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July 2009 Archives

July 7, 2009

Rotarians walk the West Highland Way

Last Sunday was the day of our Rotary Club's sponsored walk of the West Highland Way. President Alan Skilling had organised it to raise funds for the Craighalbert Centre in Cumbernauld which does conductive education with children with profound conditions such as cerebral palsy. It looks like we'll have raised over £2000, but I'll update this with the final figure once we know. The date was fixed long ago, independently of men's finals day at Wimbledon. However, by leaving Landrick very early, our team completed the driving/car-dropping, hiking 12 miles from Tyndrum to Inverarnan and retrieving the car from Tyndrum, and still got home in time to watch most of that wonderful match. My heart really warmed to Andy Roddick in his protracted and gutsy challenge to Federer. His post-match comments were a model of generosity and restraint, and I do hope his turn comes soon.

Anyway, our team comprised three people and two dogs: neighbours Malcolm and Calum Johnson with their dog Laochan, plus me and Bramble. Here they are, in the woods west of Crianlarich, with Bramble waiting for me to catch up:


Here's the view from our early lunch stop, with Ben More, Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain in the distance:


And once Laochan discovered the River Falloch, even Bramble (a non-swimming labrador) was tempted to join in:


Walking from north to south, against the flow, means you meet more people. One group of hikers included a woman from Ontario who recognised me from the long profile in Scots magazine that by chance she'd read the night before. Her companion promptly asked me to autograph her copy of my guidebook. I was thrilled to see it was open at the page, and slightly dog-eared from heavy use. They seemed pleased with this chance encounter, but it was their reaction that made my day!

July 9, 2009

New school curriculum "complete nonsense"

My husband is all over the Times, today, under the misleading headline above. He is quoted extensively by Lindsay McIntosh on the front page, with a photo and more on p13, where there's also a commentary by Magnus Linklater. Keir was part of the team which wrote the original document nearly 5 years ago, and what he was criticising was its lamentable implementation, not the vision.

And what he called "pretentious" (not "complete") nonsense was the official definition of literacy (but "pretentious" wouldn't have fitted the broadsheet headline). Officially,

Literacy is the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language, and the range of texts which society values and finds useful.

Keir's "pretentious nonsense" comment referred to the above mumbo-jumbo, of which he said:

No it's not. It's about how to read and write.

The Times goes on to predict "His comments will not be welcomed by Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary." Keir's combination of incisive thinking and plain speaking has never endeared him to the Scottish educational establishment. So what?

The online version of the Times piece had already attracted comment by this morning.
"Mr Bloomer's definition of the word literacy is correct" says Des, from Edinburgh. "Well done Keir Bloomer. It's time someone from the education establishment came out and said what classroom teachers have been saying for long enough: CfE is a worthy cause but the implementation has been done without any real engagement with the "chalk face" . The result is educational mince!" says Peter, also from Edinburgh. Hooray for sanity and plain English.

July 10, 2009

The Scotsman takes up the theme

The pebble thrown in the pond was the front page of yesterday's Times, featuring Keir's attack on the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. The ripples started to spread later in the day. First the BBC were in touch, looking for an extended radio interview with him, then the Scotsman asked him for a short article.

Today's paper has Fiona Macleod's news story which develops the theme of "pressure growing on the Scottish Government after a leading education figure joined mounting criticism" and trails Keir's article. She quotes various politicians' comments, including both Labour (Rhona Brankin), who described the literacy section as "complete gobbledegook", and Conservative (Liz Smith) who confirmed "the entire structure behind implementing the curriculum is in disarray".

A government spokesman (anonymous) said something complacent about "Scotland already performed well on the world education stage" and something insincere: "Keir Bloomer is an important educational thinker, and we will always listen with interest to his views". Aye, right!

Keir's article is inside the Scotsman. Educational innovation is notorious for its failure to translate rhetoric into reality, and CfE has been subverted, emasculated and buried under thousands of tonnes of paper. Yet many of the Experiences and Outcomes aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

The slogans "successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens" are on every classroom wall. But

Ask a dozen teachers (or a dozen directors of education for that matter) to define the new curriculum in two clear sentences and you will get a dozen different answers.

July 15, 2009

Sandy goes solo

I just got a phone call from Sandy. Today, unexpectedly soon, he flew solo at East of Scotland Microlights and I'm feeling very proud of him. Like riding a motor bike, you are allowed to go solo before you pass your test, but (unlike a motor bike) you don't go solo until your instructor has decided you are competent enough not to pose a danger to other air traffic or yourself. So until today, he had never experienced the very different handling of the microlight flying "light" (carrying only one adult).

