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'NekNomination': harmless fun, or something more serious?

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 17:17

This week's student news: where do you stand on the latest social media craze on campus?

Abby Young-PowellLibby Page








The standards vs structures debate: schools shouldn't have to choose

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 17:00

Politicians may be working hard to emphasise the importance of quality teaching and leadership in schools, but neither can thrive without the right framework

Two politicians from opposing parties were singing the same song last month. Speaking at the North of England Education Conference, Tristram Hunt, the relatively new shadow education secretary, bemoaned: "The relentless focus on structural change in our schooling system" mainly through opening large numbers of academies and free schools.

He said if elected Labour would adopt a different approach, emphasising teacher quality, symbolised by his announcement that teachers would have to be regularly relicensed.

A day later, at the same conference in Nottingham, David Laws, the Liberal Democrat minister for education, concluded his speech by remarking: "The subject of teaching and leadership is hugely important, but is too often neglected in favour of more ideological debates about structural reform".

I'm not sure whether any of his Conservative colleagues in government noticed that dig, which was doubtless part of the ongoing process of differentiating his party from them prior to next year's election.

The point that both Hunt and Laws were making is a strong one. There has been an obsession with changing structures over the past 25 years involving all governments, mostly in the direction of trying to make state-funded schools look like private schools – an impossible task given the totally different contexts.

The research clearly shows that individual teacher quality has a much greater impact on student achievement than differences between schools. There is no convincing evidence that any particular type of school in terms of governance structure or ownership produces either superior performance or more innovation when all relevant factors are taken into account and like is rigorously compared with like. So, to that extent, these two politicians are making a correct judgment.

However there's a huge risk in leaving it at that. Organisation matters. Everyone with experience of collective activities (which means practically all of us) knows that the way something is organised has a big impact on what is achieved. I've recently been reading about the disastrously failed part-privatisation of the London Underground in the noughties. As the managing director, Tim O'Toole, wrote afterwards for the New Statesman, where you have high costs and a clear public interest "one is best advised to adopt a structure that is transparent and simple". How right he was.

Our school structures are anything but transparent and simple and there have been enough scandals, questionable practice and warnings from the National Audit Office to ring loud alarm bells.

But talking about teaching quality – though there are controversies involved – is less contentious than structural issues, so there is a temptation to play the latter down to avoid becoming embroiled in too much conflict.

This is not a new situation and it has generated a tension particularly within Labour for many years – it was known as the "standards v structures" debate. Faced with large structural changes attempted by the Conservatives under John Major, Labour went into the 1997 election proclaiming the importance of standards not structures.

Under Tony Blair, within a very few years they had acquired an interest in structural change and introduced the academies programme as well as greatly expanding the specialist schools initiative (remember that?). Now they seem to be returning to their former stance, promoting standards over structures.

The Conservatives, determined to reshape the system according to their free-market and traditionalist vision, have never been troubled by this distinction and have consistently promoted change across the whole spectrum of organisation and provision.

This is hugely important in the context of the current extreme atomisation of the school system with its many distinct types of school, unparalleled among comparable countries internationally, which is generating very large problems of both equity and manageability as well as great complexity and instability. Having two starkly different regimes of funding and oversight and totally separate legal bases for broadly similar schools only adds to the confusion.

It is an exceptional situation which presents formidable challenges to political parties that it would be irresponsible of them to duck, simply in order to secure a quieter life. They should plan to pick up the pieces of a fractured and chaotic system, ensure that all state-funded schools are on a level playing-field, inject coherence and order into the provision so that the options available can be clearly understood by all parents (and, where relevant, learners) and allow significant decisions to be made at local level.

There are different routes to achieving the coherent and transparent arrangements we so urgently need – I have proposed phasing out the individual funding agreements or contracts which promote fragmentation – but an essential starting-point is that, while excellent teaching and quality leadership are of the essence, neither can fully work their magic in a dysfunctional, capricious and inequitable organisational framework.

