Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

📥  News and Updates

Off to the launch of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation tonight.

The ambition of its education programme is striking:

Education at the Foundation revolves around sharing our enthusiasm for the bigger picture. It explores in particular the excitement around the circular economy, a rethinking and redesigning of production and consumption using insights from living systems.  Our work is focussed on the 14-19 curriculum, and informal education in the key areas of science, design, business / economics and careers.

I'm pleased to say that I have a bit part in this compelling and evolving drama.

To Sustainability and beyond: inspecting and reporting on progress in sustainable development

📥  Comment

This is the title of a new publication from Ofsted.   The document is commendably brief – and I note that its focus is on sustainability / sustainable development, not ESD, which probably explains some of the lack of emphasis on learning, and the lack of focus on the need to encourage and enable critical understanding.  Ofsted will, no doubt, say that this is implied in : "appropriate knowledge, skills, understanding and values to participate in decisions ... ", but it's only 'there' if you already know it should be.

Then there's "Sustainable development is the name given to the process of developing our society to move from where we are now to a state of sustainability"  as I don't know anyone who seriously believes in "a state of sustainability".  Just as golden ages never existed in the past, they cannot do so in the future.  In the same vein, we have: "Undertaking sustainable development and achieving sustainability".   Here "... and becoming more sustainable" would have been the better idea – or "... less unsustainable".  This conceptual misunderstanding is found throughout the document which is a pity as it may mislead (or confuse) some schools.  This sits oddly when compared to the Ofsted briefing for section 5 inspectors on sustainable development which has a more clearer understanding of  these ideas.

It is also a pity that the report isn't explicit about the opportunity for critical, open-minded / open-ended, student engagement  and learning that ALL the various school foci on sustainable development bring – with the need to integrate what happens across campus / community and curriculum, and the imperative of helping young people make sense of it all.  Again, I'm sure Ofsted will say that it's implied, but ... .   A missed opportunity.

Indicators Updated

📥  Comment

Defra has published a new update on how well we're doing in relation to sustainable development – as far as any indicators can tell us, that is.  The report, Measuring Progress: sustainable development indicators 2010, cover 68 indicators, one of which [ No. 47] is focused on education (actually, educational attainment).  Defra concludes that, compared with 1990 and 2004, things educational are looking up.  However, given that the main indicator is the proportion of 19 year olds with level 2 qualifications (at least 5 GCSE grades A* to C or NVQ level 2 or equivalent), this is hardly worth very much – save that, in a democracy,  it's always better to have an educated population than an ignorant one.  It would probably be worth more, of course, were more young people (and more often) able to engage critically with sustainability issues during their education than is currently the case.

There is another education indicator [No. 48].  This is Sustainable Development Education.   Under this, Defra notes:

It has not been possible to find a simple way of measuring progress on education for sustainable development.

Ongoing research by the UK National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural

Organisation), begun in 2008, indicates that evidence of sustainable development could be inferred from changes in three areas:  Policy – reviewing and re-orienting education policies, Programme and Practice – integration, leadership and building personal and social capacity, Personal and Social – developing understanding and skills.

Research evidence is increasing on what can be gained by improving education for sustainable development for children and

young people.

For each, evidence will continue to be sought by the UK National Commission throughout the UNESCO Decade of Education for

Sustainable Development.

That's it.  Maybe it's time to drop this indicator – or make it meaningful: the proportion of schools that have been awarded 2 green flags, perhaps.  Discuss ...


Dolly's Man says the Milk's ok

📥  Comment

Wednesday's Telegraph carried two short pieces on the cloned beef / milk debate from Lord Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director, and Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep.   Whilst both seem to agree that there are significant animal welfare issues inherent to cloning, they are wide apart on what research says about food safety issues.  Wilmut writes:

"... In order to make their assessment of the safety of food from cloned animals the U.S. regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, completed a detailed analysis of all of the cloned animals born in the USA before the time of their study in 2007.  Detailed independent analyses were made of the composition of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.  These measurements in clones were compared with measurement from genetically very similar animals raised on the same farms. They also took note of all of the relevant information available from other countries.  After extensive analyses, they concluded that they could find no difference between healthy cloned animals and genetically similar animals produced by normal reproduction.  ..."

He concludes:

"... This evidence, combined with our understanding about the basic biology of cloning, would support the conclusion that food from clones or their offspring is safe to eat.  ..."

Melchett, however, writes:

"... For human health, no evidence of danger is not the same as safe.  There’s been no long term safety testing of meat or milk from cloned cattle – if business interests get their way, there never will be.  ..."

