• Ane City

    Once more unto the breach… I wonder if the Dundee Repertory Theatre offers a loyalty scheme?

    Two nights at the theatre in one week, two young women from the eastern coast of Scotland telling their personal stories in ways that only they can. While And is intimate and minimalist, Ane City is loud and luscious. Though I wonder if both had attended each other’s performances if they might not have spotted a kinship.

    Ane City is a coming of age story set against a backdrop of the hometown that protagonist Tay (Taylor Dyson) has so desperately tried to escape. Tay confronts her family, friends, and past - and a local taxi driver - through monologue, poetry, and song. With cameo appearances from poetic royalty and royal royalty.

    Her feelings are complex, much like her Dundee home - simultaneously infamous for the depravation-driven high rates of teenage pregnancy and drug deaths, and yet appearing in Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe top 10 places to visit in 2018 with significant recent inward investment from the likes of the V&A and Eden Project. Seemingly contradictory sides of ane city.


    Gloriously funny. Bluntly introspective. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    More info: Ane City by Elfie Picket Theatre

  • And by Charlotte Mclean

    It’s been too long. It’s funny what a global pandemic does to your idea of spending time in a public theatre - even one as perfectly formed as the Dundee Rep.

    If you get a chance to witness And in person, I urge you do so. I certainly plan to return. Which is fine, because the now 28 year old Charlotte plans to perform this show for the rest of her life - each time revised to reflect her greater experience.

    But what is it?

    A solo contemporary dance show? Performance poetry? A living memoir? Charlotte’s own web page for the work describes it so:

    And is an auto-biographical performance about growing up as a woman, and explores culture, identity, nationality and politics.

    In the spirit of all performance living in the space between performer and audience, I would add that’s it’s a reflection of the individual impact of a turbulent world on the idea of self, joy, responsibility, and guilt.

    It’s deeply personal performance story-telling.


    Both fierce and gentle, cutting and comedic, And is an emotional and poignant story of a young woman and womanhood - generationally tied to mothers past and yet cautiously optimistic about future children.

    A perfect show for a rainy Wednesday. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    More info: And by Charlotte Mclean

  • Scottish Exam Cancellation Doublespeak

    The Scottish Qualification Authority, our nation’s government-sponsored examination and qualification body, run the vast majority of exams in almost all of Scotland’s schools. That significant governmental bond brings with it both the funding and accountability necessary for its operation, but also results in unwanted brushes with party politics. This makes it difficult for those of us outside the system to know what drives decisions and why.

    And 2020 has been a year for decisions.

    The SQA’s “gold standard”1 qualification, the Higher, is the unit of currency in university applications, with Advanced Higher being a level up broadly equivalent to A-Levels. But the National 5, our nation’s GCSE if you ike, remains a benchmark qualification for many school leavers.

    A Brief History of the 2020 SQA Exams

    Whatever your views on the springtime national lockdown in response to COVID-19 - whether measures went far enough and were implemented soon enough, or went too far or for too long - one of the casualties was the 2020 diet of exams delivered by the SQA.

    Instead certification was to based on teacher estimates and statistically moderated by the SQA, but was ultimately rolled back to teacher estimates based on public and media outrage and significant political pressure.

    2021 SQA National 5 Exams Cancelled

    On the back of the 2020 results climb down Professor Mark Priestley, of Stirling University, was asked to carry out an independent review of the events and decisions which led us to that point, and make recommendations for the session ahead. The published report recommended the cancellation of National 5 exams in 2021 as well as the “development of a nationally recognised, fully transparent and proportionate system for moderation of centre-based assessment” - details of which are still to be published.

    Our Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, went all in on these recommendations:

    “Given the real risk of further disruption to education, it would not be sensible or fair to plan for a full exam diet in 2021. Coronavirus has not gone away. If anything, it is making a comeback.”

    John Swinney, parliamentary statement, 7 October 2020

    So, to be absolutely clear, “it would not be sensible or fair to plan for a full exam diet”. The National 5 exams were cancelled and are be replaced by a moderated teacher-derived estimates similar to the 2020 exams, while Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications will continue with amendments made to content, question papers, and/or assignments in almost all subjects.2

    Whether you agree with the approach or not, the logic is easily followed. Reduce the load on the SQA, schools (and other centres), and all of our students. It allows schools take stock of the difficulties of recent months and also cope with what what, at the very least, is an uncertain future regarding possible future lockdowns and absences - of both students and staff. It lowers the stress on students, who have a growing uncertainly about what qualifications they might eventually leave school with or how they might best prepare for future Highers. It supports teachers around the country who are having to adapt to significantly different work patterns and demands, come what may.

    The lockdown experience of students varied widely around the country. Some schools were able to lean heavily on technology already deployed and developed, while others were scrambling to keep up. Many schools ran “live” lessons or provided vital pastoral support with suddenly essential tools of the pandemic: Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. Some were fortunate enough to have a near-normal “attendance” rate.

    But the anecdote is strong in this story. From hearing from friends who are also parents, many of their children got assigned as little as one hour of unsupervised work each week while school buildings were closed. And those that are teachers report as little as 10% of their classes engaged with any activity throughout lockdown.

    Schools faced different challenges during lockdown, and no one solution will address all of the arising issues. Time to identify and react to their own local problems is arguably vital for each school’s community. And that is before we consider what the next six months will bring?

    2021 SQA National 5 Exams - Cancelled?

    However, when the SQA started publishing their guidance, the warning bells began ringing.

