Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Welcome to another Dr Scott

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For an academic parent there surely cannot be a grander occasion than to see one of your children be awarded his PhD.  To the University of Liverpool, then, and the somewhat faded ART Deco splendour of the Philharmonic Hall.  It was a wonderful day that could not be marred even by the Vice Chancellor's woeful speech.  My son's thesis has the best opening line I have ever read, and his research must be at least ten times better than my own modest efforts almost 40 years ago, so who says standards are falling everywhere?

A Council of Despair

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I am reading a paper from the 3046th (sic) Council of Europe meeting on Education, Youth, Culture and Sport which sets out the Council's yawningly predictable "conclusions" on ESD.   The report "highlights the key role of education as a prerequisite for promoting the behavioural changes and providing all citizens with the key competences needed to achieve sustainable development".   See what I mean?  This mechanistic stuff makes it clear why so many can earn a good living vilifying ESD.  Of course, it says all the right and very worthy things, doing so in that woeful EuroLingo beloved of Insiders across the Continent: it starts by having regard to A, pauses to recognise B, then remembers to emphasise C, pauses again to consider D, and finally gets round to inviting E.

However, it never really makes up it's mind whether it is promoting ESD as yet another adjectival education bent on having an inevitably marginal influence (a sort of Trojan mouse), or whether it's arguing for a fundamental change to education itself.  Either way, in failing to remember to promote 'Climate Change Education', it has missed the latest zeitgeist.  Hard to see why they bothered.


What's Allowed to Count as Citizenship Education?

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The DfE's School Research News reports today on two school citizenship reports.  The first is  Citizenship Education in England 2001-2010: young people’s practices and prospects for the future: the eighth and final report from the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study. The other is  Young People’s Civic Attitudes and Practices: England’s outcomes from the IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study. Both emanate from the NFER.

What strikes me (on a first skim) about both reports is how limited what is to allowed to count as citizenship seems to be.   Take these quotes:
Signing petitions and electing student/ school council members were the most common forms of political participation.
Fund-raising for charities and good causes were the most commonly-reported activity, although, as they got older, there was also a notable increase in the proportions that helped in their local community.
Intentions to vote became stronger as the cohort became older.
[Citizenship Education ... ]
And these:
Pupils in England had comparatively greater knowledge of topics such as civic participation, civic identity and civic society than of civic principles such as freedom, equity and social cohesion
Alongside pupils in other countries, pupils in England had a low level of interest in social and political issues.

Like other pupils across the globe, pupils in England were much more likely to participate within their schools than they were to take part in community activities.

[... Civic Attitudes ...]

Umm.  Lots of scope for development ...


Blog to Blog

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My esteemed New Zealand colleague Bronwen Harward has sent me a recent blog about the London student protests on 9th December.  She posed a few questions about how we view young people in the UK today.  Here's my response:

We don't listen to young people much – "seen and not heard" dies slowly despite all the pedagogy.  I wonder what the schools (of all those protesting 14 year olds) are doing about these issues.  My guess is not a lot, if anything, as it is clearly current affairs and falls between the history and citizenship stools.  Anyway, it's "political", isn't it.  They'll probably be helping the police, of course, if the Oxfordshire incident ( reported in the Guardian: ) is typical.  I think it's all really rather pretend-French, and I'm caught between deploring (all the violence) and admiring (the motivation to protest). Mind you, I think that their message is very confused, and I suspect off-putting to other voters.  But so is the government's (though not so off-putting, perhaps).  At heart, this is about how do we, as a society, fund our universities so that the best of them remain / become world-class (international league tables / overseas income / nobel prizes / rich and generous alumni).  No one seems to question that (universal) goal, even though it only really can be an aspiration for 20 (?) institutions.  The rest is about how to divide up the cost. If I were young I'd maybe see it as the baby boomers at it again, scrabbling to haul up the ladders of social mobility before it costs them too much and blights their retirement.  I suspect that the top universities are quietly confident that it will make little difference to applications – what else is there for the brightest young people to do?  They cannot all go to Harvard or Sciences Po.


Tomorrow Today – more like Yesteryear

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I have been browsing Unesco's latest coffee table book: Tomorrow Today.  This is a heafty tome for which only strong (and rich) coffee tables need apply.  It sells for a cool $125.  However, with one or two exceptions, I thought it rather deja vu – more Yesterday Today than Today Tomorrow.


Big Society 0 – Big Brother 1

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Yesterday's Guardian carried a story about a 12 year old schoolboy in the Prime Minister's constituency who has been campaigning against the closure of youth facilities in his town.   The Guardian reports that, on Thursday, he had his collar felt (or heavily breathed on, at least) when an officer from the Thames Valley police visited his school to have a chat.  His offence (actually only the vaguest possibility of an offence at this stage) was to use Face Book to call for a picket of the PM's constituency offices to bring the issue of poor youth facilities to a wider audience.  The school allowed the police to talk to (that is, interview) him on school premises without informing (that is, asking) his parents.  Unsurprisingly, the boy said he found the experience scary.  If you read the Guardian piece you'll see why.

Worth a dozen citizenship lessons, I suppose; but I wonder what he learned.


The World's Worst Questionnaire

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I confess that I have had to change my mind about this dubious accolade  which had previously been awarded to Unesco for plumbing new depths of impenetrability.  This was before I saw the latest effort from UNECE in its efforts to persuade governments to report on their  "implementation of the UNECE strategy for education for sustainable development".  So, see ReportingFormat e if you are feeling particularly resilient today.  If your eyes (and brain) don't glaze over within 30 seconds, you're stronger than I am.  How this egregious nonsense was allowed out of UNECE beggars belief.


Sustainability, Learning and Capability: Exploring Questions of Balance

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Steve Gough and I have a new paper published today in Sustainability.  Here's the Abstract – in case you're tempted to read it ...

It is argued that sustainable development makes best sense as a social learning process that brings tangible and useful outcomes in terms of understanding and skills, and also reinforces the motivation and capability for further learning. Thus, there are always balances to be struck between a broad-based, wide-ranging education and a more specialist one; between a focus on ideas themselves, and on their application in social or economic contexts; and between keeping ideas separate, and integrating them. This paper will explore the nature of such balances, and the issues to bear in mind when striking them, focusing on schools, university and college contexts within the United Kingdom.

I have been impressed by the efficiency of the editorial process, and the usefulness of the reviewers' comments.  Must write here again!


The Leaving of Bradford

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Three days and eight 10+1 lectures later I, and hundreds of others, wait for a train driver.  The aim here is not so much cradle to cradle, as Bradford to Bristol.

In the last days I have come to question my overly casual (if not wanton) use of 'sustainable', and 'sustainable development', and have resolved to spend even more time than I do now explaining what I mean.  I shall also be attempting to stress that doing less harm is not the same as doing some good, and that the latter, in the sense of adding ecological and social value, and making human systems more healthy and resilient, are necessary focuses for schools, colleges and universities.  This is  clearly what comes of spending too much time with Ken Webster, but it does fit well with what I've been talking about lately in relation to thinking about the stages that a school might go through as it develops towards making positive contributions.


Three Days in Bradford …

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At the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's 10+1 conference focusing on Cradle to Cradle ideas.

Quite a trek to get here on a rail system coping pretty well with snow and ice. And a shock to be back in the north of England where people talk to you in hotel lifts before breakfast!  The Deputy Vice Chancellor said 'Cradle to Grave' Twice in his introduction; he would seem to have more to learn than most of us here.