In only about 15 flying hours, he's made remarkable progress. Although he's always been a good learner when motivated, his educational career has been unorthodox, to put it uber-mildly. I saw him fly in February, but that was with his instructor on board. Apparently Gordon now supervises him from the ground, though I don't like to think too hard about how that would work in a real emergency. Here is a shot of him landing, taken just after I'd had my own flying experience in February (he had given me an Experience Ecosse voucher as a birthday present). I'll have to go back there soon, to snap him flying solo:


PS: update from 16 July: courtesy of Jill Douglas, here is the contemporary shot of the cat that got the cream:


July 18, 2009

The ripples begin to spread

Following the rather negative piece on the front of the Times (9 July), it was interesting that yesterday's Times Educational Supplement took up Keir's views on implementing A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE). The TESS of 17 July front-paged Keir's 7-point plan for rescuing the policy and making it happen. The anonymous Government spokesperson is quoted again, including the allegation that "[Keir Bloomer's] comments do not reflect the unparalleled involvement of the teaching profession in the development and implementation of ACfE". This involvement is at best a myth, and arguably a lie.

Neil Munro's editorial highlights how the "big picture" thinking has been lost in the minutiae of "experiences and outcomes". The point has been lost, he says, on the average teacher, let alone on the person whom is described quaintly by Munro as the "passenger on the Clarkston omnibus" (presumably the tartan equivalent of the famous "man on the Clapham omnibus" first mentioned by Greer LJ in Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club (1933) but possibly derived from long ago when Walter Bagehot characterised public opinion as that of the "bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus". (In Australia, it's been transmuted to the "Man on the Bondi Tram".)

Anyway, in the same TESS "a concerned parent" describes ACfE as "A curriculum for ignorance" and alleges that his/her child "is not "earning how to learn: my child is simply not learning". And a retired teacher complains about "unproven ideology ... driven forward by an unelected quangocracy". In another article, Lindsay Paterson scotches the myth that Scottish education is better than the rest of the UK: competition and diversity are compatible with high standards and Scotland can learn from English successes. Given how hard it is normally to stir up educational debate in July, Keir has done really well in the past week.

Last Wednesday, Keir recorded a 10-minute interview with Shereen Nanjiani (Radio Scotland 0900 on Sundays) so it may be worth tuning in tomorrow to see if it's included. If not, maybe next week? Watch this space!

July 26, 2009

Amy and Catriona on Dumyat

Dumyat has featured in this blog a few times as my favourite local hill. But yesterday marked a watershed: on my way back down, I met grand-daughter Amy, who (with her mother Helen, friend Catriona and Catriona's parents) had climbed nearly the whole mountain by the normal route!

Aware of their plan, but thinking it fairly ambitious for two 3-year-olds, and above all anxious not to risk disrupting or gate-crashing it, I had taken Bramble up the less-trodden route from the north, wondering whether or not I might meet them. I was truly delighted on my way down to meet this cheery group. They weren't far short of the summit and, more important, were clearly having a splendid day.

Here, courtesy of Jim (Catriona's dad) are some pictures celebrating Amy and Catriona's first day on a big hill:





A difficult choice: photogenic cliffs

Last Sunday I saw that Monday had a good weather forecast for the north of England, so I headed south to try again to capture the cliffs near Robin Hood's Bay. My previous visit was blighted by sea fog so thick that I couldn't even see the water, so I never got the camera out.

I knew I'd need an early start to hike there, carrying Lumix G1 camera, several lenses and tripod. I woke about 4.15, just before the alarm went off, and crept out quietly from my B&B. Fortunately the weather held, but I had to work fast, with the tide ebbing and the light waxing less magical by the minute.

Obviously I tried various locations and angles, and I've just been reviewing them all for possible use as a book cover. I think my best two efforts, taken within a few minutes and yards of each other, were among the very first. But which will make a better front cover? The first perhaps shows the cliffs better, the second has a strong concave feature (a cove or "hole"). Please comment on which one you'd be more likely to pick up in a bookshop or click if seen online. It would really help me to hear from you. The choice was made vastly more difficult by the first two people I asked each decisively jumping a different way. So I'm hoping that if anybody out there is reading this, they'll say which they prefer and why.



If you want to see why I needed to get up so early, compare these with one taken under 90 minutes later. The combined effects of the falling tide and the very ordinary lighting to me undermine its impact:


About July 2009

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