    In the generic guidance for generating estimates republished for this session, the SQA have this to say about prelim exams:

    Prelims or mock exams: These are likely to be the most reliable indicator of performance in a question paper, particularly if they are undertaken in the same conditions as the question paper. The most convincing examples of these will accurately predict attainment in the skills, knowledge, and understanding assessed by the question paper. They will be clearly aligned to the course specification, content, and level of demand as exemplified in the specimen question papers and past papers.

    This is supported by clear statements in the subject-specific guidance which followed. In English:

    You can generate the most valid evidence for question paper components using assessment instruments which replicate, as far as possible, the standard, duration, format and security of SQA question papers.

    In Maths:

    The closer the internal evidence is to the standard, format and duration of the course assessment, the more reliable it should be.

    And in both:

    Evidence should be gathered later in the course, as a realistic reflection of a candidate’s attainment.

    So, are we to take from this guidance that to best provide the most reliable estimates for the cancelled exams that we would be best to provide an assessment as close to the end of the course as possible, which mimics the content and structure as closely as possible?

    What makes this all the more frustrating is that the SQA’s National Qualifications 2021 Group published an update this week stating:

    Given current public health advice and to maximise learning and teaching time, it is important to stress that there is no expectation that schools and colleges hold a formal diet of prelims for National 5. One of the key reasons for moving to an alternative model was to create additional teaching time through removing the need for prelims and replacing the final examination diet with more flexible classroom-based assessment.

    The rhetoric tells us that schools have been freed from the constraints of a National 5 examination diet which will allow teachers and students to recover from significant disruption to schools, and to cope with the uncertainty of the coming months. The devil in the detail is that schools have been strongly encouraged to implement an internal National 5 examination diet to provide estimates for these very same qualifications.

    The difficulty is that this is almost certainly going to be more work for teachers, and adds even greater uncertainty for all students currently enrolled in National 5 courses.

    1. I have heard it mentioned so many times, Highers being the “gold standard” qualification in Scotland, but right now I can’t find a source or significant reference. ↩︎

    2. Even Highers are not guaranteed to take place at this point in time. ↩︎

  • Fatigue

    It’s been a little over ten months since I was last knocked out with a chest infection.

    School had broken up for our Christmas holiday. A bunch of us had taken part in an ‘come and sing’ of Handel’s Messiah - to celebrate the retirement of our Rector of over a decade. I am not sure if the piece was picked due to it’s popularity or the implied relevance of the title. Either way. A romp was had.

    I don’t know if patient zero was a colleague or a pupil at school, or perhaps a parent. It could be that the source was actually sharing the lung capacities of my fellow choristers, or perhaps a chance encounter on my limited travels of the preceding days. Or maybe it was me.

    Whatever the case, the Winter Solstice was the very next day, and the start of it. Holidays were over before they truly began.

    As our planet hurtles around that great ball of fire in the sky towards another solstice, one year on, I have only been in work for 39 days. Now, in the strangest of years that is perhaps not that unusual. After all, schools were closed here from March until August anyway. But I have been working from home since a little before lockdown, and now well beyond.

    In these last 315 days I have successfully neglected many things. With some gusto, but without intent. I had enough to do most days just keeping on top of work and keeping awake. I have had waves of energy which has allowed to me do a little bit of exercise and a little bit of gardening. These bouts of enthusiasm have come and gone like the tides - well, without the water, or the predictability.1

    Most frustratingly, I have lacked the mental acuity to think. This has brought the blessing of allowing me to give up on being any kind of completionist. But the reading has suffered, as has the odd side project like working through the #100DaysOfSwiftUI. Replaced by such intellectual pursuits as watching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order. I do not recommend it.

    I have struggled with extreme physical and mental fatigue. And while I have now been at the point, two or three times, when I feel there is a light at the end of the current tunnel; every time it has turned out to be a train coming in the other direction. Wile E. Coyote and me, we have a connection.

    So there is another light. I am beginning to sense some activity in my grey matter. I have actually been reading books again. I started with the familiarity of Frank Herbert’s Dune, a nostalgic journey to past times prompted by the upcoming movie release. I have thoughts, but perhaps that’s a whole other story or two. And now I am on Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road inspired by our new Rector’s2 Summer Book Challenge - I am finally catching up, with the challenge and with my ability to consume text.

    And with signs of life showing in the ageing corpse-to-be that has been conscripted into carrying my grey matter around, I have signed up for the extended free trial of The Sufferfest in order to give their Transition Up training plan a go. Optimism? Perhaps? But without optimism, what do we have?

    Here’s to the end of fatigue.

    1. Okay, so the analogy would have been more accurately waves than tides, I realise that now. But the Cnut reference was worth it. I think. ↩︎

    2. It all comes full circle. Rector to Rector. ↩︎

  • Black Lives Matter - An Educational Perspective

    I thought long and hard before I become the umpteenth middle-aged, white man in a well-paid profession with a good life to pontificate about privilege and the events, both current and historical, that necessitate the Black Lives Matter movement.

    But I keep coming back to the fact that it’s always worse to stay quiet. Collective silence didn’t create injustice and inequity, but it certainly ensured that it endured for hundreds of years.

    Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington, DC - aerial photograph from Apple Maps

    Black Lives Matter

    If you are going to argue that “all lives matter”, or talk about the mistreatment of women, the inequity that transgender people constantly battle, or centuries of anti-Semitism then you have significantly missed the point.

