Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: News and Updates

Online Anarchy Optional

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This is part of an editorial in Thursday's Times.

Online Anarchy Optional

YouTube added a black ribbon to its logo this week as a mark of respect to those killed and maimed in Monday’s gruesome attack.  Yet as the site mourns today’s victims, it aids tomorrow’s terrorists.  The Times reveals that YouTube, which is owned by Google, is publishing how-to guides for mass murderers, including video manuals for bomb-makers.  Facebook publishes similar content. With every week that the internet giants continue to shirk their moral and legal responsibilities as publishers, the case for robust regulation grows stronger.

One Facebook page contains an 11,000-word guide to making bombs.  The guide explains how to maximise devastation with household items.  Another page tells readers how to manufacture explosives with a highly unstable chemical compound.  YouTube publishes video guides on how to make an explosive belt, weave incendiary devices into clothing and make ball-bearing bombs. “Our blood is a fuel for Sharia,” one video says.

This is only the latest in a string of investigations which show social media companies publishing and profiting from hateful and sometimes illegal content.  This newspaper has found child abuse images on Facebook, terrorist propaganda on Twitter, genocidal rants on YouTube and much else.

After months of prevarication, social media companies are inching towards a response.  Facebook has hired 3,000 extra staff to respond to reports of hate speech and child abuse.  They are still doing too little, however.  This content is not difficult to find, a simple search is often enough, but the companies refuse to look for it. Instead they remain passive.  They do not even consider whether hateful or dangerous content should be taken down until a user has reported it.  In any case the guidelines that frame moderators’ decisions are often perverse. Facebook’s internal rulebook, recently leaked, says that staff should remove some death threats, but not others.  ...

It is a scandal that these companies should be able to disseminate bomb-making guides with impunity.  No normal publisher could get away with this.  The internet companies must seek this content out and take it down.  If not, the authorities should intervene.

I have not verified any of this by doing my own searches — being rather fearful of having my collar felt by the Wiltshire police, but also because I have no need to know any of it, so I left my curiosity at the door.  It seems to me that none of this is covered by a free speech defence (something that I'm normally keen on), and all is inimical to a sustainable society.  What to do?

Well I gave up using Google as a search engine about 2 years ago as there are more benign ones out there that are just as good (if not better), but I still do use YouTube occasionally and am a passive user of Facebook.  Perhaps I should give up both (and Google maps!) as a token of respect to the families of those butchered in Manchester and elsewhere.


All those manifestos

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I've been reading the election manifestos – well, three of them (and a sort of manifesto from the Greens).  I did some searches for the number of times the following came up:

  • education for sustainable development / sustainability
  • education for sustainability
  • environmental education
  • ESD / EfS / LSD/ SDE / etc

The answers are 0, 0, 0 and 0.  Could it be that all these parties think that ESD etc is so mainstreamed now that there's no need to mention it?  Or, that ...?

There's nothing more mainstream than curriculum, so how many mentions did that get?

Liberal Democrats 10       Labour 6       Conservatives 7       Green 0

The Conservatives had an emphasis on technical education and on the education provided through the Overseas Aid Budget, particularly for girls.  Labour talked about a National Education Service [NES] and the removal of fees from (seemingly) everything.  Are PhD studentships going to be free as well, do you suppose – and yoga?  The LDs set out plans for an educational standards authority [ESA] which sounds like an awful combination of SCAA and the CQC.  The Greens want to introduce political and active citizenship education into schools, but say nothing else about what should be taught.  In point of fact, none of them suggest that the curriculum is in need of more thinking, or that it might be more than the plaything of civil servants.  A pity.



Ofsted on Rich and Deep – a promise made

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Still not having had a response from Ofsted to my March 2017 enquiry, I wrote again:

Earlier this year, I listened with great interest to the Chief Inspector’s first interview on Radio 4, and I then read her speech to the ASCL conference (on-line). I was puzzled by this sentence:

"I suspect no one here will disagree with the vital importance of a curriculum which is broad, rich and deep.”

