Category Archives: Education, Health And Welfare

Call The Midwife: A BBC1 Triumph For Real People

The second hour of the BBC1 Call The Midwife drama series has now (on Sunday evening, 22 Jan 2012) been broadcast; and already we learn that there will be another series before long.  Rarely do I get enthused about television, but the original books offered the potential for something special; and so it turns out to be.  My piece elsewhere (and below) about aspects of public service which the TV drama illustrates has resulted in some really human engagement with this excellent viewing.  Please keep the Comments coming….

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Save Our Libraries Day, As Bedtime Reading Week Ends In Barnsley

Today is Save Our Libraries Day, a national event in protest against the threatened closure of many local libraries in the UK; and by a positive irony folk in Barnsley are having their very own Bedtime Reading Week which finishes also today, 5 February. What more evidence is needed that books and reading are valued everywhere?
It is easy to forget how important books are to the development of small children. There’s a ‘window of opportunity’ in just the very first few years of a child’s life which we all ignore at our peril…

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Does Old Age Have To Mean Life On The Sidelines?

Summary: What happens to people as they get older? What should be the starting points for more consideration of this vexed question? With post-war babies currently reaching retirement and many of their parents still alive, the number of elderly people in the UK is increasing dramatically. But socio-economic infrastructure still often lags behind.
Whilst never unimportant, advanced old age was until quite recently not a widespread issue. There is now a pressing need to understand better how to accommodate and respond to this shift in the UK’s demographic.

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor: Not ‘White’ And Not Male, Simply An Expert In U.S. Law

pink calculator & spectacles caseSonia Sotomayor is the lawyer and judge who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the bench of the American Supreme Court. This week Judge Sotomayor has been grilled at a senate hearing about her suitability for the post. She is also Hispanic and a woman. This it seems gives rise to fears by interrogating Senators that her judgements may differ from those made previously.
Social Inclusion & Diversity
The hearings on whether Sonia Sotomayor should become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court have been both predictable and in some ways depressing: her eleven inquisitors include just two women and the dialogue has reflected this.
Obama’s broad church
On the other hand President Obama, in nominating Judge Sotomayor, has demonstrated again (as he has with other appointments, such as that of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the post of Secretary of State) that he intends his administration to be a broad church, inclusive of the talents of people of many sorts.
It’s interesting that Sonia Sotomayor was able, in sworn evidence, to affirm that the President did not ask her personal views on matters such as abortion and gun control – issues which persistently appear in every hearing for appointments to the Supreme Court. Nor, apparently, do Sotomayor and Obama agree about the relevance or otherwise of ‘empathy’ in legal judgement (she says she puts it aside; he sees it as relevant).
The obstacles of gender and ethnicity – and class?
It looks increasingly likely that Judge Sotomayor’s appointment will be confirmed. After the usual party political jostling, significant Republicans on the panel have indicated they will not oppose her nomination.
But why, and how, do these people think it appropriate to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor’s gender and ethnicity are critical issues which might mitigate in the future against fair and transparent interpretation of the law?
Sotomayor’s personal background is not unlike that of Obama; her early life, living in public housing in the Bronx, was uncompromisingly unprivileged. Perhaps social class also plays an unacknowledged part here. The Republicans amongst the Senators grilling her are not of the Grand Old Party (GOP) for nothing.
Privileged white men
But surely even they can see that the Supreme Court has thus far been an enclave of privileged white men? In its entire history it has been administered by 111 justices, only two of them so far women (the majority of the population), and none Hispanic (the fastest growing ethnic group in the USA).
Perhaps the Supreme Court has always adhered to interpretation of the law, with no fear or favour (though frightening statistics on what sorts of criminals are not excused judicial slaughter, for instance, might suggest otherwise).
But as far as I can tell, not many of these white, male, privileged nominations for the Supreme Court have been quizzed for days and days about whether their personal demographic provenance will endanger justice for all US citizens.
Politics and competencies
Assurances of propriety and competence are essential before any Supreme Court justice is appointed. Party political posturing is inescapably part of the game.
It’s a ritual of Supreme Court nomination that questions have to be asked about every imaginable variable, and that Senators at the hearing go to extraordinary lengths not to set procedural precedence which they may later find uncomfortable.
Striking failures of insight
But, glaring omissions of insight about how and by what sorts of people the US law and constitution have been determined in the past…..?
Small wonder during her inquisition that Judge Sotomayor has stuck unservingly to the position simply that: The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law.”
I’m not a US citizen, but I am a citizen of a country which, like the US, seeks, in however flawed a way, to achieve fairness and equality. That fundamental – and perhaps intended? – apparent omission of insight on the part of Sonia Sotomayor’s inquisitors I find downright bizarre.
Read more about Social Inclusion & Diversity and Political Process & Democracy.

