Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

The shocking state of nature

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It is being said that the UK has one of the worst records for protecting native wildlife, and intensive farming is largely to blame.  56% of the 8,000 species assessed have declined in the past four decades with almost 1,200 species at risk of extinction, the 2016 State of Nature report says.  This has been disputed by farmers' organisations who've accused the 53 wildlife groups that compiled the report of exaggerating the impact of agriculture and understating the effect of other factors such as urbanisation and failure to control predators.

Sir David Attenborough, who launched the report at the Royal Society said:

“Escalating pressures, such as climate change and modern land management, mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and wellbeing of those who live in the UK.”

The report says that the UK comes 189th out of 218 countries according to the abundance of “originally present species”.  All other large European countries have performed better than Britain.  Some depressingly eye-catching stats include:

  •  53% of species declining between 2002 and 2013
  • the number of hedgehogs halving in rural areas since 2000 and down by a third in urban areas
  • water voles declining by 90% since the 1970s
  • wildflower meadows declining in area by 97% since 1945

The report says that various factors have contributed but notes that changes in agricultural practices have had the biggest impact. Specifically, it blames increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, habitat destruction, the loss of mixed farms, and changes to sowing patterns.

The report has an eye on Brexit, of course, and the battle over land use policy and subsidy.  Farming interests have a similar perspective, and there is a lot at stake.


Six days with Mrs M

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I spend 6 days with Mrs M last week; well not with her exactly, but being in Germany amounts to much the same thing, the degree of social conformity you're faced with.  The sight of grown men (and women) standing at a road crossing waiting for the red pedestrian light to turn green, even though there's not a vehicle in sight on a straight road, is chilling.  They stand there, of course, not just to obey the rules, but because they are concerned to be seen to obey the rules.  Then, of course, there's the fear of being shouted at, or worse being given on-the-spot fines for social deviance by the conformity wardens that roam the streets to keep order amongst pedestrians, dogs, children, cars, and litter.  All this is said to be good citizenship, but that seems unlikely to someone who lives in England.  No wonder Mrs M is called Mutti; what will they do without her, you wonder.

Cynics say that the reason the pedestrian lights take so long to change is because they are in tune with Mrs M's her style of politics,i.e., endlessly deliberating before reaching a solution to which she claims there is no alternative.  We stood waiting with the Germans, of course.  Partly this was in solidarity (a favourite theme here), but also it was in fear of being dragged in chains to Berlin to Mrs M's Social Conformity Star Chamber.  As we waited, we were exposed to the countries high NOx levels from all the passing diesel BMWs, Mercs, Audis and VWs.  If we'd not known what a problem German cities have with air pollution before we went, we would now.

We ate some expensive but rather good asparagus – the white sort.  The Germans are crazy over this vegetable and the shops cash in.  We went to a farm shop where we had the choice of Class I, Class II, Class II and unclassified asparagus all picked from the fields.  All very formal; I was surprised there was no asparagus with a PhD.  Not a patch on Evesham grass, of course.

There are regional (länder) elections coming up and the streets are full of posters with the smiling (sort of) faces of the would be elected.  There are also posters with simplistic slogans such as: "More police; less criminality".  My favourite was: "More teachers; better education".  Actually, it was "better Bildung", but "education" will have to do as an approximation.  It's the sort of crude equation that the NUT could have come up with in the UK, but in Germany, it was the Conservatives (Mrs M's happy CDU family) that were saying this.  It can be a very odd place.

We went to the Netherlands to meet old friends – by efficient trains (which contrary to urban myth, do run late quite often; ours began late, but Mrs M sorted it out in time to make our connection).  She was a busy woman that morning as the two policemen on the train had to call her to check the paperwork of three young (but non-German) lads on the train.  They were turfed off (politely but firmly) before they got to the Dutch border as they didn't have the necessary permissions to leave the country.  There are limits to free movement, it seems.