Given that Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act says this:

(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.

… I wondered why the Chief Inspector talked about "rich and deep", but not "balanced". My questions to you are:

[i] Has Ofsted abandoned the idea of balance?
[ii] what do "rich" and "deep" mean to Ofsted in relation to the curriculum?


... and got a response last week.  But all this said that I'd get an answer to my question in due course.



Encounters on empty classroom day

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I was on the Shropshire hills for empty classroom day [ECD] this year, and stumbled across a year happy-looking 6 group from Hertfordshire.  Rather splendidly, they were having nothing to do with ECD as they were enjoying ECW: empty classroom week – staying at a field centre in the Onny valley.  Well done those schools who persist in seeing the value for children of such experiences.  No one in the group seemed to have heard of ECD.

There were also bus loads of children in the Cardingmill valley, all clip-boarded up, fighting for space with pensioners in the National Trust toilets.  I thought to myself, I hope you're not here for a course in hydrology, as the streams are barely running in some places.  The elderly heading for the waterfall higher up in the hills might also have been disappointed.

The final encounters were with a skylark, perched on some burnt-out heather about 10m away, singing as if the world were theirs, and a cuckoo, out of sight, but not sound.  It was my first cuckoo of the year and may well be the last as one per year is the usual rate these deprived days – thanks, in large part, to the EU Commission's toleration of the spring butchery of song birds in the Mediterranean, that goes by the name of 'traditional practice' .



A coal-free day

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I was pleased to see that the UK didn't use coal to generate electricity for a full day last month – April 21st.  Climate Action said that this was "the first time since the Industrial Revolution" which is hardly the case, although it was the first time ever.

It seems that low electricity demand and a prolonged period of high winds meant the grid completed 24 hours without using coal.  Cordi O'Hara, Director, UK System Operator at National Grid, said it was "a watershed moment in how our energy system is changing”, although he also got confused about the industrial revolution point.  The National Grid expects more coal-free days throughout the summer, and days when, by the early 2020s, burning coal will become increasingly rare.

I wonder how long it will be before gas-burning becomes as rare.  I fancy I'll not live to see it which is a pity as it should be coming sooner rather than later if we're to undo the climate damage we've brought on.  Personally, I was pleased that the Semington A power plant has played a small part in this revolution – in fact a very small part, but we do the best we can with what little we have.



The first coal-fired generations of electricity were in 1866 in Germany (Siemens), in 1882 in the USA (Edison).  In the UK, according to Carbon Brief, it was also in 1882.  This was over 100 years after the Industrial Revolution got under way.



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I see that NAEE had an article the other day about the merger of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and FACE (Farming and Countryside Education), and the combined charity is looking for a Director, Education & Public Engagement who will …

“lead and execute an Education and Public Engagement strategy that enables schools to enrich their curriculum and increase public understanding of and demand for sustainable food, farming and environment.”

LEAF Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond, said:

“We are really excited at this opportunity which comes at a time when it has never been more important to demonstrate and state the case for British agriculture.  The potential merger offers a real opportunity for our two organisations to work together even more effectively and efficiently to deliver multiple benefits to our partners and stakeholders.  The proposed merger will enable LEAF to further deepen our public engagement activity and allow the FACE team to scale up their work, nationally and regionally as the interface between agriculture and schools.  Such a combination will undoubtedly strengthen the impact of both organisations and improve the public’s understanding of farming, food and the environment.”

FACE Chief Executive, Dan Corlett, said:

“This is a very exciting moment for FACE.  I am very proud of all that the FACE team has achieved and the place we hold as a leader in taking agriculture into schools.  The exploration of this new phase, would allow us to maximise FACE’s expertise in creating systemic change in education and the potential for this newly expanded organisation to offer stakeholders and partners improved efficiencies, enhanced engagement and create even greater opportunities for educating and engaging the public.”

These mergers never seem to be a coming together of equals, and it looks to me as if LEAF has swallowed up FACE.  However, it's quite possible that this will prove to be a positive move.  A key question for me is this: will the education work they do enable and encourage a critical consideration of the intersection of UK farming, wider countryside practice, and nature and environmental protection – or will the emphasis be on promoting farming industry interests to young people?