    By diminishing the Black Lives Matter movement with such criticism is just another way of marginalising the very people that are protesting the injustice.

    This is not a zero-sum game, we do not have to choose. My life matters, your life matters. Of course all lives matter.

    So, let’s just agree. Black. Lives. Matter.

    History is Written by the Victors

    I am neither qualified nor learned enough to talk about black history - which in itself speaks volumes of the bubble of privileged and ignorance I was brought up in - but the links between modern racism and European Imperialism are strong and their impact is oftentimes subtle but endures to this day.

    Even when that history is retold today, no matter how well meaning and constructive the intent, it often has an uncomfortable perspective.

    Historic England, a largely government-funded public body, rightly provide information about English involvement in slavery. However, without attribution, they have this to say about early slaver, John Hawkins (with my emphasis):

    John Hawkins (from 1532 to 1595) of Plymouth is acknowledged as the pioneer of the English slave trade.

    In the context of the British Empire, and that Imperialist “spirit”, I suppose it could be argued that Hawkins was indeed a pioneer - but that word has almost universally positive connotations. The language that we choose to use when describing the actions of the perpetrators of horrendous acts is key. I can only imagine that anyone descended from the victims of slavery would have a very different view of Hawkins and might therefore choose many different words to describe him.

    University College London have a project that aims to “explore and document some of the ways in which colonial slavery shaped modern Britain”. No doubt a worthy attempt to put into perspective the scale of slavery perpetrated throughout the world by our ancestors, and I think this kind of project is crucial to understanding our history. I would suggest, however, that the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project abuses the privilege of language in its very title. The enslaved were not, in any meaningful modern way, owned. Despite the prevailing view at the time, we can choose how to frame our history.

    It is sadly ironic that once Confederate Congressman George Graham Vest is often cited with originating the phrase:

    … history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on either side.

    Let us choose wisely how we choose to frame our history.

    The Need for Leadership

    The tragedy about systemic racism is that is entirely socio-political, and it therefore too often gets treated as a party political issue - one in which opposing views can be promoted as equally valid. There is no biological notion of race.

    Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination.

    – American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Statement on Race & Racism

    School leaders have a vital role in the development of our children and the future of our society. They hold the key to unlocking an honest exploration of our collective history, as well as promoting tolerance and understanding, in order that we can collectively recognise and counter “colonialism, oppression, and discrimination.”

    I understand that schools, and those that lead them, are typically nervous about getting involved in politics - but we need to wrestle this issue back from party politics, and demonstrate our intent publicly and clearly. Our children need strong role-models to serve as a baseline for their own individual world views.

    The Need for Curricular Change

    The curriculum must provide an honest account of history. It is, of course, critical that we look at the events of the past that created the cultures and societies that we live in, understanding the conditions and decisions that led to past events. But we need to do so with the values that we now hold and aspire to.

    We also need to ensure that the voices that are heard by students of the curriculum represent a diversity of culture rather than the homogeny of European white men that have dominated the curriculum of modern schooling.

    The campaign to decolonise the curriculum has being gaining momentum in recent years, and a number of universities, such as Bath, are now making moves to broaden the reading lists demanded of their courses to foster inclusivity.

    So much more can be done, and it will take time. But it’s an investment in diversity and equality. It’s an investment worth making.

    The Need for Teachers

    I will be the first to admit that I am complicit in the lack of diversity in my classroom practice. In the Computing Science classroom, as well as more widely in the tech industry, I have long been aware of the issue, but when I have taken action it has focused on gender stereotypes and role-models.

    So each and every classroom teacher can make a difference. You don’t need to wear a BLM hoodie, nor donate money to an anti-racism charity, although every little helps.

    You do choose how you demonstrate the curriculum to your students. You do pick the viewpoints and protagonists from the history and development of your subject that you share. You do curate the knowledge and perspectives that surround your curriculum and package it for your students - so take the opportunity to do so in an inclusive way, demonstrating diversity, and encouraging open, tolerant discussion.

    You have a voice, so stand up and be heard.

  • Mac App Store - Guilty Pleasure

    I feel bad when I read tales from developers such as this:

    As a Mac App Store developer whose apps have been in the store since the beginning, it’s not a great feeling to know that any critical update might be held up because Apple decided to get more uptight about something that was OK for the past 8 years. - Daniel Jalkut on

    I feel even worse because it was the same weekend that Daniel emailed me to say he had changed some code which would hopefully remove an image uploading issue I was having with MarsEdit. And I had opted to purchase MarsEdit via the Mac App Store that very same day.

    It hadn’t even occurred to me to purchase via his web site, even though he might have made a few extra dollars or cents that way. Like I have done so many times, I checked where it was available and defaulted to my purchase via Apple.

    Woe is the Store of Apps for the Mac

    I have read many an article telling us why the App Store is broken. And I am on board with those for the most part. I am sure it’s not perfect. Okay, I know it’s not perfect.

    From the 30% cut that Apple takes from all sales, reduced to 15% for subscriptions lasting more than 12 months, to the technical restrictions with iCloud, sandboxing, etc. Not to mention1 the lack of contact developers have with their customers. The list is long.

    There have been well publicised cases of high profile companies leaving the Mac App Store, and then equally well publicised stories of some of them returning - no doubt, one has to think, with a little encouragement from Apple. I am sure this to and fro will continue for some time.


