Recently in Jottings & Thoughts Category

School children What are schools for? If they're intended to give every child a good start in life, how can anyone defend the old-style Secondary Modern Schools? And how can the other side of this equation, Grammar Schools, be justified? These are institutions defined only by the fact that their students 'passed' or 'failed' an examination at age 11; and the children know it.

The Guardian has reported that there are still 170 Secondary Modern Schools in England, as also 164 Selective Grammar Schools remain, the last few institutions from the Tripartite System commonly employed by Education Authorities the UK between 1944 Butler Education Act and the Education Act of 1974. (This Act heralded the arrival of Comprehensive Schools - though effectively only in name if selective state education also continued in any given County.)

Ed Balls MP, the Government's Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, does not like selection by testing at 11+, but has allocated substantial sums of money to help those 'SecMods' in need of extra support.

Selection and struggling students
Balls is right to do this, but it is right as well that the Guardian reminds us that the 14 County Councils which provide wholly selective state secondary education are also those with highest proportions of struggling schools.

Grammar Schools had their place in the post-WWII scenario of bringing forward the talents of children from less privileged backgrounds, at a time when there were few academically well-qualified and professionally trained teachers. The 'Grammars' were a well-intentioned strategy to nurture children deemed bright, and we knew far less then about how to teach and support children across the board to succeed.

Now, a school which does not support all its pupils or students is rightly judged inadequate; it is not the children who have 'failed', but the school. (What can I say about the school only a few miles from where I live, where just 1% of children gain five good GCSEs - the worst 'results' in the country? Despite its beautifully fitted-out new buildings, its results are simply an unbelievable disgrace.)

Failed students, or failed schools?
One of the reasons given for not closing dreadful schools - though that may happen - is that the children might think it's they who have failed, not their school.

But with the 11+, where only a small percentage of children gain Grammar School places, that's exactly what the message is: 'You, personally, have already failed'.

How counter-productive and downright cruel is that?

Success despite rejection
I know people who 'failed' at age 11, but have gone on to achieve considerable success in their careers.

None of them attributes that success to their Secondary Modern School; and most of them still rue the day when, aged just 11, they were pronounced 'failures'.

It hurts and damages for life.


Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning.

Ratatouille Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive - it 'saves' energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it's good for us. So how can we make vegetarianism more often the diet of choice?

Nobody expects an immediate cessation of meat production, let alone a stop right this minute to diary farming. Many people, admittedly not all, will be happy for now to see the continued consumption of vegetarian diets could just be 'meat-free', with all the benefits that would bring.

But one of the things National Vegetarian Week can do is introduce us to the wide and tasty range of foods which a vegetarian diet includes and the reasons for choosing it. And it can help raise awareness of how to prepare and cook vegetarian ingredients.

Long-term business
And, most importantly, perhaps National Vegetarian Week can help along the debate about how in reality the transition to a more sustainable food economy might happen. There have to be ways to protect the livelihoods, for instance, of people who currently produce meat, but who in the future will need to farm differently. Food production is self-evidently critical for us all. It's the nature of the product, not the supply, which must change.

At last we're beginning to act (albeit far too slowly) to the idea that carbon needs to be conserved in our industial, domestic and transport arrangements, as does water.

Canny investors have already realised that now is also the time to get a grasp on how to make meat-free food an integral part of the move towards what we all hope will be a sustainable future.


Read more about Food (a series of postings on this theme)
Food, Facts And Factoids
Beans Or Beef? The New Eco-Moral Choices
Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?.

08.3.25 Two clocks 129x133 017a.jpg U.K. clocks go forward on Sunday morning, 30 March '08, and the lighter evenings which British Summer Time brings will cheer up almost everyone. But there would also be many other anticipated benefits, from road safety to energy conservation and healthier lifestyles, were we to keep 'Daylight Saving' all year. A Downing Street petition has now been set up to urge a continuous BST trial period of three years, with research to establish the extent of these benefits.

'Daylight Saving' is an issue which won't go away. And now there's a Petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to not to let that precious extra hour of afternoon light go away in the Winter either.

Downing Street petition
The Downing Street petition aims to 'make better use of the limited daylight we receive'. It reads as follows:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to consider a change to the current system of British Summer Time / Greenwich Mean Time (BST/GMT). This could consist of a trial period (similar to that adopted 1968 to 1971) and could take the form of a move to year round BST, or a 1 hour shift to GMT+1/GMT+2. Research shows that such a move could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.

