Legions march for climate change, but generic calls for ‘action’ are utterly futile.

September 22, 2014 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Social Brain 

There is nothing democratic about the sacred, but there is definitely something sacred about democracy.

I felt that sense of the sacred intensely when I witnessed 84% of my country’s electorate turn out to vote in Scotland on Thursday, and I felt it again on Sunday as I witnessed about 40,000 people in London march in solidarity with over 300,000 in New York, and a total of around 600,000 people around the globe, all calling for action on climate change.

You’ll have heard the chant that tends to accompany any major political march of this nature: “Tell me what democracy looks like! – This is what democracy looks like!” Who could fail to be impressed, moved even, by people in unison, embodied, alive, emboldened, speaking truth to power.  It was a staggeringly impressive organisational feat, and a much needed shot in the arm for an issue that suffers from lack of public concern and media oxygen.

Look at the image below. Sunday 21st September 2014 might even be marked as the day the world finally ‘woke up’ to climate change.

Climate Marches

But it might not.

In fact it almost certainly won’t.

Read more

Devo Met for England – It’s the economic imbalance stupid!

September 22, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

What’s clear is that we are now at the beginning of a new process of constitutional change that won’t just be about Scotland. As David Cameron has made clear, not only will new powers now have to be negotiated for Scotland, a similar process will have to take place with Wales and the English question will need to be answered.

In his statement, the PM rightly said that the English question is both about parliament and about the distribution of power across England. The good news is that we don’t need to look for new English structures to answer the big questions of power and economic imbalance. They already exist in the metropolitan city-regions that have been established from London to Newcastle. Read more

Party Conference Season – the non-battle for education commences

September 22, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

In case you missed Tristram Hunt’s speech to Labour Party Conference yesterday, here’s a brief recap of the main points (and indeed much of the substance of what was a fairly brief speech). As is now a contractual requirement for Labour’s resident historian, Hunt opened with a bit of history, reminding the party of its proud historical association with the workers’ education movements that originated in civic Manchester and the industrial north. The speech also linked to wider Labour themes, notably standing up for ordinary workers, epitomised in the pledge to support the ‘hidden army’ of support staff in our schools by re-establishing a negotiating body to ensure fair pay for these low paid and lowlier status education workers.

The main substance was based around three main themes that will define Labour’s manifesto pledges on education as it goes into the next election.

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How to join the MOOC education revolution: a new free way to learn/create together with other RSA Fellows

September 19, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 


“The collaborative learning process took our Fellows to places where they delighted in connecting with people of diverse experience and expertise, sparked new ways of thinking about topics and gained the sorts of insights that led to genuine revelations”
- Peter Clitheroe FRSA (RSA East of England regional team)

East of England Fellows working on their Human Centred Design MOOC

East of England Fellows working on their Human Centred Design MOOC

The emergence of MOOCs (‘Massive Open Online Courses’) – where tens of thousands of people can learn online together, mostly for free – has taken the education world by storm. Coursera, a MOOC provider, has 7m+ users. But it was when Stanford University’s artificial intelligence Mooc, announced in July 2011, attracted 160,000 sign-ups that it became clear a powerful new phenomenon was emerging.

“It has been an effective key-turner for our local network by giving a real purpose to working together on a specific, focused and time-bound project”
- Peter Clitheroe FRSA

RSA Fellows are increasingly finding MOOCs to be a great way to come together both to learn and to work on real-world projects collaboratively.

For example three Fellow groups in the East of England region recently enjoyed taking part in ‘Human Centred Design for Social Innovation’, a free MOOC put together with the leading Design/Innovation agency, IDEO.org.

Enjoying the +Acumen Human-Centred Design MOOC in Sao Paulo

Enjoying the +Acumen Human-Centred Design MOOC in Sao Paulo

The Fellows’ groups chose these real-world challenges to work on together during the seven-week course:

* Enabling more young people to become social entrepreneurs – in which the team proposed new systems and devised ways to strengthen existing programmes to help young people tackle civic/social issues as a career path.
* Healthier food options for people in need – Two separate groups tackled the healthy food challenge (one of them based at Suffolk County Council). One group focused on first year university students living in self-catering flats, who were surveyed about their eating habits. The result was a plan for a street-food events run by – and for – students in collaboration with local food producers.