Earth Day: The Green Generation Campaign

Earth Day, the annual event on 22 April, was devised in 1970 by a US Senator from Wisconsin. Today the Earth Day Network has a global reach. 2009 marks the start of The Green Generation Campaign, leading to 2010, the fortieth anniversary of this important day. A billion people already participate in Earth Day activities, now the largest secular civic event in the world. It’s time for us all to take the Green Generation route to the future.
Sustainability As If People Mattered.
We all have to ‘Go Green’…. and even back in 1970 many of us knew it.
Whilst we in the UK were busily promoting the then very new Friends of the Earth – at the time perceived by some as a dangerously radical organisation – our eco cousins in the USA were going about their business, it seems, in a rather more formal fashion, via a proposal by Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator, that there be a national Earth Day.
Today (22 April 2009) sees the thirty ninth anniversary of what has evolved into International Earth Day, with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries looking forward the fortieth such event, to occur in 2010.
The Green Generation
Now, the focus is on the new-wave Green Generation, a cohort with unambiguously ambitious aims:
* A carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal.
* An individual’s commitment to responsible, sustainable consumption.
* Creation of a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one.
Sharing responsibility for sustainability
People of every sort have begun to recognise their responsibility for sustaining the future of our shared environment. Those who have their own challenges, living in a complex multi-cultural society, work together sharing a common resolve to make things better, just as others also do.
But the further you are from where decisions are made, the harder it is to get the support you need to do your part. Sometimes it’s money and resources you require; other times it’s the encouragement of family, friends and neighbours who don’t always understand why wider environmental and community issues matter.
People at the grassroots can feel they have little power to change things.
Small actions are important
But every small effort is part of the greater scheme of things, with important ramifications.
Perhaps it’s ‘only’ planting some vegetables with the kids in an urban space, or explaining to our children why they need to respect their environment – or indeed digging up the White House lawn to plant organically produced vegetables, as Michelle Obama has just done – but from these acts the idea can grow. We’re all part of the same shared world.
The environmental movement is growing quite quickly now, even in inner cities. People undertake small projects – helping with a city farm, supporting older people who want to shop locally, or whatever – but over time the ripples of these activities will begin to overlap, as more and more people join in.
Individual initiatives become communal
You may start a small project almost alone but, as others start also do the same elsewhere, there is somehow a change in perceptions.
Through sharing ideas and action we begin to see why everyone must understand that there is only ‘one planet’ to live on, and that we all have to do our bit to save our environment. Big supermarkets or small traders, there is now an active acknowledgement green issues and eco-initiatives.
All together in common cause
But there’s another important thing here too: It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your culture, gender or age is. We must all to ‘Go Green’, and quickly.
Different people from different places will start in different ways, but we all need to rely on each other. Nobody can ‘save the planet’ on their own: Environmental sustainability is quite a new idea, no-one rich and powerful ‘owns’ it.
The idea of sustainability belongs to us all. Here is something we can all contribute to.
A green leveller
The ‘green agenda’ is a great social leveller, because we are all part of the problem and likewise all part of the solution. Environmental actions, even tiny ones, are critical if we are to sustain our fragile planet; and, happily, sharing our concerns and our ideas for action can bring us together regardless of creed or nationality.
It’s not easy to work, often unpaid and in small ways, protecting the environment and looking after the people in local communities. You can feel alone and perhaps unappreciated. But that work is vital and slowly it is being recognised – which is the first step to the work being properly supported.
With luck the Green Generation Campaign and the run-up to Earth Day 2010 will help to make that happen.
Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

