Here is a list of the 10 most viewed posts over the last 6 months. [Last updated 11 August 2015.]
4,506 - If ever you need a really comprehensive "title" drop-down
892 - Mathematics summer school closed in Turkey because it involved "education without permission"
362 - 16 bits per second - the bandwidth of consciousness
262 - My report from half way through Keith Devlin's Coursera "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking" course
224 - Elegant word or tag-cloud creator
213 - Both episodes of Dylan Wiliam's "The Classroom Experiment" now available
193 - Prevent death on the roads by better treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea
105 - My end-of-course report from Keith Devlin's Coursera "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking" course
53 - Using TrueCrypt instead of EFS to encrypt data on a laptop
49 - Peter Norvig's TED talk reflecting on creating and running the online AI course
[Also on LinkedIn. Header image added 3/10/2015. Small edits made 4/10/2015. Addendum from evidence by Martin Donnelly and Peter Lauener to the 19/10/2015 Public Accounts Committee added 20/10/2015]
Until 2002 I was employed in The Sheffield College. For the last seven years I have been a governor there. The college is a big urban FE college spread across four main sites, with a turnover of over £50m.
In 2000 I was a bit involved in The Sheffield Review, after The Sheffield College was put into Special Measures by the FEFC and the then Education Secretary, David Blunkett. Two Governors were "imposed" (Bob Fryer and FEFC's Dr Terry Melia) and George (now Sir George) Sweeney was parachuted in as Principal.
Here is a link to the executive summary of The Sheffield Review: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9912/. (I have a hard copy of the full review, but there seem not to be any publicly available digital versions.)
One very striking aspect of the Sheffield Review's method, which seems to differ from what is currently envisaged for ABRs, was that the FEFC's Terry Melia was very hot indeed on working out what the need in Sheffield was, and only then moving on to what provision was required to meet the need.
Of course the funding situation then was not as it is now, and is expected to be even worse after November's Comprehensive Spending Review. So funding will be insufficient to meet needs. And working out need in a LEP area such as Greater Manchester, or Sheffield City Region is a bigger job than "only" in one big local authority area. Nevertheless, ABRs ought, for moral as well as practical reasons, have that baseline assessment of numbers/need at an early stage.
From what I can make out, having attended the introductory meeting for college governors about Area Based Reviews, and having kept my eyes and ears open, it seems that ABRs will look at what there is on the ground by way of supply, and then move on to considering how that supply might be better and/or more cheaply provided. [Note that this approach is not the one that Government Officials described to the Public Accounts Committee on 19/10/2015. See Addendum below.]
The gap between supply and need would thus never be analysed.
This flaw in the ABR process (it is not the only one...) should be fixed.
Addendum - 20/10/2015
Extract from the oral evidence taken on 19/10/2015 by the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the financial sustainability in the further education sector. Emphasis added. For the full transcript go to http://goo.gl/w2It35.
Q50 - Chair [Meg Hillier, MP]: It sounds like it could be a bit haphazard. In terms of the future shape of the sector, FE colleges particularly have a capital asset and a physical presence, which constrains who they deliver to, to a degree, but also is an important local provision for people who may not be able to travel in the same way that people might do to university. Does the Department have no strategic oversight of what the general geographical spread should be of these institutions, and do you not have any alarms or worries about how area-based reviews may work or throw up mergers that might not deliver for all residents in a particular area?
Martin Donnelly [Permanent Secretary at BIS]: We are very concerned to ensure that there are available learning opportunities for people throughout England—in this case. Perhaps I could ask Peter to comment in a bit more detail about how we take that into account as we go through the process of supporting colleges and the area review.
Peter Lauener [Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency and the Education Funding Agency]: First of all, a bit of context. As Martin said, there has been a long-term process of rationalisation and merger in the further education sector since incorporation in 1993. When a merger happens it does not mean that buildings are necessarily closed, although there is sometimes a separate process of reducing the number of buildings in a particular area, if there are too many; but very often you get distributed leadership and management over a wider area, which produces savings and efficiency, and improvements in effectiveness.