Our MOOC quartet made Fellowship tangible and meaningful, more so than any other RSA encounter I’ve had
- Kate Hammer FRSA

Peter – who informally led one of the groups of Fellows – also commented that: “It has been an effective key-turner for our local network by giving a real purpose to working together on a specific, focused and time-bound project”.

“It offers a model that could be usefully deployed in developing a coherent network across the county and possibly the region.”

The MOOC runs regularly and is provided by +Acumen, the community/education arm of the global anti-poverty organisation Acumen that was founded in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz.

Want to join a MOOC with other Fellows yourself? Get in touch with your RSA Regional Manager to discuss.

Working face-to-face with your group
+Acumen is unusual compared to larger and better-known MOOC providers – because its courses all rely on weekly face-to-face ‘Lab’ meetings with your group, where you will be working on… [Continued]
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Five reasons why the Scottish vote is bad news for Eurosceptics

September 19, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Adam Lent 

As one referendum sails into the sunset, another looms over the horizon. Should the Conservatives form the next Government there is a strong chance the whole of the UK will be voting on whether to leave the EU in 2017.

Eurosceptics have been urging the vote for many years but the result from Scotland today should give them pause for thought. Here’s five reasons why. Read more

‘The vow’ to Scotland: fudge, honour or renege?

September 19, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

the vowThis has been Scotland’s debate. It has been both inspiring but sometimes unnerving. Democratic passions awaken the best and some of the worst in us. We have seen it all: excitement, some intimidation, awakening. The groups that come out of this pretty badly are the political leaders: not just in Westminster but in Holyrood also.

Where the ‘yes’ leaders failed to level with the Scottish people about the real consequences of independence, the ‘no’ leaders took risk and uncertainty and turned them into apocalyptic certainties. The latter were aided by a national media hoard. The way of the world is that victors get to write history as if there were a single pathway to the current position and that is exactly what David Cameron et al are doing this morning.

Yet, the victors also have to own their victory. And, this morning, it is the ‘no’ campaign that has to now hold true to its promises.

As aloof cockiness turned to blind panic on the publication of an opinion poll showing ‘yes’ ahead, the ‘no’ campaign threw the kitchen sink at the campaign. In so doing, they also threw in the UK constitution and now we’re in real trouble. ‘The vow’ may go down as ‘no to increased tuition fees’ as monumental political errors made tactically in a campaign. Not only have the party leaders agreed to safeguard the Barnett formula which appears to disproportionately advantage Scotland (though that is open to debate), they have promised Scotland new powers. Unlike 1999, these new powers will not be passed without awakening English discontent at the asymmetry of the relationship. Vague promises of devolution within England will not be enough. There will need to be a more comprehensive agreement.

This morning, David Cameron has linked the provision of these new powers with a new settlement for England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. ‘The vow’ is contract made with three hidden parties. This is all happening in a general election year. The consequences could not be greater. The political parties are in Catch 22 with three possible scenarios that will begin to crack open UK politics.

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A new and fair settlement: how to rebalance and repair the United Kingdom?

September 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

The Scot’s have decided. After a hard fought campaign by the yes camp, 84% of the Scottish have given their answer –  with the majority of 55% of the electorate proclaiming that the Union is the best way forward for the long-term economic, social and environmental welfare of their country. The roadmap to Devo-Max has yet to be mapped out fully and the devil is most definitely now in the detail. An agreement will be negotiated by November, with draft legislation by January.