You can read more detail of the Petition, and / or sign it, here.

BST Facebook group
There is also a Facebook group, set up like the Downing Street petition by Dave Alexander, which seeks to 'raise support of and debate the possibilities and benefits regarding changes / trials of different time zone options for Britain.....This could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.'

An enduring idea
This is by no means a new proposal, as we have already established very firmly on this website, but the need to get some action becomes greater with each year. If further debate is needed, the BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' section of this weblog remains a forum where everyone from the South coast to scattered Scottish isles is welcome to share their ideas.

Discussion is however no substitute for evidence-based action. Health, energy sustainability and accident prevention are too important to ignore.


This article was also published as a New Start external blog.

Read more: BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' (The Clocks Go Back & Forward)

08.3.16a Cross arms 115x96 001aa.jpgSenior women leaders are often criticised for being less confident than the men, and for feeling unable to delegate. Is this any wonder, when those very men don't play fair? It's time for sexist attitudes in the corridors of power to be challenged head-on - which is exactly what Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, has just been doing.


The truth is, men choose men. It is as simple as that – not a question of lack of ambition, of interest or of aptitude from women.

So, in her article A thick layer of men, says Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, a network of current and former women presidents, prime ministers and ministers aiming 'to promote good governance and enhance democracy globally by increasing the number, effectiveness, and visibility of women who lead at the highest levels in their countries'.

Chaps' clubs
Well, I of course agree. There has to be some explanation of the neglect of women's (much-needed) talents, and the most obvious is that they're not part of the Gang. Until 90 years ago, women in the UK weren't even permitted to vote, let alone to be members of the UK's ultimate chaps' club, Parliament, where many of the really big decisions are made.

We all know that the dynamic of debate and decision-making changes as the gender ratio also changes, both for men and for women.

And of course some men are always fairminded and exemplary in their professional conduct and beliefs; but sadly not as yet in sufficient numbers to secure the fundamental changes essential for genuine gender (or other) equality.

Determined rather than confident?
Maybe this explains claims at the moment that there may now be more women taking leadership roles, but these women are 'less confident' than their male peers, and feel more obliged to 'check the detail' and don't like to delegate.

You can only let the detail go, and feel confident, if you know that what you ask to be done, is indeed being done.

The next step towards gender equality can only be taken by the male half of the workforce. When men (and some other women) are as amenable to women as to men issuing the orders, leaders who happen to be female will feel confident that they don't need to check up on everything.

Challenge the sexism, not the upshot
Until that's fully grasped - and until ungendered collaboration and compliance in the workplace becomes a required part of professional behaviour for everyone - criticism of women's leadership styles is, quite simply, unfair and out of order.

All power, I say, to Margot Wallström's elbow, as she puts the ball back firmly in the chaps' court.

Dusk streets 137x113 4312a.jpg Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has told it as it is: many of us, men and especially women, are fearful of being out alone at night. Only really unimaginative or insensitive people - or perhaps some opportunist political opponents - would disagree with Ms Smith. This is not a new state of affairs. We have but to recall past feminist campaigns to 'reclaim the night' to know that.

So Jacqui Smith, the UK's first woman Home Secretary, doesn't enjoy being out alone at night.

This is surely not a new or startling revelation. The Home Secretary's 'admission' - to me, a simple statement of a truth recognised by many - feels far more like reality than much of what we read in the papers.

Reclaim ('retake') the night
The idea that there is something to fear, out alone at night, is instilled in many girls (and some boys) from a very early age. In 1976 a movement began to recognise and act on this fear, by 'reclaiming the night' from the men who were deemed to make it dangerous.

Women across Europe and the USA marched thirty years ago to demonstrate their belief that streets should be safe 24/7; but only more recently has this action begun again.

Telling it as it is
It feels very disingenuous that male politicians should denounce a woman in their midst who speaks candidly on a matter as fundamental as personal safety.

I hope these same men would not encourage their own female friends and family to walk the streets unaccompanied at night.

Making the streets safer
Sometimes people have to travel alone in the dark. To make their journeys safer, it is first necessary to speak the truth, to acknowledge realities, even when unpleasant.

Only after we know and understand problems can we ameliorate them.

Let's start by thanking Jacqui Smith for being candid; and then let's see how we can all, together, conscious femininists or not, reclaim those scary streets.

