson's Dublin (a poetry of place) as a sort of vicarious attendance.  It's as much a history of troubled Irish / English relations, as a collection of prose and poetry about the city that not much poetry has been written about.  Tellingly, Jackson says that Wordsworth would never have been able to write a sonnet like his Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 in Dublin as he would not have been able to engage in the inner reflection necessary as somebody would have come up and insisted on talking to him.

Dublin slips into your pocket, can be read as you walk, and contains much to recommend it – and the city.

The one thing I will, however, regret (well, sort of) is not being able to see the Real Research Collective present their paper to the EERA-ECER Philosophy network.  I think that ECER, had it been more entrepreneurial, might have been able to sell tickets to what will surely be the encounter of the conference.

Is it time for green infrastructure QE?

📥  Comment, New Publications

Although the answer's probably "no!", it's a question that's out there, posed by Richard Murphy, who writes the Tax Research UK blog.

Although the blog post raising this question is from 2015, interest is probably being stimulated again by the referendum result.  I suspect, however, that this embodies a misunderstanding of QE – not that I'm really qualified to pronounce on QE as I'm as puzzled as the next person by its mysteries.  QE seems a bit like the Schleswig-Holstein question about which, Lord Palmerston is said to have said ...

"The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it.  One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”

Just so.


Boycott or Sabotage – could you tell the difference?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was the usual excitement at this year’s NUS National Conference.  It passed an amendment to Motion 201 in the Education Zone debate calling on NUS to determine the most effective strategy to either boycott or sabotage the 2017 National Student Survey [NSS].  The reason?  In order to challenge the government’s higher education reforms, as the NSS is the key metric in the awful Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which prompts inflationary rises in tuition fees in those universities deemed worthy enough to warrant them.

It's an interesting choice of words as a boycott would effectively sabotage the NSS.  This would likely be good news for those top-flight institutions that consistently do badly in the survey, and bad news for those that manage / manipulate it so well to their (if not necessarily to their students') advantage.


Even more natural connections: satire or just a timely comment?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I thought that I'd written my last word (for all time) on Natural Connections, the project, but I'd missed the interview that the head of the project team gave to the BBC about the final report.  It's here – and thanks to the NAEE blog for spotting it.

And so, I have, in the Kipling certainty* that "the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire" returned to the fray, prompted in particular by this quote:

"We need to be a little bit clearer about what forms of outdoor learning meet what purposes and aims (of curricula).  So rather than just being outdoors magically making things happen, activities such as residential outdoor experiences would be particularly effective for developing social skills and leadership.  Whereas field studies would be particularly effective for greater awareness of the environment.  What we argue in the report is for people to think about the purpose and place (of the activity), as well as the people involved, in order to construct different forms of outdoor learning that will meet certain (teaching) aims."

I have read this several times, and confess to being torn by two possible interpretations.  Is it, as NAEE suggested, [i] a gross mis-reading of how schools and teachers have approached their work over time: saying that they have never bothered over-much about purpose?  NB, I know no school that believes in magically making things happen.

Or is [ii] a welcome critique of current trends within organisations that represent outdoor learning interests to valorise the outdoor just because it's not the indoor.  This tendency is real enough and has led to a confusion of aims with context.

Despite my criticisms of Natural Connections over the length of the project, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt here.


*The Gods of the Copybook Headings

"... As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!"


Sustainable food – or is it?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The latest edition of NERC's Planet Earth magazine contained a breathless feature on a partnership between M&S and NERC to create "a more sustainable global food system".  You can read all about this here.

Carmel McQuaid, who sounds as if she works for Ofscoff, is actually head of sustainable business at M&S.  She told Planet Earth:

"Having access to and contributing to the latest scientific research on food and farming helps us produce high quality, innovative products in the most sustainable ways possible.  That's what our customers expect from us and a partnership with NERC gives us expertise and facilities that otherwise wouldn't be available to our buyers and suppliers. And access to our buyers and suppliers gives NERC's team information and data that they otherwise wouldn't be able to apply to their research."

Well, speaking as a customer, most usually at a railway station or motorway stop-off, what I expect is to be able to by English apples in the Autumn.  Is that unreasonable, do you suppose?  It was last year when my enquiries about why that wasn't possible were sniffily dismissed.  All the corporate bollocks in the world will not stop me thinking that supporting the growing of English apples has to be at the heart of our take on sustainable development.


