London vs The Rest (including Dundee and Newcastle)

A couple of weeks ago the BBC screened a TV programme called Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest (http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2014/09/mind-the-gap-london-vs-the-rest.html). This two part series looked at how cities and towns in the rest of Britain compare to the capital. Evan Davis (and whoever produced the show) probably cherry picked data to prove their point (so not very scientifically literate). Despite this there were some interesting points raised. It is quite clear that there is a significant economic  imbalance between London and the rest of Britain. Personally I find this odd as London does not have any significant resources, and produces (in my opinion) very little of value. The London economy is driven by finance and the service sector (linked closely to tourism) but makes very little. Food, water and energy are all shipped into the capital to support the huge population.

A man who seems to be in love with London Mayor Boris Johnson, talks to the BBC journalist Evan Davis.
(Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03xhcjg)

And so if London is not producing much (other than pretend money, hot air and a lot of carbon emissions) what about the rest of Britain, what do we produce? Living in Dundee I have been interested to learn about the history of the city. In Victorian times the jute industry and the mills that relied on it, employed tens of thousands and brought considerable prosperity. Another city I know well, Newcastle, was similarly supported by the production of ships, arms and before that coal. As these prominent industries faded the cities did not find viable replacements, and therefore employment opportunities disappeared. London, meanwhile, did not suffer in this way and has contiuned to grow.

Tyne Bridge

Newcastle’s Quayside and the river Tyne (no fog today though)

Dundee now has a more balanced economy, and is not reliant on any single industry, but in the terms of wealth it is a long way behind London. Newcastle meanwhile has suffered in recent years as the public sector employed many people and this is now shrinking fast. So it was with some trepidation that I visited Newcastle recently. Things were not as bad as I had expected though. Many of the businesses I knew in the city centre were still trading and one pub, The Redhouse on the Quayside (http://www.theredhousencl.co.uk/), seemed to be borrowing some ideas from London. They were serving a range of pies complete with mash and liquor  – alongside a great range of local beers. I decided that I should do a bit for the economy so ordered several pints. One of the most interesting had been brewed, by one of the staff, in a microbrewery less than a mile away. It was an Unfined Orange Saison and was excellent. So it was a local product, manufactured and sold by the person that served me, made with grain and hops grown in Britain (I think).

Helen and beer 2

The Redhouse pub serving up (L-R) pint of Orange Unfined Saison, half-pint of Tyneside Blonde, pint of Elder Statesman

Of course the beer and real ale industry (even in Newcastle) will not close the gap between London and the rest of Britain. But at least people are producing something useful outside the capital. Later this year Scotland will be voting on independence from the rest of Britain. Perhaps, after that, the rest of Britain should be given the chance to leave London. Now that would be an interesting debate.

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CPD and Professional Learning (PL) & how we know ants can count…

The last few weeks seem to have been all about CPD and Career-Long Professional Learning for me. At work I have attended a range of meetings and conferences in different parts of country with a range of committees and organisations. One of the most interesting examples was at the UCET CPD (Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers Continuing Professional Development) committee who presented an interim research paper on the role of research in Initial Teacher Education. This is all about getting future teachers understanding and valuing research. Personally I think this is phenomenally important (I think that research literacy links closely to scientific literacy) and the research paper (available here: http://www.bera.ac.uk/system/files/BERA-RSA%20Interim%20Report.pdf) is well worth a read.

To support this aim all of the BEd4 students at the University of Dundee complete a research project and attending the thesis presentations is always a highlight of the year for me. The high level of achievement of the students is, in no small part, down to the guidance from the inspirational Professor David Miller (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/eswce/staff/profile/david-miller). I always find that the quality of research, produced by the students, and critical debate it inspires, gives me hope for the future of teaching.

The relevance of CPD and PL has also been recognised by the professional registration body for teachers in Scotland (the GTCS) who have recently introduced new sets of professional standards. One route is for teachers who are committed to Career-Long Professional Learning (http://www.gtcs.org.uk/standards/standard-for-career-long-professional-learning.aspx) and it will be interesting to see what percentage of the teaching population register via this set of standards.

Outside of the lecture theatre I am also interested in how teachers and students develop expertise and skills for themselves. The University of Strathclyde seems to do this very well, with students running their own CPD club (http://www.strathstudents.com/cpd). Late last year I attended a TeachMeet event organised by the students and was really impressed. Now I am pleased to see that the students at Dundee are thinking about doing something similar. TeachMeets are great ways of teachers and education professionals to share ideas and examples of best practice and I would recommend attending one if you get the chance. Other organisations are also working to support teachers and students with their CPD and PL activities. Dundee Science Centre (DSC) is a great example of this and they run a comprehensive range of courses and sessions. Recently education students have visited DSC to learn about Early Years Science and we have also facilitated joint sessions at the University of Dundee.

PGDE Visit To Dundee Science Centre

Dundee University PGDE students visit Dundee Science Centre

Over the last two weeks we have delivered CPD/PL sessions covering the maths of sport (is the heptathlon scored failry?) and maths in science (can ants count?)*. One of the more unusual activities was plotting a graph of how the dimensions of a mars bar change, over time, as it is eaten! And speaking of Maths a good friend, and fellow teacher, has just started a blog talking about leading secondary maths education. He has achieved some quite remarkable results in challenging circumstances so I would recommend having a look at what he has to say… http://www.mathsleader.com/. So perhaps this is the future of CPD and CLPL in education – highly effective practice, informed by evidence and theory, which is then shared with the wider education and teaching community.

If you have any suggestions of great practice, or interesting research, in CPD or PL I would love to hear from you…

(*The answers to the questions are, no the heptathlon is not fair http://www.theaftermatter.com/2012/06/maths-of-heptathlon-why-scoring-system.html, and yes ants can count – proven by researchers who chopped off part of their legs, then stuck match sticks back on in place of the legs. When the ants had shorter legs, and left the nest, they stopped short of their destination, when they had longer legs they walked right past the destination. Therefore the altered leg length altered stride length, Thus proving the ants are counting their steps. Apparently. http://www.livescience.com/871-ants-marching-count-steps.html)