As we go to the area reviews, the big challenge with those is precisely, I think, what you said—to start with what is needed for learners, for communities, for business, and then work back from that to structure. So it is not a sort of “move the deckchairs around”. It is what is needed in this area to provide the best possible service to the three groups—learners, the community and employers—and improve progression through to higher skill levels. It is a quite a challenging agenda.
On this page are links to articles (mostly) that have caught my eye that relate to the 2015 Labour leadership election, and what came next. I'm adding to it, as and when, sometimes in response to suggestions from readers. I've highlighted some that particularly stood out for me. (Highlighting is not endorsement.)
Last updated, 1/1/2016
Work-shy dole scroungers is another of the informative, data-rich, "integrating" posts that dominate Flip Chart Fairy Tales (Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work). The post's comparison of UK and US data is particularly interesting.
"In 2012, the number of working families in poverty overtook the number without work. (See previous post.) Among those households below the official poverty line, the working poor now outnumber the unemployed, retired and sick put together. Not only do the in-work poor outnumber the workless, nearly half of them are in families where all the adults have jobs.
Edited image of crash site from BBC News
In August 2006 my nephew Toby was killed by a truck whose driver, Colin Wrighton, an obstructive sleep apnoea sufferer, had "blacked out" (Wrighton's phrase) at the wheel. The crash-scene is above.
I wrote in Fortnightly Mailing about the issue in the years following the CPS decision not to prosecute Wrighton. Examples:
Last week we launched the Four-week wait campaign for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome [22p PDF], an attempt to get renewed attention in the UK on the dangers of untreated obstructive sleep apnoea, and, in particular, to guarantee that vocational drivers can be treated for the condition within four weeks, thereby limiting or entirely eliminating the need for them to surrender their license and their livelihood following a diagnosis.
Today, Radio 4's iPM programme broadcast a 15 minute piece about OSA, featuring interviews from 2008 with my sister and brother in law (Toby's parents), and with Colin Wrighton; and a new, long and informative interview with Professor John Stradling, a sleep specialist who is closely involved in the four week wait campaign. Here is a recording of the interview [20MB MP3 file - you may need to "right click" and save the file locally in order to play it]. Or you should be able to stream it from the BBC's web site. I've also uploaded a five-page text transcript of the programme [23kB PDF].
If you want to help us achieve our objectives, write to your MP urging him or her to press the Department of Health, NICE, DVLA, and HSE to work together to ensure that vocational drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea are given a cast iron guarantee to be treated within less than 4 weeks. Take particular note of the BBC's interview with John Stradling, when he talks about:
(Washington US-based Jim Farmer [biography, email jfx "AT" immagic "DOT" com] has contributed occasionally to Fortnightly Mailing over the years. This is the second of four Guest Contributions by Jim. The first is here.)
NSA and the Surveillance State have created an atmosphere of fear in the US for Washington politicians. If there is a single terrorist incident, having voted against budget increases or having failed to support NSA’s work could end a career. If there is a major revelation—such as the tapping of telephone lines of White House staff and of journalists that occurred in the 1970s—then having failed to vote for limiting the scope of NSA activities would make re-election difficult. And both are predicted.
Two public rallies in Washington in October and November – the Stop Watching Us Rally , and the subsequent Anonymous Washington Rally – can be viewed as proxy indicators of the political forces. Both were very small. But size is not everything, and the kinds of people involved in both – tech-savvy, highly educated individuals – are probably representative of a very significant and potentially very influential section of American opinion, as this article explains.
Here are some "readings" about the Syria situation.
They vary widely in style and position (Fintan O'Toole's piece about Seamus Heaney is there because of the way Heaney shows that "uncertainty may simply be the human condition") and several of them, including O'Toole's, result from some back-and-forth with John Naughton.
I've highlighted eight that I think are particularly illuminating.