Last word on natural connections

📥  Comment, New Publications

Finally, it's the end of Natural Connections.  Huzzah!  The conclusions of the project's final report are that:

1. The project provides strong evidence that a distributed model of independent brokerage can unlock latent demand and support schools to overcome local barriers to LINE, to adopt and embed low-cost LINE practice across the curriculum, and to deliver a range of positive outcomes for teachers and pupils.

2. Selection of hub leaders with the appropriate skill set is critical to this distributed model.  Hub leaders need considerable experience in education at a regional and local level, and in coordinating support and networking opportunities for schools in order to share and develop outdoor learning practice.  Sufficient management capacity and skills at both central and hub level are essential to support this model.

3. The evidence suggests that demand was enhanced through whole school cultural shifts that supported the sustainable adoption of LINE policy and practice as it became part of ‘what schools do’.  The fact that schools invested in their school grounds as educational places, in leadership for outdoor learning, and that they used LINE predominately for core curriculum subjects is indicative of how LINE was increasingly recognised and promoted within schools.

4. While barriers vary between schools, good relationships with hub leaders are essential to help identify appropriate forms of support.  Despite a diversity of challenges for schools, these were reduced during the project and the principal barrier became time to facilitate as much LINE as schools wished to do; a clear indication of latent demand.

5. The project was able to capture qualitative insight and quantitative data on a range of positive outcomes for schools, providing motivational evidence for schools and useful information for policy makers, external funders and service providers in both the public and private sectors.  In addition, detailed analysis of the relative effectiveness of the delivery model has helped to clarify the essential elements of outdoor learning development.  These insights in turn will be used to inform strategies and plans to amplify support for LINE delivery in schools at both a strategic and a local level.

6. The scale of recruitment and retention of schools, and the considerable added value offered at all levels, points to the success of the demonstration project and to its participants’ commitment to LINE.

Indeed.  Every commentator except me seems to think all this is all quite wonderful.  Personally, I wonder where it leaves us – apart from wishing that the report might have been written in clearer English that is.

Natural England, in welcoming the end of the project, wrote:

"This report presents the key findings from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which identified that the fundamental challenges to learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE) in schools were local and revolved around a lack of teacher confidence in teaching outside and fragmentation of LINE service provision. These underpinned the more traditionally cited challenges of curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost."

Whilst it's always good to re-learn what we already knew – a lack of teacher confidence, multiple providers, curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost – did we have to make such an expensive meal of re-learning it?



WEEC at the knees at the mere thought

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Rumour has it that WEEC is looking for an outfit in the UK to host a forthcoming conference – only organisations with the requisite quotient of gullibility and desperation need apply.

I'm reminded of what Richard Ingrams said when Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979: that as a private citizen he was appalled, but as a satirist, he was delighted.  For satirist, read blogger, and you sense my mood; I can hardly contain my joy.


FEN 5 – The legacy of Henry Wilt

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I started off the week noting that I was in thrall to the astonishing John Lilburne.  Another hero, albeit of a very different kind, is Henry Wilt.  Now, it's difficult being in the Fens and not to think of Wilt, that oppressed everyman struggling against the world, his wife, and the management of Fenland College of Arts and Technology where he has worked for ten years as an assistant lecturer (grade 2) in the Liberal Studies department "teaching classes of Gasfitters, Plasterers, Bricklayers and Plumbers" (and Butchers).  His remit at Fenland is to help to civilise youth on day-release apprenticeships.  The syllabus, gifted to the likes of Fenland by an out-of-touch left-liberal elite, demands that Lord of the Flies, Candide, Sons and Lovers, etc are the vehicles to achieve this.  Madness, of course, but Wilt is stuck with it, along with the eponymous (and egregious) class of would-be butchers that is Meat One.

Written by Tom Sharpe in 1976, I particularly like the satire around Fenland College's ambition to be a Polytechnic – no doubt it would now be a University had it really existed.  I thought Sharpe captured very acutely the existential dilemmas of being an FE lecturer caught in the jaws of the student - management vice.

Sounds just like university lecturers today.