The Greener Jobs Alliance

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The Greener Jobs Alliance has published its top 10 Election Demands:

  1. Keep the Climate Change Act 2008. Stick to the UK’s legally binding commitments to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 as a minimum. Ensure that UK energy and industrial policy is effectively aligned with the Committee on Climate Change projections and carbon budgets.
  2. Trust the people with a massive boost to energy democracy.  Support a new wave of community based solar and onshore wind projects with ambitious feed-in tariffs wherever there is local support. Lift the ban on onshore wind projects. Support for local authorities to set up municipal energy supply companies.
  3. Ban fracking and respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.
  4. Cut energy bills and carbon emissions with a nationwide home insulation programme.  ‘Retrofit’ poorly insulated homes and build new, low energy social housing, using as far as possible direct labour, and supported by high quality vocational education and training. Make ‘Energy efficiency’ a national infrastructure priority to create decent jobs, reduce fuel poverty and reduce fuel bills
  5. Make education for sustainable development a core priority across the education system. Prioritise research funding that will promote the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
  6. Create a million skilled climate jobs: invest in all forms of renewable energy, low carbon jobs and skills, including electric vehicle manufacture, rail investment, and build a full supply chain to make and supply renewable energy technologies in the UK.
  7. Create a new Green Investment Bank in public ownership and with full accountability. Use the green bank to support Regional Development Board investment in green energy and transport infrastructure projects.
  8. Create a National Climate Service to oversee the transition to a low carbon economy. This to include a Ministry for Climate Jobs, Skills and Social Protection’ to equip the UK to a transformation of the world of work working across all Government departments and industrial sectors.
  9. Introduce an Environment Protection Act to incorporate vital European directives into UK law. Commit the UK to retain membership of the European Court of Justice to ensure that our citizens have the same environmental protection rights as all EU citizens, wherever environmental standards are at risk.
  10. Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.

As far as I can see there are no figures attached to these proposals, and so it's unclear how much it would all cost.  Clearly, some are not expensive, but others seem to demand a blank cheque: "ambitious feed-in tariffs", for example.  And some make no sense at all: "invest in all forms of renewable energy", given that some forms (I'm thinking biomass) seem an environmental catastrophe.  I note there's no mention of nuclear power or tackling energy poverty.  The first is tricky; the second surely should be a priority.

There are some oddities.  Take No. 3: [a] Ban fracking and [b] respect local democracy wherever fracking applications are opposed by local communities.  If you do [a], there's no need for [b].  But suppose fracking applications are supported by local communities?  Where does that leave No. 2: Trust the people ... energy democracy?

Where indeed.  Still; these are much more coherent than some of the demands I've seen.


The week before WEEC in Canada

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The programme for the WEEC event in Vancouver in September is becoming clearer, and credit is obviously due to the organisers for taking Canada's rich cultural heritage seriously – at least as far as keynote speakers are concerned.  You can see the detail here.  It will be more of a challenge to ensure that participation in the rest of the programme reflects the breadth of Canada's communities, but then it always is.  I thought that the Durban WEEC was the most successful in doing this, but this WEEC might run it close.  Earlybird registration ends on May 31st.

As it happens, the other day I received an invitation to attend a two-day workshop in the week before WEEC that "will bring together international experts on sustainability competencies in higher education", although it's not yet clear what the purpose of the event is: maybe it will be a freewheeling kind of affair where streams of consciousness eddy, swirl and conflueure [sic].  I hope not.  Anyway, nice to be asked, but as I'll not be at WEEC, I'll not be going to this either.  Anyway, I've never considered myself an expert on such things – just too sceptical of the idea of competence / competency, I think.