The Dutch hotel we had lunch in had AD Mirrors in the toilets.  Have you seen these?  You stand there in all innocence combing your hair or adjusting your make-up (I do neither of these, of course) and suddenly, up pops an advert from within the mirror because a movement sensor has detected you.  If you shift position, to avoid the image, it pops up again in front of you.  It's said that advertising policy wonks swoon (or worse) about these oh-so-perfect things.  If I ever go back, I'll be carrying a can of spray foam.


I should end on a happy note – the bread.  Whatever you say about the Germans (and as Michael Flanders noted 50 years ago, who doesn't?), they know how to make bread.  Just as we can now teach them about beer (and we do), they have a lot to teach us about the stuff of life.

Despite all these Liberal complaints, we shall be back as it's an endlessly fascinating and friendly place, and we have off-spring there.


Needed: a sensible curriculum framing

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In 1980, in A View of the Curriculum; HMI Series: Matters for Discussion No. 11, HMI said this:

The curriculum, whether for a school as a whole or for individual pupils, has to be presented as more than a series of subjects and lessons in the timetable.  When schools come to plan their detailed programme of work, they need to be able to measure the adequacy of those programmes by reference to more specific objectives, some checklist of important knowledge or skills to be acquired, or of essential areas of understanding and experience to which all pupils need access, within their capacities. Both the HMI primary survey [1] and the curriculum 11 to 16 working papers [2] used this last approach to curriculum analysis, though with somewhat different formulations. That used in the primary survey was as follows:

  • language and literacy
  • mathematics
  • science
  • aesthetics, including physical education
  • social abilities, including religious education.

Such categories are useful also as indicators of the range of work to be done, over a week or within a term, though obviously they need careful interpretation to suit the ages and abilities of the children. Curriculum 11 - 16, the appendices of which contain detailed checklists relating to a wide range of subjects, categorised the experience and understanding to be sought through the curriculum as:

  • aesthetic and creative
  • ethical
  • linguistic
  • mathematical
  • scientific
  • physical
  • social and political
  • spiritual

It will be clear, therefore that the content that I set out on March 15th [A broad but unbalanced curriculum] was not as random as it might have at first appeared.



[1] Primary education in England: A survey by HM Inspectors of Schools. HMSO, 1978

[2] Curriculum 11 - 16 Working papers by HM Inspectorate. DES, 1977.


The missing EAUC Fellows

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC has launched a Fellows programme; you can find a full list of Fellows here.

It is always difficult to draw up such lists and, individually, we may well be surprised about (to us) obvious omissions and/or odd choices.  Personally, I think it a pity that NUS as an organisation wasn't made a Fellow given the significance of its work to the sector over many years.

A more significant point, perhaps, may be the difference between the ethnic mix of the UK and the list of Fellows.  Is it really the case that only people from certain ethic backgrounds are active in sustainability?

Thought not, ...



Curriculum for What?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In the 1980s, it was commonplace for English governments to copy, rather uncritically, educational initiatives from the USA.  It was, I suppose, an example of post-cultural cringe.  Those days are long gone.

There is nothing necessary problematic about looking around to see what works, but the mistake that governments through the 80s made was to do all this too quickly; they tended to “borrow” (the verb they used) before evaluations had had the chance to illuminate faultlines and other structural problems. In many cases, we adopted an initiative just as the USA was abandoning it, having realised it was no good.

I was reminded of all this by a piece in last week’s Economist: Down in the valleys {*}.  This is an article about how the sorry state of Welsh schooling may well be about to get worse, even though that’s hard to imagine.  In an attempt boost its dismal PISA scores (I may have mentioned this a few times), and to catch up with English standards, the Welsh government, commendably, is trying (again) to fix this problem.  However, it seems to be basing its reforms on Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ just at the point where the wheels are falling off that wagon {**}.  The Welsh aim to free teachers to teach how they like, but, as the Economist notes, doing this “without first having raised standards is a risky approach”.