The University Of Liverpool Post-Graduate Poster Day

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: 'Poster Day is a rainforest of research diversity' The University of Liverpool has one Graduate School for all disciplines. The School’s annual Poster Day (27 March, in 2009) enables all these fields to be showcased together. I had the happy task with a few other ‘external’ judges of selecting the first-ever prizewinner for the new ‘North West Hub’ award, to emphasise links between academia and the wider world.
Education & Life-Long Learning and Knowledge Economy.
The exemplary aims of Poster Day are to offer graduate students practice in the skills required to communicate to a degree educated public, and to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about research being undertaken in other parts of the University.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: exhibiting in Mountford Hall
The University of Liverpool Graduate School Poster Day exhibition was fascinating; the cross-faculty range of work under one roof would surely have taken months to get fully to grips with, but we had just a couple of hours. I used the time to talk to some very interesting people, all passionate about their work and the reasons they were doing it.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 307 ~ Woolly Welfare? Reliably Counting Lame Sheep
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 270 ~ An Empirical Investigation of the Libyan Audit Market & No. 272 ~ Corporate Governance and Firm Value
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 31 ~ Achaemenid Egypt: 130 years of Mystery
The involvement of ‘external’ visitors was a new step introduced this year. Here we see some of the Graduate School Team, including Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with my fellow judges:
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with the Graduate School Team & Poster Day external judges (NW Hub)
But in the end we had to make a decision, spoilt for choice though we certainly were.
The general criteria for the North West Hub overall prize included visual impact, organisation of the material, the accessibility of and rationale for the research, and, last but not least, the enthusiasm and clarity of the researcher him or herself. It seems very fitting that the award was after much discussion made to Andrew Lee-Mortimer for his engineering research project around Design for Sustainability.
09.03.27 Liverpool University Post- Poster Day: No. 85 ~ Andrew Lee-Mortimer: Design for Sustainability (NW Hub prizewinner)
Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning and about the Knowledge Economy.

Sure Start Success And A Million Small Conversations

Small children playing Professor John Bynner’s piece in today’s Guardian concerns the need for a ‘science of the family’ – the need to recognise how families large and small work, and to debate how those who seek to support children and their parent/s should best interface on the basis of that knowledge. Of course this is essential; but then we need also a mechanism for sharing these ideas. My own work with Sure Start suggests it’s all those little, day-to-day, conversations between colleagues as they explore common understandings, which may best deliver this.
Early Years & Sure Start.
I’d agree strongly with John Bynner – who has followed closely the national Sure Start evaluation (NESS) programmes – that an applied ‘science of the family’, frameworked around the emerging shape of Sure Start Children’s Centres, is now critical to prospects for longer-term success.
In summary Bynner’s message is that involving parents and studying projects which work is crucial to improving children’s wellbeing.
The transition to Sure Start Children’s Centres
I have undertaken quite a lot of work with Sure Start programmes, as they make the transition, within various Local Authorities settings, to Children’s Centres. This is a vitally important programme, and there’s a pressing need for even more research into how best, in the interests of everyone, we should support children and their parents in the task of ensuring a happy childhood and positive ways of achieving adulthood.
The Sure Start evaluation programme has already indicated many ways this could happen; now we must equip more professionals and other practitioners working with children and their parents, to make these examples of good practice the norm.
From pilot programmes to good practice
But we have to remember that Sure Start programmes began at the turn of the Millennium as individual, isolated, almost silo-ed, initiatives, trying to find their way in uncharted waters.
Studies such as those of NESS have helped everyone to move towards a more coherent whole; but the emphases within Sure Start programmes in different places are often still different, within the overall requirements, because people working on the programmes come from different practitioner backgrounds.
As one example, early years and health practitioners are not often geared towards the more formal end of adult basic education and employment skills training – which is in many cases the key to unlocking doors to the future for those who have, so far, had not a lot.
Commonalities between professional disciplines
Despite the increasingly clear insistence from government on joined up frameworks to support children and their families, not enough senior people ‘on the ground’ are as yet willing to concede that this really must happen in meaningful ways.
This change in perspective would require further revisiting professional / practitioner silos; GPs, teachers, social workers and so on are not always good at that sort of thing. But early years practitioners, midwives, community volunteers etc have essential understandings to offer in cross-disciplinary terms, if they can be put in a position (and fully supported in these extra intra-professional skills?) to do so.
There’s a need for substantial elements of advocacy and aspiration in all this. ‘Good’ parenting and happy childhoods don’t just happen; they occur when the context is right. This is where Sure Start can help.
Working together
We need to find ways to encourage all concerned to work closely together; and that has to start with valuing and learning from a million small and positive conversations between practitioners of all sorts, to help us focus on delivering our aspiration of every child being a happy child.
My own experience tells me we need to keep translating these perspectives between those on the ground and the decision-makers, so as to realign and focus collaboratively, in our different ways, on supporting the people, individuals, families and communities, whom we are in the business of helping.
A million small conversations
It’s the ‘million small conversations’ – hopefully based on everyone, not just the powers-that-be, knowing the fundamentals of good practice and what the research tells us – which make this transition.
Practitioners talk all the time to individuals in families and local communities; their wisdom is essential; they are trusted by clients where others may not be.
But the flow of information has to be two-way. The decision-makers know the outcomes of wider research on ‘what works’, for instance, and they need to share that much more proactively than they often currently do.
Learning from each other
Talking with those who are on the ground day-by-day isn’t an optional extra here; it’s how we all learn. And this these conversations are what, in my opinion, are most often lacking so far…. which perhaps is also why progress to enabling those who experience disadvantage is so painfully slow.
I’ve started several explorations of how to align different disciplines towards the overarching Sure Start objective, only to be told by those working in the service that they ‘haven’t got time’ to meet me as a group to examine what’s happening.
Before we finish, the reverse is always true: these practitioners and professionals have by then become autonomous in their desire to keep in touch and share good practice. Change can happen, albeit not always as we expect.
In the end this becomes a virtuous circle; we really do need to value the currency of relaxed inter-disciplinary discussion, forgetting the hierarchies and valuing the common goals.
Different approaches, different outcomes
It’s been instructive to see how the structures of programmes such as Sure Start may and / or may not help to raise the aspirations of local people; and that’s no criticism of people who have chosen as best they can one set of ways over another to try to support those who are less fortunate.
But the disconjunctions of different practitioner perspectives need to be acknowledged as a challenge, to get this enabling of aspirations on the agenda.
I’ve started projects which focused on health in early years, and ended up with serious discussions also about local economic strategies and adult ed.
There wasn’t in the end a problem here, it was just that the economic and education people felt as unknowledgeable about early years, as the early years practitioners did about them.
How do families ‘work’?
To return to the theme of John Bynner’s piece, we don’t as yet have very complete knowledge of how families (whether of two or ten…) work, especially when it comes to positive service delivery.
And we can add to that that the community volunteers and mums and dads had never been asked till then what they thought either about the ‘education and training’ side of things. What sort of local enterprises would they like? (The answer was often healthy local food….) What sort of education and training is best? (Answer, usually: the sort you can get near home, with childcare…)
Once again, the way forward was to get those small conversations going….
Synergies to reduce disadvantage
The goodwill is certainly there; it’s the synergies that need to be nurtured until they can stand up for themselves.
There has to be a better model for reducing disadvantage. I seriously propose that part of it is to embrace the idea of everyone (clients, where they wish to, practitioners on the ground, and decision-makers) talking to each other, as equals, in those million small conversations.
Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.