    Let’s hear it for the Mac App Store

    The Mac App Store provides users with security. Of different sorts:

    Not every Mac app is the greatest example of app development, and there is an argument that a greater degree of quality checking should be included in the app review process, but at least I can be reasonably assured that anything I install will play nice with my system and other applications. This means I am less likely to be installing a keylogger, virus, etc. I am less likely to putting the data on my Mac at risk to unexpected appropriation. My system and my data is safer.

    I can more or less trust Apple with my banking details, at least in so far as I can trust anyone. Financially - compared to the wide range of developers that they represent who have not built up any relationship with customers - I am confident sharing credentials with them.

    And as much as developers the world over would love to have a database of thousands of potential customers to leverage for marketing upgrades, their other apps, or other services, I am glad that this is something I have to opt into by signing up to a mailing list or otherwise connecting with the developer.

    None of this is to suggest that Mac developers should not be trusted to write software, process payments, or manage a mailing list. Just that there are millions of people out there making software, and I think it’s good to have a proxy in place that can be trusted. I mostly don’t have to consider who the third party developer is.

    And for those Mac owners who are new to the platform, or who lack confidence in the complexities of installing computer software, the App Store model offers all of the above alongside a unified search system2 and one-click installation.

    Thanks to Daniel

    I would like to see changes to App Store policies, for both developers and users. But on balance, where possible, I will mostly likely continue to support developers through via the App Store rather than purchasing direct.

    While we wait until Apple lowers their fees and is more transparent their app review processes, I am grateful to the developers who jump through the hoops to keep their software available in the Mac App Store. Thanks, Daniel.

    1. Sorry, I know, I mentioned it. ↩︎

    2. Okay, yes, the App Store search tool is not the best, but it’s what we have and for many people it’s all they use when looking for software. ↩︎

  • One to One - Reflection

    As a new term begins in a brand new decade, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on technology in our classrooms.

    I have now worked in my current school for longer that I have been with any single employer; at the start of the 2010s I was Head of Computing. This gave me and pupils in our department privileged access to technology every day; access to tools which encouraged independent problem-solving, access to tools that supported richer content creation and consumption, and access to the ever broadening frontier of information that the Internet was providing. That access enhanced learning.

    The rest of the school worked like most schools at the time; a few laptops which could be booked out but rarely were, and even more rarely to good effect, and three and half general purpose computer suites which could also be booked as required. For a school of around 1000 pupils, having about 80 pupil facing, general purpose computing devices was woefully inadequate. But normal in the sector.

    There was money spent on tech in schools. Let us not forget the interactive whiteboard investment made in Scottish education over the last 20 years. How can we? No matter how hard we try. The money rarely resulted in tech being in the hands of the pupils.

    The Problem

    Despite my classroom being a hub of technological potential, the pupils then went home to a mixed selection of toys. There was undoubtedly the occasional home brew Linux proxy server in built in a bedroom to bypass the school filtering system, but that was not typical. The technology, for some classes, was available for as little as 40 minutes a week.

    And I was so much better off than the Modern Studies teacher who wanted to carry out an impromptu online activity in the classroom, perhaps in response to breaking news of the day. Filling out a booking form, walking their class across the campus, and then discovering that a quarter of the machines in the computer suite would spend half of the lesson updating to the latest patch of Windows. Did I say “impromptu”?

    If only pupils had their own device. In all classes, and at home.

    This is old hat now - it’s widespread, although certainly not ubiquitous, for schools to either have or be investing in their own one-to-one deployments. It was a different world nine years ago. It’s also not enough just to throw devices, network connectivity, or money at the problem. There have been many one-to-one device deployments worldwide in the past decade, but what proportion of them have been successful, and by what criteria? The research is still limited in scale and scope.

    Perhaps it’s not even the correct problem. But it’s the one I identified.

    The Solution

    Here’s the thing. The plan is that this is the first in a series of posts I write to capture my own journey through a one-to-one deployment. So the ‘solution’ will build up over time. It will include pitfalls and suggestions, and might then serve as a roadmap for others - or perhaps a series of warning signs.

    There are a number of topics I have sketched out to cover, but I am open to questions and suggestions - so get in touch if you want me to cover anything in particular. Details to follow.

    The Verdict

    So, you might be the kind of person that likes to read the last few pages of a book first. You are keen to know whether the deployment worked? Minimising the number of spoilers…

    My school still has three and a half computer suites, but they are almost never used. One-to-one devices are used in eight year groups of the school, from Primary 6 through to the end of secondary, and there is a class sets of devices for use by younger years as well as devices in the nursery. We have repeatedly invested in our infrastructure and software systems as device and network usage has grown.

    Personally, I am trusted with a class far less often these days, but I can now more confidently rely on the learning experience being as rich and topical as the combined creativity of myself and my class allows, and I know the potential is more or less uniform for the pupils once the bell rings.

  • Equality and Privilege

    A little while back I read an article in the Guardian on gender imbalance in the most prominent roles within the biggest UK companies. A little further reading confirmed that this was not limited to the UK - not that I was surprised.

    It’s a topic I wanted to explore further for our school assemblies.

    Running our Businesses

    The FTSE 100 is a list of companies that are traded on the London Stock Exchange - specifically the 100 most valuable companies based on their market capitalisation. Each of these companies is run by a board and an executive team.1

    The board determines the long-term strategic direction of the organisation and is headed by a Chairperson - actually typically referred to as the Chairman. I guess that could be considered a hint of what is coming next.