This enthusiasm for research is to be welcomed.  But does it mean that the Soil Association will now be supporting (funding, even) independent studies into the safety of food from cloned animals?   I wonder.


Just like some seminars I go to ...

📥  Comment

Browsing the New York Times, as you do, led me to a paperOn the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton" by Erik Verlinde, a string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, in which he argues that gravity is a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics.  Inevitably, this is controversial, with another string theorist noting: "Some people have said it can’t be right, others that it’s right and we already knew it – some that it’s right and profound – and some more that it's right but trivial" which about covers the bases, and reminds me about some of the ideas that I hear talked about.  Commenting on a seminar where the paper was presented, the moderator said: "The end result was that everyone else didn’t understand it, including people who initially thought that it did make some sense to them.'  Just like some of the seminars I go to.


Send in the Clones

📥  Comment

According to the Telegraph, Britain's food safety watchdog has admitted it doesn't know how many cloned embryos have entered Britain after meat produced from cloned cows ended up in food. Tim Smith, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, is reported as saying it is unsure if any other cloned embryos had been imported.

As Sondheim almost noted in his enigmatic lyric from A Little Night Music:
Don't you love farce?
No one's fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clones?
Quick, send in the clones.
Don't bother, they're here.

Time, once more for all UK burger and pie eaters to worry.  None of this would have happened if OFSCOFF had been given responsibility.

Small Beer

📥  Comment

The fifth Sustainable Development Commission Watchdog report finds that "sustainability measures are saving Government £60-70 million every year."            That's about £1 each.

Meanwhile, the accumulated public debt is already over £900 billion, and continuing to rise.         That's about £15,000 each.

So, not much scope for sustainability to get us out of the mess – unless I'm missing something ...


The quality of strawberry jam, if not strained ...

📥  News and Updates

It is not widely known, but the last government launched another new quango before it mis-managed its own re-election.  This was the Office for Strictures and Controll on Food and Fodder  – OFSCOFF.   As befits an era of austerity, Ofscoff's remit is to establish minimum food standards for animals and people, and make sure that these are not exceeded.

It most certainly would have approved of the anaemic red jelly that I came across in Warwickshire last week which was being passed off as strawberry jam, but not, I suspect, of the label of an almost equally sad example in Cumbria whose legend "extra fruity" would surely have promised far too much for an organisation hell bent on limiting expectations.

As I have been given access to some of Ofscoff's pre-launch thinking by a whistle-blower, expect more revelations over the next month.


Not really sustainable after all

📥  Comment

Defra announced yesterday that it is to stop funding the Sustainable Development Commission [SDC] from next April.   The Secretary of State's written notice says:

On sustainability ... we are determined to play the lead role across the whole of government. We will mainstream sustainability, strengthen the government’s performance in this area and put processes in place to join up activity across government much more effectively. I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility to an external body.


"Focusing responsibility for sustainable development policy within Defra will improve accountability, avoid duplication and lead to essential efficiencies."

Put another way: we don't want any more advice from outsider experts, thanks all the same.

Well, fittingly, and as we all know, want and need are two quite different things.

Jury Service in Barcelona

📥  News and Updates

In Barcelona last week sitting on a PhD jury – one of these public defences that are literally and metaphorically foreign to the UK.  The thesis was in Catalan with a presentation to an audience of about 35 in that language, with Spanish and English interludes.  I had read a 50 page English summary of the thesis, and was familiar with the research over a 6 year involvement between Bath and the Catalan university.  When the candidate had finished his 50 minute presentation, and his supervisors had had a say (a novel twist, I thought), we three jurists had ours.  I spoke about the international context of the research and its potential contribution.  The last to speak (in Catalan) was the president of the jury, and I had a translator whispering in my ear.  I thought the learned and venerable professor was making some quite critical points to do with neglected literature, omitted data, and un-nuanced argument, etc, and so I kept asking my interpreter: "Is that a critical point?"   "Yes", she'd always respond, "but not a negative one."   Oh, I thought, and where do you draw that line?

In the end, we graded it "Excellent cum laude", everyone was happy, and cava was splashed about.  Later, I asked another venerable and learned professor, this time someone whom I had known for a while, what was all the critical but not negative stuff from the president of the jury: "Just showing off" they said; "illustrating how clever they are and how little the candidate really knows."   Experience suggests that this a tendency also found here, but in Barcelona, on that occasion at least, it wasn't allowed to get in the way of the outcome.