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March 2013 Archives

March 4, 2013

By Diverse Means: the Commission on School Reform

Am off to Edinburgh shortly for the launch of By Diverse Means - the report of the Commission for School Reform, at Dynamic Earth. Keir has been chairing this group for the last year and they've come up with some radical, far-reaching ideas.

The report is a profound and thoughtful document, with 125 pages of evidence-backed analysis of where and how Scotland's education system has failed to combat disadvantage. It offers 37 sepcific recommendations, plus just over a page of Executive Summary for readers in a hurry. It will be widely available by PDF as well as in printed form, but I can't upload it here: I'm sure I'd get into trouble if I used the copy sitting on my hard drive before the embargo:) I expect it will be on Reform Scotland's website soon. (Reform Scotland is one of the two think tanks behind the Commission.)

It's good to see that the BBC has picked up the story already: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21643568 - and trailed it also on its UK pages. Keir will be on Good Morning Scotland (radio) and TV later in the day. It's good to see the publicity momentum beginning to build.


March 5, 2013

Reactions to "By Diverse Means"


Yesterday's launch of the cross-party Commission's report was an intriguing event. Above you can see three of the four panellists: Morag Pendry, Keir Bloomer and Frank Lennon, with Councillor Paul McLennan (SNP) out of shot to the right. There was a lively audience, a broad area of interest and the event was better attended and attracted more questions than expected.

Another dimension was the circus of photographers (stills and moving), tweeters, bloggers and others. It must be challenging to reduce a report of 125 A4 pages to a tweet but doubtless there are those who enjoy the challenge. All credit to the audience who managed to focus on the platform speakers despite all the sideshows. Here is the BBC crew with Seonag MacKinnon as interviewer:


Both think tanks, Reform Scotland and CSPP now have the report PDF as a download from their websites, but I recommend the CSPP website because they also have an update on recent coverage here. What it doesn't yet give you is the link to the radio coverage which, as always, was in more depth than television. For the next six or seven days, you'll find Gary Robertson's interview with Keir on Good Morning Scotland for five minutes starting after about 2 hours 22 minutes.

The Commission was healthily cross-party, with some members strongly identified with each of the four main parties, including two councillors and former Education Minister Peter Peacock. An interesting aside that emerged only in the Q&A was that although there was "robust discussion" on occasion, the debates never split along party lines. This heartwarming fact is reflected in the fact that yesterday all four parties issued statements welcoming the report. Now the key question is whether the Scottish Government will do anything effective about implementing it.

March 11, 2013

Does Newsnight want Michael Gove to run Scotland's schools?

Did you watch Newsnight Scotland last Thursday (BBC2)? If not, courtesy of iPlayer, you can catch it here at least for the next few days. The first 7 minutes is an excellent film report, followed by what was supposed to be studio discussion, with Keir Bloomer and Ken Cunningham (School Leaders Scotland) in Glasgow and Alex Massie of the Spectator in Edinburgh. But it was discussion so strongly led and stage-managed by Gordon Brewer that I was left wondering if he wants Michael Gove to run Scotland's schools.

Because I was away at the IPG conference, I watched it for the first time yesterday, and, with mounting disbelief, again today. Gordon Brewer had a clear agenda, and seemed to go well beyond the role of chairman in order to promote his own enthusiasm for league tables and for punishing "failing schools". Alex Massie of the Spectator was his willing accomplice, and clearly Gordon Brewer knew he could count on his support. A habitual interrupter of almost interviewee, Gordon Brewer even interrupted himself to bring in Alex Massie to agree with him.

Considering that the item was created and broadcast in Scotland, just after the publication of a major report, you might have expected it to address how to improve Scotland's schools. In fact, with under 3 minutes remaining, Keir had to interrupt Gordon Brewer to suggest that the panel should talk about Scottish education.


Students of media studies might view this programme carefully when considering the role and techniques of a neutral chairman. Here are some verbatim quotations from Gordon Brewer: "England has come from behind and is now ahead - that's the bottom line on this ..." and he interrupts Keir's response to say "The way to make that distinction is by doing what they do in England which is by using school league tables". Keir then suggests discussion of Scottish schools, rather than English, and Gordon Brewer interrupts again to insist on his league tables as the only way forward, and breaks in again to assert that "On average, it's working in England" - as if all failing English schools have been turned around by outside interventions. And he quotes from his own experience and perceptions while working in London.

Gordon Brewer is of course entitled to his personal enthusiasm for league tables and labelling failing schools. But did he really want to listen to, or even to hear, what his invited panellists had to say?

March 16, 2013

The enduring appeal of the BBC Micro


After over 30 years, I was thinking that I should part company with my much-loved BBC Micro with its twin disc drives and colour monitor. Somehow it had come to seem part of the family, although in truth it was bought for professional reasons. It was my workhorse word processor on which many books were written, including Inside Information (BBC Publications, 1985) and the manual for Wordwise Plus, its instant word processing ROM chip with a powerful built-in programming language. It was supplanted only in 1989 by a Macintosh IIcx.

Thinking that I should try it on eBay, rather than consign it to landfill, I assembled it ten days ago to see if it still worked. I tried out an endearing Acornsoft program called Podd, which leapt into life immediately (my fingers haven't forgotten how to Shift-Break or *W.). I thought it might be interesting to see how grand-daughter Amy, aged 7 and well used to iPhones, iPads, Kindle Fires and other technotoys, would react to its prehistoric clunky graphics, electronic beeps and simple interface. She absolutely loved it, just as her uncle and mother had loved Podd at her age. By this time I had looked out what a friend described as the largest collection of legal educational software for the BBC Micro that he had ever seen and was wondering what to try next, once she was bored with Podd - when disaster struck. A sharp crackle, a smell of burning and smoke started to billow - so I hastily unplugged it from the wall! Amy was first terrified and then really upset: poor Podd, she worried, would have been hurt, and protectively she picked up his box to cuddle him!

Thinking the power supply had blown, I realised that this made the eBay decision much easier, and last Sunday I listed the still-working disc drive and display screen on eBay. This has triggered dozens of messages from BBC aficionados: some explained that I could and should repair the BBC micro, rather than sell it, another had used Wordwise while at school and thus knew of my manual and prompt cards. Others again wanted to buy the dead computer as well as its peripherals, another wanted me to ship it all outside Great Britain. Some were at pains to assure me that it would be going to a home that would look after it well, and another was appealing to me to sell it for a house containing "a living timeline of vintage systems". Clearly this listing has touched a communal nerve of computing history, just as Podd has endeared himself to successive generations. Without the demise of the power system, I still wonder if I would have been strong enough to part with it.

About March 2013

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