    The executive team handles the day to day operations of a company. This team is led by a CEO.

    Within an educational context, schools also typically have a Board of Directors (or governors) headed by a chairperson, and their head teacher is the operational equivalent of a CEO.

    Counting Davids and Johns

    When you are faced with a room of 200+ pupils and staff at each assembly and you ask everyone called “David” to stand up, it is interesting to note just how relatively uncommon the name has become. Three Davids out of 650 pupils. Compare that to how many of our business leaders are called David.

    14 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are called David

    Repeating the exercise with “John” gets the same result. Three Johns out of 650 pupils.

    17 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are called John

    So then all females are asked to stand up. And suddenly the Davids and Johns are significantly outnumbered. So the open question is ‘How many women are in these positions of power, running the largest companies in the UK?’

    The answer is stark.

    7 Chairs/CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are female

    For every one of the UK’s most influential business leaders that are female, there are two called David.

    It all Comes Down to Money

    It’s not just at the top of the corporate ladder that inequality thrives. According to data gathered by the Office for National Statistics, when comparing those in full-time employment, men earn 10% more per hour than women. And that pay gap rises in managerial, professional, and skilled jobs.

    In fact, when looked at annually and combining all factors, on average the difference is even more significant.

    Average salary for men in full-time employment: ~£30,000 per annum

    Average salary for women in full-time employment: ~£25,000 per annum

    I am sure it could be argued that some of that comes from long-standing cultural factors that mean that women are more likely to take time out of careers to raise children - and new rules on Shared Parental Leave may well have an impact on that in time - but the fact remains that this pay gap exists across all levels and employment sectors.

    Representation of Women

    The leaders of corporations undoubtedly have a significant influence on our lives. They determine hiring policies and pay scales, oversee product and advertising strategies, and these leaders act as role models for those that try to follow in their footsteps.

    However, there is a more insidious gender imbalance that we are all faced with each and every day. It starts in government. Our elected (I will leave the unelected for another day) officials make decisions which affect our daily lives, our prospects, and our descendants.

    At the time of writing, 29% of the Members of the UK Parliament, and 36% of the Members of Scottish Parliament, are female. On the surface this is great news. From the position that faced the suffragettes I guess you could call that progress. But the fact remains…

    There are twice as many men running our country as there are women

    The imbalance is greater in senior ministerial positions. And in the top jobs, in most countries around the world, women are few and far between.

    Masculine Voices in our Heads

    The situation gets worse when you look just below the surface. The media representation of women has often been in the spotlight, from gender stereotypes in advertising to gender inequality in the film industry.

    But that is only half of the story. The news that is reported is typically researched, written, and presented by men.

    On sampling all of the attributed content in a selection of UK daily, national newspapers for a month in 2011, [the Guardian discovered][11] that less than 23% of named journalists were women.

    [11]: ‘The Guardian. Women’s representation in media: who’s running the show? 6 December 2011.’

    Masculine Expertise in our News

    More concerning, I would argue, is the role of “experts” in the media. City University London, under the direction of Professor Lis Howell, has been studying the number of female experts who are brought in to provide evidence or information to support a reported story in mainstream broadcast news. The most recent round of research reports an increase in the proportion of women experts, however male experts still outnumber their female equivalents by more than three to one.

    Our lawmakers, the journalists that hold our lawmakers to account, as well as the experts these journalists wheel in to provide authority to their reports, they are predominantly male. Even if we assume the best intentions are being pursued by all involved, this is not a good message for our children to see day in day out when they access the most respected and trusted news sources.

    Is it any wonder that equality is slow to arrive?

    Recognising Privilege

    The postscript to this discussion is that gender inequality is just one of the areas in which we, as members of the human race, could improve our record on. Arguably things are getting better, but it’s easy for a professional, degree-educated, heterosexual, middle class, middle-aged, white male to talk about how important equality is when he has never had to face the challenges faced at the sharp end of inequality.

    Getting back to those assemblies… I tried to highlight this privilege by playing a quick game I had set up in advance. It requires a sheet of A4 paper per class (or per pupil if you do this in a single class, or want to make a big mess) and a bin or large box.

    The setup is crucial. It helps that our group classes are arranged in a predictable manner for each assembly, so I was able to arrange for each Group Tutors to give a sheet of paper to one member of their class - for those classes sitting close to the front of the assembly hall the sheet had to be given to a boy, for those at the back it went to a girl.

    During the assembly the nominated members are asked to stand up, and were told their goal:

    1. get your A4 sheet of paper into the bin at the front of the assembly hall

    They were also given the following rules, in the interest of fairness:

    1. participants must not move from their seat, nor move their seat
    2. the sheet of paper can be shaped in any way so long as nothing is added or removed
    3. no other person may help to move the sheet towards the goal

    The pupils are then invited to send their sheet of paper, now inevitably scrunched up into a ball or fashioned into some hopefully aerodynamic craft, hurtling towards the bin.

    This is an exercise in realising that privilege helps you to achieve your goals. It’s not that someone at the back of the hall is not able to reach the goal, but it requires an extra bit of skill, ingenuity, or perhaps luck. Those nearer the bin can more easily achieve the goal with perhaps a suboptimal projectile or a carefree throw.

    All the pupils had a level playing field. Equal opportunities. The same rules. The same rewards. Oddly the boys were more successful.

    My challenge to female pupils was to not sit back and allow inequality as they journey through life. My challenge to male pupils, and indeed myself, was to recognise their own privilege and to work towards countering it.