I’ll give the last word to the Welsh Inspectorate:

“… teaching is one of the weakest aspects of [educational] provision”.


{**} The purpose of Curriculum for Excellence was to foster four capacities in young people — to be: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.  However data from the Scottish government late last year show that ~30% of pupils leave primary school without reaching the recommended levels of excellence in reading, writing, listening and talking.

{*} In 2012, The Economist had a report on the same subject.  Comparing the two articles does not give a sense of progress made.


DfE replies

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I noted back in early March, I wrote to Ofsted asking about the speech made by the new Chief Inspector (to the ASCL conference).  At the same time, I also wrote to the DfE asking, in particular, about this part of her speech:

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

I said that, given that Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act says 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 was puzzled as to why the Chief Inspector talked about rich and deep, but not balanced.  My specific questions for DfE were:

[1] What do "rich" and "deep" mean in curriculum terms?
[2] Has the idea of balance in the curriculum been dropped despite what the 2002 Act says?

Here is their response:

Dear Mr Scott

Thank you for your email of 14 March about the Chief Inspector of Ofsted’s recent speech and interview.  I can assure you that it is still a requirement for all schools to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, as stated in your email. This applies to academies and free schools, as well as maintained schools.

As you may be aware, Ofsted are an independent, non-ministerial body and I am unable to comment on specific words used by the Chief Inspector in her speech or interview. You may wish to contact Ofsted directly if you have concerns about this matter. 

Once again, thank you for writing.

Yours sincerely

J Radford [Ministerial and Public Communications Division]


A predictable straight bat to my arm ball.  They must be as puzzled about "deep" and "rich" as I am.  I've not yet heard from Ousted.  I wonder if DfE has.


News from the UN's DONUT office

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Economist article, Friction lovers, was, in part, about the UN's DONUT [ Don't NUdge; Tell ] office that is promoting what is known (by some) as facile externality. It was also about that well-known socio-technical phenomenon, the IKEA Effect, and contained a lot of detail about recent technological innovation, particularly with regard to pizza.

The challenge for you is to note when you begin to suspect that the article was published on April 1st.

UNESCO announces trans-ESD initiative

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UNESCO, in an attempt to stay relevant in the fast-changing, fluid world of gender politics within the UN family, has announced a new educational initiative: trans-ESD, which is to sit alongside the more usual ESD which is to be termed cis-ESD.

From now on the ESD team, which will henceforth be termed, TEAM ESD, will have two divisions cis-ESD and trans-ESD, each with the same rights, privileges and responsibilities (but separate toilets).  They will work quasi-independently, coming together in carefully chaperoned sessions under the guidance of specially trained and vetted counsellors.

A UNESCO spokesperson, Mx Fatima Cholmondeley-BloodAxe, said:

"UNESCO is striving to become an institution where people can live open gender-neutral lives.  As such, it signs up to what the LGBTQIAGNC community stands for; that is to a world which is, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual and gender-non-conforming.  Our approach to ESD from now on exemplifies these values."

When asked whether LGBTQIAGNC wasn't a rather difficult acronym for public use, Mx Cholmondeley-BloodAxe said that UNESCO had considered using the rather briefer term 'GLOW’ (gay, lesbian or whatever), but had decided that this did not do full justice to the nuanced complexity of the ideas embodied (in every sense) within LGBTQIAGNC.  They added that UNESCO had also considered using LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA as an alternative, but that it agreed with others when they described this as "silly", and rather devaluing of the serious issues around sexuality and gender.  Cholmondeley-BloodAxe said that UNESCO was not fearful of being caught between sex and gender, and claimed that this development would rapidly result in minorities being drawn into the trans-cis-ESD fold.



This cis-trans distinction is not just a feature of modern gender fluidity (and organic chemistry), but has a much older use in English dating from the Reformation when, as Dot Wordsworth has noted, Henry Stafford was described by Thomas Fuller as a cis-reformation-man, rather than a trans-reformation one.