What's Regeneration For?

| 2 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
City model regen. 131x93 604a.jpg The British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) annual conference is in Liverpool this year, on 30th and 31st January 2008. The conference, bringing together some 300 people, will see brisk debates between professionals and community leaders from across the U.K. One important focus may be the search for consensus on what regeneration is 'about'.

BURA is an organisation moving forward with increasing momentum and confidence in both its own role and the direction and meaning of regeneration in Britain.

What is regeneration?
We, as members of the Board of BURA, are beginning to understand anew, or at least consciously to explore in a new way, what ‘regeneration’ means. The discussion will doubtless continue for a long time yet; but for me some clarity is emerging from many years in the business.

Regeneration is much more than ‘construction’, ‘development’ or even 'capacity building'.

In the end, regeneration is about adding long-term shared value to all these activities.

A win-win
Regeneration’s a real win-win; it’s about creating a more equitable, more sustainable life-context for everyone.

The challenge is, how to do it.

The UK is often said to be at the forefront of regeneration. BURA's annual conference discussions this week should prove interesting.

Science bottles & test tubes The Liverpool city region (Merseyside) looks on available evidence to have only about half the number of scientists which might be expected on the basis of the overall national statistics. So by what indicators might Merseyside measure progress in the retention and development of graduate scientists and technologists?

In 2008 the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University between them will, excluding medical doctors, produce more than 2000 new Science and IT graduates. There will also be nearly 500 post-graduates, including those, a considerable number of whom studied part-time for Master's degrees, in the field of information technology - which is noted as a strength on Merseyside.

Here indeed is potential in every respect. So why do Liverpool and Merseyside stay so near the bottom of the national economic stakes?

Who's economically active?
Just under half the UK population (i.e some 28 million people) is economically active, nearly a tenth of whom (2.67 million, in 2005) have a Science or Engineering HE qualification – which is about two fifths of all graduates; and some 88% of these are currently in employment.

But the Merseyside conurbation has a population of nearly 1.5 million. Of those of working age however, against a national average of 74.5%, about 68% (551,000) are in employment (62%, or 167,000 in Liverpool itself) .

Graduates
Whilst it is very difficult to obtain accurate and up-to-date statistics on exactly how many scientists live and / or work in Merseyside, some approximations are possible. These suggest that numbers are significantly lower than they 'should' be, if the overall numbers of scientists and technologists were distributed evenly across the UK.

Approaching 30% of the UK newly adult population is now qualified to degree level (in any subject), whereas even after considerable recent improvement the figure on Merseyside is around 21% .

The Liverpool city region clearly needs to keep (or, better still for everyone over time, attract, and 'exchange' freely with other places) as many of our current annual output of 2,500 science graduates as possible.

Measuring retention, exchange and employment of graduates
How this can be done is, of course, a matter still under debate. But one sensible place to begin might be to set up a formal method of collating data about who, with a degree in what, stays on, comes to live and work in, or leaves the Liverpool city region. How else are we to measure progress or otherwise in our 21st century economy?

That these figures, for every stage in graduates' careers and lives, are not routinely available on a Liverpool city region basis, is an indicator of how far we have yet to travel in the knowledge economy stakes.


Useful statistics and references
BERR SET (Science, Engineering & Technology) Indicators 2005
City of Liverpool Key Statistics Bulletin August 2006
Office of National Statistics 2006
Knowledge Exchange Merseyside Graduate Labour Market Report
Merseyside Economic Review 2007

You are particularly invited to offer Comment below if you can tell us more about these statistics, in respect of Liverpool, Merseyside and / or the Manchester-Liverpool conurbation. Thank you.

Read more about Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
and The Future Of Liverpool.

Women's No Pay Day

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Women & shopping trolleys 3916a (89x111).jpg Today (30 October) is UNISON and the Fawcett Society's 'Women's No Pay Day' - i.e. the date in the U.K. year when, compared with men's average wage for a given job, women doing it cease to be paid. But there are many people, men and women alike, who are determined that things will change, and change much more quickly than to date.

This is what the Fawcett Society has to say about women's pay in the UK:

Facts on the inequality gaps
There has been a revolution in some aspects of women’s lives over the past 30 years.

And yet, social and economic justice remains a distant dream for women in the UK, which is why Fawcett's work is needed as much as ever.