    1. Apologies to Business Management teachers, or anyone else for that matter, who may find holes in any of my explanations of how companies operate. I have been intentionally simplistic in my approach but hopefully not actually inaccurate. Happy to be corrected. ↩︎

  • Obesity

    I wonder how many of us have truly thought what it means to be obese?

    Of course I am sure, like me, most people have long had a loose understanding of obesity. It is a term that we could hardly be unaware of. There are countless news reports on the subject, often quoting studies into the ill-effects on our health that can manifest from obesity or discussing some current or future obesity epidemic.

    Even the smallest effort placed into actually reading about this topic, demonstrates the extent of the issue. According to Scottish Government statistics:

    In 2014, 65% of adults aged 16 and over were overweight, including 28% who were obese.

    The numbers may well be different in your country, but at the time of writing the most up-to-date figures from the World Health Organisation reveal there are more than 600 million obese adults worldwide, and a McKinsey Global Institute report estimates the annual economic impact of obesity as US$ 2 trillion.

    However, if I am honest, I have long known about this wider context. I have always just thought of obesity as a problem for other people - you know, governments who have to pick up the health bill, and all those obese folk!


    So, what is obesity? Essentially a person that carries enough excess body fat that it has a detrimental effect on their health is considered obese. Typically a person’s relative weight is classified using their Body Mass Index (BMI).

    BMI is defined as the ratio: BMI = height in metres / (weight in kilograms)2

    There are many online tools which will calculate your BMI for you, including converting from imperial units if that is more your thing.

    An individual’s BMI is generally classified as follows:

    • a BMI below 18.5 is underweight
    • a BMI greater than or equal to 18.5 but below 25 is normal weight
    • a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is overweight
    • a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is obese

    Note: this does not apply universally, some countries have different classifications to suit differences in their populations, e.g. in Japan, a BMI of 25 or greater is considered obese.

    The Problem

    Without any real planning I have unexpectedly stumbled into middle-age. My jobs, at least since I hit my 20s, have been essentially sedentary - as much as a teacher stands up or walks around, let’s not get carried away by thinking that is exercise. And I haven’t really kept up with the trend towards standing desks (or even treadmill desks, yup you read that correctly) that the development community have now embraced for some time.

    I don’t climb as many hills as I used to, and cycling had become a distant memory. I might be carrying a few extra pounds (even as I type ‘pounds’ it sounds less than ‘kilograms’). But obese? Come on now, that’s for all those obese folk, remember?

    Well, on the 8 July 2015 an idle notion1 came upon me to check my BMI.

    BMI of 32.3 on 8 July 2015

    And there it was. Obese. In actual fact I weighed in at 101.8 Kg (a little over 16 stones in old money). And according to guidelines I should be no more than 79 Kg. Obesity was no longer some naive idea of a much heavier version of myself, rather it was something much more prevalent and significantly closer to home than I had thought to imagine.

    So now I have a problem I didn’t think I had before. Or a set of problems. A greater risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, a variety of cancers, and a host of other ailments that a quick Google search will be happy to list.

    And about now, if you have not already worked it out, I should really include a disclaimer:

    I am not a medical professional. If you are concerned you have a medical condition, including being overweight or obese, you should consult a doctor.

    At least I had a suggested solution. I only needed to lose 22.8 Kg (or almost 4 stones, which sounds just a wee bit more than that “few extra pounds”).

    Method & Tools

    Anyone can eat a bit less, or a bit healthier. Anyone can join a gym, or take up [parkour][10]. But whatever is started needs to be sustained. Sustained through cold, damp Winter days when you just can’t face leaping off of rooftops or somersaulting over railings2.

    [10]: ‘YouTube video: “The World’s Best Parkour and Freerunning”’

    I knew I needed to to do two things on top of simply changing my diet and activity levels:

    • set realistic goals
    • effectively track progress

    These would allow me to monitor progress, as well as provide meaningful feedback on my performance towards my goal(s) in order to provide ongoing motivation.

    The broad goal I already knew: a target weight. The smaller, intermittent goals are more appropriately the subject of a discussion in their own right, but they needed to work towards that final goal state.

    The tracking was easy, and also might benefit from more in depth discussion. I tracked my food intake with the MyFitnessPal service, using their iPhone app (although I understand they support other platforms). A newly acquired Apple Watch proved to be invaluable at tracking exercise as well as general activity throughout each day.


    Almost six months in and I still not done. Although, my next challenge will no doubt be coming to terms with the fact that I can never be “done”. But in those months I have managed to chip away at two-thirds of my goal:

    Weight graphed from Jul 8 2015 (101.8Kg) to 28 Dec 2015 (87Kg)

    The graph shows the rate of weight loss decreasing. Partly, no doubt, because the process gets harder the nearer to the goal I get, but also because it is just that bit more of a chore to tackle this problem alongside a hectic Winter Term at school - which leads to a final observation for this post…

    Health & Wellbeing

    Health and wellbeing is increasingly at the forefront of corporate interest and now the subject of government scrutiny. The impact of a workforce in poor health is absenteeism and lower performance.

    In education, there has rightly been an increasing focus on the health and wellbeing of our students in recent years - both in terms of pastoral care and in the curriculum. This has begun to extend to governments and schools understanding that the wellbeing of their teachers is just as vital. It seems somewhat self-evident to me that as we entrust the safety and happiness of our children to the teaching profession it is essential that the profession is itself awash with teachers who feel safe and happy. Again, perhaps, a discussion for another day.