New ESD Case Studies from UNESCO UK

📥  Comment, New Publications

The UK's National Commission for UNESCO has published a series of case studies on ESD:  Good practice in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the UK: Case Studies.

The Introduction says:

"Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is described by UNESCO as enabling us to address present and future global challenges and create more sustainable and resilient societies by changing the way we think and act.  This requires quality education and learning for sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts.  This report provides a series of case studies from across the UK that illustrates how ESD has been used to influence the people and communities involved.  The studies are drawn from formal education, community engagement and the private sector.  Each case study provides a brief description of the activity and, where possible, draws lessons and identifies opportunities for scaling up the approach to a regional or national level."


"This policy brief seeks to showcase good practice in ESD from across the UK.  The case studies are offered as examples to the UNESCO Secretariat, other Member States and ESD practitioners of approaches to ESD which can be applied in different educational and social contexts."

The Cases focus on:

  1. Engaging schools in sustainability: Eco-Schools, England
  2. Learning for sustainability and teacher training: The General Teaching Council for Scotland’s professional standards
  3. Students as change agents: National Union of Students UK
  4. Institutional change programmes in higher education: the UK’s Green Academy change programme
  5. International education through distance learning: the post-graduate Education for Sustainability programme at London South Bank University
  6. [i] Disadvantage and ESD: Down to Earth Project in Wales; [ii] St James’s Community Forum, Belfast
  7. Education business partnership and professional practice: Bulmer Foundation and Heineken
  8. Aligning Welsh business and sustainability: Cynnal Cymru- Sustain Wales

I should declare an interest in that I wrote the first draft of Case 3, although I don't really see it as ESD.

You will find it all here.  When you read it, you might wonder whether it's long enough.  That is: are these the only examples that could be found?  Or might more have been made of the contexts that are explored?  Or could each have been just a bit more analytical.  Then you might wonder if they are really about ESD, as opposed to education more generally.

My own view is that publications like this, no matter how useful, are no substitute for the form and structure of the two in-depth studies that UNESCO UK published in the years before the 2010 election, or even for the Policy Brief written in 2013.  Again, I've an interest to declare in all these).  That said, it's good to see something published on education by UNESCO in the UK.


More on UNESCO competencies

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about UNESCOs latest and rather surreal publication on learning outcomes.

The whole thing is couched in the language of competencies, as is rather too-Germanic for my taste (that is not a political judgement).  This seems a key passage:

There is general agreement that sustainability citizens need to have certain key competencies that allow them to engage constructively and responsibly with today’s world.  Competencies describe the specific attributes individuals need for action and self-organization in various complex contexts and situations. They include cognitive, affective, volitional and motivational elements; hence they are an interplay of knowledge, capacities and skills, motives and affective dispositions. Competencies cannot be taught, but have to be developed by the learners themselves. They are acquired during action, on the basis of experience and reflection (UNESCO, 2015; Weinert, 2001).  Key competencies represent cross-cutting competencies that are necessary for all learners of all ages worldwide (developed at different age-appropriate levels).  Key competencies can be understood as transversal, multifunctional and context-independent. They do not replace specific competencies necessary for successful action in certain situations and contexts, but they encompass these and are more broadly focused (Rychen, 2003; Weinert, 2001).  The following key competencies are generally seen as crucial to advance sustainable development (see de Haan, 2010; Rieckmann, 2012; Wiek et al., 2011).

  • Systems thinking competency
  • Anticipatory competency
  • Normative competency
  • Strategic competency
  • Collaboration competency
  • Critical thinking competency
  • Self-awareness competency
  • Integrated problem-solving competency

Whilst I wonder what happened to bildungs kompetence which seemed all the rage a few years ago, this exhausting list also misses out what, for me, has to be the most important  competency: Competency competency, without which you cannot be competent at handling competency – if you see what I mean.