Meanwhile, on this Canadian theme, a feature in the Economist caught my eye about how a liberal country with impeccable toleration policies struggles to cope with polygamy.  The story was about a Jack Morman with a lot of wives and over a hundred children.  It's not the man – women – children that Canada struggles to cope with, but the fact that the women are wives (though they may not so, fully legally).  This is how the article ends:

"Still, there is virtually no tolerance for multiple marriages within the boundaries of a single democratic state across the Western world.  It remains axiomatic that a person who enters a marriage ceremony while still legally wedded to somebody else is a bigamist. That rule invalidates the second marriage and renders the bigamist liable to prosecution.

Yet even that simple-sounding principle is not easy to apply.  What if the “ceremony “ is some new-fangled rite which has been dreamed up by a recently constituted community, with no real social or legal standing?  Does that make the situation better or worse than simply living with multiple partners, which is not illegal?  Such questions will remain hotly contested through this trial and beyond.

A hot topic for WEEC, maybe, though probably not for the competencies seminar.


Australia, education and the SDGs

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I mentioned the other day that the Australians had had an SDG summit last year.  Here are some of things the report had to say about education:

Page 5
Universities and the academic sector have a role to play through their teaching, research and organisational leadership roles. Young people, who are often excluded from the discussions, bring unique skills that are essential to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Page 18  Academia

Universities and the academic sector have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs through teaching, research and organisational leadership.

  • Through teaching and knowledge outreach they will equip both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges
  • Through their in-depth knowledge and expertise in every area of the SDGs – as well as capabilities such as research, monitoring, analysis, technology, data – they are well placed to identify what is needed to address the SDGs and contribute to the development of practical solutions
  • Through their organisational leadership, they can set an example to other sectors by supporting the goals in their own operations, governance and community leadership

Addressing the SDGs will require the research sector to put more focus on a partnership approach to research – within and among universities and with other sectors.  Achieving this will require addressing barriers in the current system, such as a narrow definition of academic impact, issues around intellectual property, and the highly competitive funding environment.

Page 19  Youth

Young people are critical to SDG implementation, both because the SDGs are their future and because they bring unique skills that are critical to addressing the challenges of the agenda.

Half the world’s population is under 30, and everyone must be on board to achieve the SDGs.

Young people are creative, energetic, idealistic and optimistic about the future.  They are global citizens and want to make global, challenging and meaningful contributions.  These are unique and essential qualities for tackling the challenges of the SDGs, and can complement the knowledge and expertise of older people.

Many young Australians are doing great work, but they are often shut out of mainstream discussions.  We cannot afford to keep doing this.  We need to engage with young people and give them opportunities to be heard and participate.

The importance of embedding sustainable development and SDGs in education and supporting programs that help students to become global citizens was emphasised several times.


There's much to agree with here, and a few cliches to sigh at.  Some things to note:

  1. Whilst universities might begin the process of equipping "both the current and next generation of leaders, innovators and decision makers with the knowledge and skills to needed to address the SDG challenges", this is only an initial step and graduates do not leave universities as a finished product with nothing more to learn.  It's a pity that this is not acknowledged more widely as it might lead to a more realistic debate abound competencies.
  2. No mention of schools.  Why is this?  They cannot be dismissed as "and the academic sector".
  3. Is it inevitable that a focus on youth has to be vague and clichéd?  Compared to page 18, page 19 says little of substance.  Is this because there is nothing to say?


Don't ask WWF or the Guardian how to grow food

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There was a picture in a recent Guardian of a boy with two potatoes firmly impaled on a garden fork.  The caption is:

"A pupil at Coastlands Community primary school in Pembrokeshire shows there’s a real appetite for growing food.  Schools are leading the way in promoting healthy eating, with 77% of children saying that they learn the most about food at school, according to a 2016 WWF survey of 500 UK parents and their children aged 7-12 years."

Whilst I don't really know what "learn the most about food at school" means – compared to where?  home, presumably.  One thing is clear, this hapless pupil doesn't know enough to avoid sticking his fork through the potato crop and hence reducing its quality and value.  Does The Guardian, I wonder?

Or was this a bright idea from WWF for a photoshoot?  If so, it makes you wonder how little WWF knows about food growing and harvesting.