    But as individuals, teachers, professionals (of any profession) we shouldn’t leave our health and wellbeing to the whim of government or employers. There is is much that can be done to take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing.

    Look after yourself.

    1. In fact, I was evaluating an iTunes U course developed by Plymouth University for use by some of my pupils. The iOS Development in Swift course builds a BMI calculator as an example app. ↩︎

    2. Just for clarity, I haven’t taken up parkour. I have started cycling again though. ↩︎

  • Computing and Information Science - feedback

    The SQA, and no doubt a large host of teachers and consultants, have been busy in recent months building the framework for the new Senior Phase courses that are designed to embed the ideas of Curriculum for Excellence into Scotland’s qualifications, including the “gold standard” Higher.

    As part of that process, many subjects, courses, and their contents have been rationalised or overhauled. Amongst those significantly affected has been the study of Computing. From having a mix of Computing Studies at Standard Grade, as well as distinct Computing and Information Systems courses as part of the Higher Still qualification, to a single subject now named Computing and Information Systems.

    The SQA have requested feedback throughout this process. I thought I would share my feedback here… which it should be pointed out, is made without access to a significant amount of connected documentation which is not due until after the deadline for providing feedback!

    Course Specifications

    Purpose and Aims

    I would like to start by whole-heartedly agreeing with the purpose of the (Higher) course:

    Computing and information science is vital to everyday life; it shapes the world in which we live and its future. Computer scientists play key roles in meeting the needs of society today and for the future, in fields which include science, communications, entertainment, education, business and industry. Our society needs more computer scientists and for all young people to have an informed view of the IT industry and its contribution to the economy.

    The aims are also broadly admirable. Although there is a lack of definition of what some of the aims refer to, such as what the “key concepts” of the subject are. I would have hoped that precisely these types of questions should have been answered first, and not vaguely alluded to in course specifications.

    Course Structure

    I am concerned that in rationalising the previous Computing and Information Systems courses, the content of the optional units have mostly been dropped, and that has left just Software Development and Database Systems, along with a little bit of Computer Systems and some web development thrown in.

    I am glad that we have managed to exorcise ICT skills from the study of Computing, as important as ICT competency is, but we have to be careful not to reduce Computing to little more than programming and databases. Computing is a broad discipline with many areas of specialisation, so confining the course to a pair of fixed units is very limiting. I would like to see some opportunities for these specialism, and other aspects of Computing, to be included in the course, or least the flexibility for teachers to include extra content in their own delivery.

    Unit Specifications (National 4/5)

    The outcomes of the Software Design and Development and Information System Design and Development units seem more or less appropriate at the levels they are intended, within the context of my concerns about the system specifications.

    I am more concerned about the “mandatory skills, knowledge and understanding for the Computing and Information Science (National 4) Course” which appear in the only documentation I have seen which describes what students will be assessed on in the new qualifications. They include a significant number of already dated terminology, without some built in process for allowing the subject to adapt to developments in technology.

    Let me exemplify with a couple of examples.

    The types of computer stated mean that students must define (at the equivalent of Int 1, or General, level) what a “mainframe” is despite their being a great chance they will never encounter one even if they eventually work in the Computing industry. Similarly, they must define the term “PDA” despite the fact that this is a term (and class of device) that has almost universally obsoleted.

    The same point could be made of the discussion of data types as well as storage, input, and output devices. Apparently arbitrarily missing from the fixed list of output devices are LED displays, and yet a distinction is made between LCD and plasma displays.

    I have no issue with the actual terms, rather with embedding them in the assessment documentation, and therefore burdening students and teachers with their definitions until such a time the course is revised. Why do these terms need to be specified at all? Is it not enough to talk about the principles of these types of devices and allow the learning and teaching process to focus on the devices/terms that are appropriate at the point of teaching?

    There is also the issue of design considerations being in the section on web-based applications (not sure if this refers to applications hosted on the web or those for creating web content – the term suggests the former, but the content statements the latter). Surely these principles apply equally to software and database development?

    Finally on the the National 4 assessment, I am concerned about the sheer number of content statements, particularly related to the Information System Design and Development unit. I would like to see a more skill/task based course with supporting theory, whereas the content statements suggest to me that the opposite would be the result for that unit. I understood that one principle of the CfE courses was to allow for depth of study. At National 4 level I think that will be difficult with that amount of content.

    General Comments

    I am surprised at the closed nature of this development and consultation process, given the increasingly widespread use of the social aspects of the web. I have chosen to publicly share my feedback, and I would be glad if others did likewise. Transparency in the decision making process would help to reassure everyone that the result is the best outcome. After all, if I am the only person to feel as I do, I can hardly be unhappy if the result is not what I would like to see.

    Related to this, I would like to know what input universities and industry had in helping to determine the topics that make up the course, and the content statements that make up each topic.

    Could research and feedback, and not just selected highlights of the same, not be posted and available for all?

    And finally, as I post this as feedback, I notice that you are not asked to leave a contact. So feedback will be taken, but there seems to be little plan to follow this up afterwards. I am sure that would be useful in a number of situations.


    Update: This post was written before the subject name was refined to simply Computing Science. The SQA have now finalised information on all levels of CfE Computing Science.

  • #EduScotICT

    A month ago Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP, recently posted a message on YouTube announcing a consultation into the future of GLOW.