[Last updated 22/9/2013]
Editorial - "Syria: the neglected health crisis deepens" - The Lancet, 31/8/2013
Matthew d'Ancona - "A nauseating, preening and grubby carnival of inaction" - Daily Telegraph, 31/8/2013 l
Uri Avnery - "Poor Obama. I pity him." - Gush Shalom, 31/8/2013
Aaron Bady - "The Sovereign Double-Standard" - The New Inquiry, 31/8/2013
Security expert Bruce Schneier has published a terrific article about risk, and our fear of it, with a focus on the fundamental difference between human-instigated and other risks.
The article, which I have added to my list of pieces about privacy, secrecy, and surveillance, is well worth reading. Here is an excerpt:
We also expect that science and technology should be able to mitigate these risks, as they mitigate so many others. There's a fundamental problem at the intersection of these security measures with science and technology; it has to do with the types of risk they're arrayed against. Most of the risks we face in life are against nature: disease, accident, weather, random chance. As our science has improved -- medicine is the big one, but other sciences as well -- we become better at mitigating and recovering from those sorts of risks.
Security measures combat a very different sort of risk: a risk stemming from another person. People are intelligent, and they can adapt to new security measures in ways nature cannot. An earthquake isn't able to figure out how to topple structures constructed under some new and safer building code, and an automobile won't invent a new form of accident that undermines medical advances that have made existing accidents more survivable. But a terrorist will change his tactics and targets in response to new security measures. An otherwise innocent person will change his behavior in response to a police force that compels compliance at the threat of a Taser. We will all change, living in a surveillance state.
When you implement measures to mitigate the effects of the random risks of the world, you're safer as a result. When you implement measures to reduce the risks from your fellow human beings, the human beings adapt and you get less risk reduction than you'd expect -- and you also get more side effects, because we all adapt.
Here are some links to well-written (or spoken), interesting or challenging pieces about privacy, secrecy, and surveillance.
Last updated 8 November 2013
I'll inconsistently update this as I come across (or am sent) others.
Danielle Allen - "The NSA unravels a civil rights-era win" - Washington Post, 30/8/2013
James Ball - "Protecting journalist sources: Lessons in communicating securely" - Journalism, 26/7/2013
James Bamford - "They Know Much More Than You Think" - New York Review of Books, 17/7/2013
Yochai Benkler - "A Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate" [PDF] - Harvard Civil Liberties Law Review, August 2011
What can go wrong on a ski-trip?
Over Easter this year – with my friends B and A – I did a 9 day hut-to-hut ski-tour running roughly North to South across Hardangervidda, the huge high wild roadless plateau of central Norway, that is bounded to the North by the Hardanger glacier, and to the North and West by the innermost lobes of Hardangerfjord. (At one point the glacier and the sea are less than 10 km apart.)
I did a similar trip in completely different weather and snow conditions in 2008 with B and daughter M (from Haugestøl go Haukeliseter). This year we started at Hallingskeid on the Oslo to Bergen railway a little East of Finse and a bit before the trains begin their steep decent towards Bergen. For me the trip finished about 2 km short of the road at Haukeliseter after nearly 200 km. (For aficionados our route was Hallingskeid – Rembesdalseter – Kjeldebu – Dyranut – Hadlaskard – Torehytten – Tyssevasbu – Litlos – Hellevasbu – Haukeliseter.)
This Easter, central Norway was blessed with high pressure, leading to sunny, cloudless, cold and largely windless conditions. Lack of snow and previous strong winds meant that there was plenty of lumpy and grooved sastrugi to contend with, and a lot of hard and quite smooth unforgiving and sometimes shiny icy surfaces. And it was exceptionally cold, with -30C on some nights and daytime temperatures of between -23 and -5C.
In the continuation post below are a few pictures from the wonderful trip. But the purpose of this long post is to record what happened when things went wrong. I’m doing this partly to help others better to understand the anatomy of an accident, and partly to get what happened out of my system. What follows is a slightly edited version of something I wrote in Oslo on 1 April on the way home.