Women working full-time are paid on average 17% less an hour than men (or 38% less if they work part-time)

Women make up less than 20% of MPs and ethnic minority women make up just 0.3% of MPs.

96% of executive directors of the UK's top 100 companies are men.

Sign the petition to Gordon Brown
As Fawcett says, it only takes a few seconds to support the Women's No Pay Day campaign. By signing a petition on the Number 10 website everyone who values equality can ask the Prime Minister to take stronger action on the pay gap .

Click here to sign the Equal Pay Petition to Gordon Brown, asking the Prime Minister to 'admit that current pay laws are not working and bring in stronger measures'.

Dusk at Aigburth Vale 07.10.27 116b 95x125.jpg 'Incremental' is the mode of choice when we talk about the massive changes required for the sustainability of ourselves and our planet. People find it hard to make large or sudden changes, so we try to do them bit by bit. Seen like this, the benefits of daylight 'saving', keeping lighter evenings, become increasingly compelling.

The big health news of the past week or two has been obesity... how it's becoming an epidemic and how difficult it will be to reverse the demands which people being overweight put on the health services and on the exchequer.

Then we are told that we must conserve energy in every way possible. Carbon expenditure must, urgently, be reduced, climate change is happening even more quickly than we had thought.

Looking for solutions
In these contexts it is surprising that the sensible advice about behaviour adaption - go gently, to take people with you - has not yet been applied to the benefits of 'daylight saving'.

We know that lighter evenings offer more encouragement for people to take exercise; we know that the extra light also reduces fuel demands. (Jim Fiore estimated recently that in the US context 'only' 0.25% savings would be achieved - but that's a massive amount of oil which could be conserved with no effort by anyone.)

Joined up thinking
The clocks go back on Sunday, tomorrow, 28 October, at 2 a.m. From then on until next March (British Summer Times begins on 30 March, with the new US Daylight Saving Time starting on 9 March) we shall have afternoon murk.

Scottish farmers may be happy with these murky afternoons, and they are of course welcome to any arrangement the Scottish Parliament wants to make. For the rest of us, a bit of (evening) light needs to be shed on the subject of incremental health and energy improvements.


The full debate about BST is in the section of this website entitled
BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' (The Clocks Go Back & Forward).....


See also:
Making The Most Of Daylight Saving: Research On British Summer Time
Save Our Daylight: Victor Keegan's Pledge Petition
The Clocks Go Forward...And Back... And Forward...
British Summer Time Draws To A Close
Time Is Energy (And 'Clocks Forward' Daylight Uses Less)
The Clocks Go Forward ... But Why, Back Again?

Join the discussion of this article which follows the book E-store...

The New Harvest Festival

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Seasonal vegetables harvest festival pumpkins 2520 (88x103).jpg This is the time of year when churches urban and rural across the nation urge us to attend their services for Harvest Festival. For many of us however this annual celebration is now marked more secularly, observed at one remove, via our newspapers, rather than physically in our communities. Media celebration of seasonal food is the order of the day.

The Guardian, like other similar publications, is hot on seasonal food. A story in that newspaper today gives a flavour of that theme: 'Green' shopping possible on a budget, watchdog says.

What then follows is that irresistible combination of knocking the supermarkets (fair enough if they're not up to scratch), going rustic with references to in-season fruit and veg. (why not, it really is good for you), and angst about affordability and carbon footprint (fair enough again).

Contemporary perspectives
So here is the contemporary version of We plough the fields and scatter...

Way back over the centuries people have known about crop rotation and storage and the seasons, and have celebrated all this with Harvest Festivals of one sort or another. Now we know about food miles, sustainability and ethical buying.

Appreciating our sustenance
This is the better informed (or at least more techno) version of the wisdom of the ages, translated for those of us who hope for the future but have no bedrock of faith on which to base an annual thanksgiving.

Perhaps it doesn't matter how we demarcate the changing seasons and the beneficence they offer. What does matter is that at least we notice.

Recent Entries

Presidential Schema For The Post-Science Century
Chris Mooney, in his recent Seed Magazine blog piece entitled Dr President, examines the options for American science and…
This Website Is Two Years Old Today
It's been a great trip so far. It's a real challenge - to which you can say, better than I,…
What Makes A Good Regeneration Worker?
Here are some suggested stereotypical characteristics of the ideal regeneration or urban / rural planning worker: Ø Willing to listen…