    In one week there will be a conference in Stirling, with a mix of invited guests attending, with streaming of discussions for anyone to join/comment. There was even a wiki set up to elicit opinions and start the discussion going. I have to say the attitude is refreshingly progressive.

    I am not sure I feel qualified or entitled to contribute to the debate. I first saw GLOW three years ago, and have bumped into it a few times since, but I have never had a GLOW account – and sadly I am not likely to in the future, but I will come to that later.

    I can only scratch the surface here, but after a month of reading and occasional discussions, the following things occur to me…

    Objective 1: Change the culture of the use of ICT

    ICT skills need to be treated with the same importance and weight as numeracy and literacy. Until then pupils and teachers will not be expected to have the skills they require, and schools will not be expected to provide them.

    Pupils need to be able to access the same resources at school as they can at home, and ideally on their own chosen device. It is ridiculous that a school would block YouTube (for example) when so many wonderful resources reside there, and when pupils can sit during lunch watching completely unfiltered content via their 3G smartphones.

    Filtering, if it is to exist at all, needs to be implemented in a far more liberal way. Teachers need to be the arbiters of appropriateness of material, not technical staff or local authorities.

    All this technology makes it really easy to share resources, and yet somehow it happens surprisingly rarely. The #EduScotICT wiki, as well as numerous individual blogs, is evidence that people can share, but it happens infrequently in a meaningful way. We have the opportunity to produce shared instructional materials and activities, and on top ofthat we can encourage debate and interaction with and beyond these.

    Objective 2: Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents

    Expect competency from teachers and support learners (including teachers, leaders, and parents). We expect numeracy and literacy to a minimum level from our teachers, surely we should expect the same of their ICT skills. But, of course, support is needed to make sure that they can meet expectations. Training, exemplification, sharing, and encouragement – for all these learner groups).

    Recognise a wider variety of skills. Can we please kill our obsession with Microsoft Office? Although we have to be careful not to replace that with an obsession with iPads. If you can demonstrate a skill, or an understanding, does it matter how you do so, or which tool you use? Let’s understand that people learn in different ways.

    Be wary of qualifications. ECDL and PC Passport are formulaic approaches to delivering and assessing ICT skills, and if they fit your needs then that’s great. However, teacher training courses had ICT as a core skill a decade ago and yet still teachers are joining the profession lacking skills and confidence. A piece of paper is less effective than a commitment to share ideas and good practice.

    Create national resources. Good resources. Resources to help all learners specifically with ICT skills, and more generally resources that teachers will want to use. If there are benefits to gaining ICT skills, people will be more likely to want to gain them.

    Encourage the use of “personal learning networks”, whether via Twitter-like tools, forums, or blogs. Equally, encourage the same in the physical space. Teachmeet, in-school groups, area discussion groups, and national conferences. I am sure there are many more options available.

    Objective 3: Promote new behaviours for teaching

    I cannot really comment on this without thinking that the real issue is actually that we need to work out what we are going to teach and how we are going to assess it. But that’s another post.

    I don’t think it’s about “new” behaviours so much as good practice, which must always have been at the forefront of any good teacher’s mind. Of course, with changes in technology, especially as it infiltrates further into schools, there will be a need to change teaching behaviours. But I hope that all good teacher would recognise that.

    We also need to recognise that just because technology is an integral part of life, and increasingly school, does not mean that everything should be about the technology. But again, I am sort of hoping that this is a given.

    Objective 4: Deepen parental engagement

    All schools should go beyond the web site. And it might depend on the school, the parent population, and the currently prominent tools. But communication in a number of ways, from which parents can chose, seems a minimum.

    Email. Twitter. Facebook. It really does not matter, except there should be multiple methods of communication, and new ones should be added as they become widespread. The parents should choose the one they want.

    Open pupil records to parents (and pupils). Let them log in and see a pupil’s progress and current work. Give them a chance to discuss and promote the school.

    Let pupils contact parents, and other pupils, themselves. Blogs and wikis, or Facebook and Twitter – again, it perhaps depends on the school etc., and as technology changes so must the available tools.

    Importantly, give pupils and parents some control over the method of communication. Again, we all work in different ways. We all want different things.

    Objective 5: Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

    All schools need a reliable, high bandwidth network connection. Without the infrastructure, no amount of improvement in ICT provision within school will be of benefit.

    Whole site Wifi access is required in all schools, with pupils and staff allowed to make use of their own devices, in and out of classes. Ubiquitous access to all resources.

    One to one deployment of devices should be the norm. Type and uniformity of device, and funding issues, are up for much debate no doubt – but everyone needs something. Universal access to all resources.

    Ideally there should be a single login for each user. Technologies like OpenID/oAuth allow such an idea to be a reality. Many tools already support generic login methods, and others do so by use of plug-ins, while I am sure others would be able to with relatively minor funding/encouragement. Though this is much less essential for staff, much less likely to be an issue for parents, and only really critical in junior school years.

    Create a national resource repository. Encourage sharing, editing, and rating of resources. All teachers should have access to all resources. Resources need not be centrally stored, but should be catalogued by course and topic. We have thousands of teachers in this country, and many more internationally, let’s make use of that. Let’s all create things for each other.

    And finally…

    I would not have thought about this, but for my involvement in trying to get GLOW opened up to independent schools and further/higher education, but really…

    Whatever replaces GLOW, assuming it is somehow curated, will not be a truly national resource if organisations are excluded from accessing it and contributing resources to it.