The Prime Minister also said this morning in his statement outside Downing Street that a ‘new and fair settlement’ will be agreed for Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The Scottish independence question has brought the West Lothian Question to the fore and stirred a changing face of English politics.  Devolution has been a hotly debated topic across the pubs, living rooms and streets of the UK, creating a new wave of interest in the concept of nationhood and the practical implications for where political and economic power should lie. What does Devo-Max in Scotland mean for England? Read more

“You’re ‘avin a larf!” Nitrous Oxide – A social epidemic or another moral panic?

September 17, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Recovery 

I recently went to a friend’s BBQ where, if I’m honest, the choice of food was limited (particularly for a vegetarian like myself) but the choice of recreational drugs was prevalent. I should have expected this, being that those in attendance (I only knew two people before I arrived) were around my age and social class and were all professional people; academics, bankers and therapists. Call me old fashioned (and slightly disappointed) but there was no jelly and ice cream, although someone had bought about 70 Waitrose profiteroles – still unopened in the morning. There were however, balloons (if you’re globophobic you may want to stop reading now). Read more

The Big Idea – Banbury Literary Live

September 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

This is a guest blog from Liz Holme FRSA who, along with her team of literacy enthusiasts, is trying to reignite Britain’s love of reading.

Banbury Literary LiveAccording to the National Literacy Trust, a fifth of young people say that they rarely or never read outside class.  There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.  Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage.

The aim of our Fellow-led group is to increase reading for pleasure and literacy levels, amongst the young people of Banbury.

It should not be down only to teachers to achieve this.  An enthusiasm for literature can be kindled not just by schools but with the help of whole communities that they serve.

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” Nelson Mandela Read more

Education and social mobility: how the government is getting it wrong

September 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Amongst the flurry of free schools, test tinkering and curriculum changes, there was at least one overarching purpose to Michael Gove’s constant battle against ‘the blob’; to turn schools into ‘engines of social mobility’, thus enabling  talented young people to rise above their social background. The logic here was that raising standards in education would send a much-needed ripple effect through the stagnant waters of social mobility. This has been the government’s adopted approach in response to a society where the wealth gap between rich and poor continues to increase and parental income is intimately linked to their child’s future educational attainment. However, new research into the effect of Gove’s changes, particularly his fervent acadamisation of schools, urgently points to this approach as ‘seriously flawed’.

Education and Social Mobility: Dreams of Success by Dr Kate Hoskins and Prof Bernard Barker is a case study of two high-achieving academies, with 88 interviews conducted with students between the ages of 15-18. Breaking this government’s approach down into three proposals, the research conclusions challenge each in turn: firstly, the characterisation of the talented disadvantaged youth as overcoming inheritance of deprivation is shown to be out of step with the thoughts and feelings of young people, who acknowledge family as an important source of guidance and support; secondly, that acadamisation will work by closing the attainment gap, which in this case has proved itself untrue, with the two high-standard academies still seeing 36% of students fail to get good GCSEs; finally, that academy students will be drawn into aspirational academic routes, aiming for high-level destinations when, in reality, these students did not value social mobility and rated job satisfaction and happiness as more important.

It is not as if the Department for Education have been completely misguided – the stats on education and social mobility are indeed stark: out of 80,000 students on Free School Meals last year, only 45 got into Oxbridge and only 21% of the poorest fifth achieved 5 GCSE A*–Cs (including English and Mathematics), compared with 75% from the richest fifth. There is clearly a link to be made between narrowing the attainment gap and thus narrowing the destination gap – as such, it is right to aim to widen participation at the very top. However, it is dangerous to create from this a complete social mobility narrative. There are only so many places at Russell Group universities, only so many high-level jobs to move into afterwards and only so many students from a socially deprived background who, problems of aspiration aside, would want to follow this very particular future path.

The revised government approach must move away from its current obsession with students achieving the right grades in the right subjects to attend one of a handful of top universities; instead, it must be seen to truly value the variety of skills and interests of young people by investing in all destination routes, including the woefully neglected vocational options. Let’s hope the new Secretary of State for Education is ready to make such revisions.

Roisin Ellison is the RSA Academies Intern

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