Another Good Milestone For Sure Start Children’s Centres

The Government wants to set up 3,500 Sure Start Children’s Centres by 2010; so it’s good news that most Merseyside local authorities have hit their targets a year early, with a large majority of parents of under-fives expressing high satisfaction with the service. Early on there were concerns about councils ‘taking over’ the development of Children’s Centres from the semi-autonomous Sure Start schemes. On reflection, integration of health, education and social services can in reality only be achieved with strong leadership from the top.
Early Years & Sure Start.
The next step is to embed this service so it’s an essential part of the support all children require. That’s a task which only concerted effort from the top can achieve.
Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.
Your views are welcome.

Can Liverpool’s Arts And Culture Businesses Thrive Post-2008?

violin, amplifier & briefcase The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city – including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool’s creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and ‘non-arts’ businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.
Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool
The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members’ Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool’s creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the “Liverpool Chamber” magazine:
We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.
It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.
Momentum unsecure?
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.
So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.
New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.
This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.
Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool…. and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.
A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.
Hilary Burrage
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee
A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of “Liverpool Chamber”, the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.

PHSE Becomes Core Curriculum – At Last!

happy young people After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child’s age. This decision has been widely welcomed – though strangely not quite by everyone. All children need to understand their own bodies and relationships. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.
In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a ‘guide to cross-curricular issues’, for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on ‘Health Education: Education for Health?’.
How different things were such a relatively short time ago.
Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (please forgive the self-plagiarism.):
[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc… and the whims of individual teaching staff…
[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated ‘lessons’ on the ‘nightmares of adults’ (to use Chris Brown‘s apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being….
Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources – financial and personnel – to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it….
But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.

Contentious issues
It has to be remembered – or retrospectively understood – that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of ‘Sex Education‘, which had become the almost singular ‘topic’ focus of the then-Conservative Government’s educational legislation.
Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers of anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.
A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was ‘as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.
Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.
A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement – to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?
Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It’s been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.
Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.
See also: ‘Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools’ (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 208).

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