Ron Glatter is emeritus professor of educational administration and management at The Open University and a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, University of London.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.Ron Glatter
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Bill Nye 'the Science Guy' debates Australian creationist on evolution

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 16:48

Nye discussed the origins of the Earth, animals and humans with Ken Ham, whose group runs a museum dedicated to creationism

Tom Dart








Access to MOOCs could be revolutionary, but US foreign policy is preventing that | Aasis Vinayak

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 16:30

Banning Massive Open Online Courses in countries under US sanctions is a travesty. These students need them the most

Recently, Coursera, the online university course provider, began blocking students from Iran, Cuba and Sudan from using its services. Coursera, which boasts more than 21.5 million student enrolments from 190 countries, is one of the most popular MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platforms out there. But unlike other MOOCs (like MIT OpenCourseWare or edX), Coursera is a for-profit business, which means it can't serve students in countries against which the US government has imposed economic sanctions. Students trying to access Coursera from Iran are out of luck.

According to the US treasury, trade in "information and informational materials" is permitted between the US and countries like Iran, which is why online newspapers and some search engines can provide content to people living in those countries.

In reality, almost all the courses offered by Coursera are free. It generates its profits from certification fees and charging potential employers for introducing them to students. And therein lies the problem – under US law, Coursera is now seen as providing a service.

The export control regulations governing MOOCs are unclear. Coursera's original interpretation of the regulations allowed them to provide access to information to students from sanction-hit countries. But recently, Coursera explained that some of its offerings were being categorized as a "service", meaning that they were now subject to restrictions. Coursera was therefore left with no choice but to block users from specific countries. (Interestingly edX, a non-profit platform, managed to obtain a licence to operate in Iran and Cuba.)

Another difficulty is with the acronym itself. The problem with MOOCs is that they're hard to define. How big is "massive"? What is the definition of "open"? Open to anyone to register? Opensource content? Should content be free? "Online" and "course" are easier to define, although there may even be some debate about what constitutes the latter.

Coursera's original partners were the universities of Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and Pennsylvania. It now has over 100 partners worldwide. The range of content it offers is astonishing. If one considers the take-up rate of platforms such as Coursera, Udacity (for-profit), edX and Khan Academy (non-profit), the figures are astounding. Within just four months of launching, Coursera had over 1 million students. The students did not come from the US alone: over 100,000 students came from Brazil (5.93%) and India (5.16%) and nearly 3,000 students from Iran (.28%). By October 2013, Coursera had 5.2 million users, a five-fold increase in just over one year.

I devise and teach courses in the UK aimed both at undergraduate and postgraduate students and I understand how MOOCs can considerably advance student performance. They are a vital source of knowledge and learning in many developing countries. Blocking access to free educational content will gravely affect these students. It is ironic that at a time when the success of MOOCs is being applauded, (the New York Times dubbed 2012 as "the year of the MOOC" and even the US government intends to create "learning hubs" around the world in partnership with Coursera) the US administration decided to drop its bombshell.

People in countries like Iran, Cuba and Sudan are already suffering because of economic sanctions. Despite this, the percentage of internet users among the general population is reasonably high (26% in Iran, 25.6% in Cuba and 21% in Sudan), unlike countries like India (only 12.6%).

MOOCs allow users to enrol in a variety of courses with ease. All you need is an internet connection. What the US government is doing is therefore both counterproductive and counterintuitive. What better way for the US government to spread freedom and democracy than by supporting the free flow of information? Banning users is potentially damaging – not only to students, but also to the US.

Having said this, the US government's desire to bring in some regulations is understandable, since there are venture capital firms involved with some of the for-profit MOOCs. But the current strategy is misguided. Rather than prevent students from accessing free educational material, a better approach would be to restrict sanctions to tradable services, such as the sale of certificates. This approach has even been adopted before. Google Play was originally unavailable to users in Iran. In August 2013, the US government relaxed its restrictions and allowed Google to make its free apps available to users in Iran.

As we speak, Coursera is currently "working very intensely with the State Department" to lift the ban on its students in Iran, Cuba and Sudan (it was already able to lift the temporary ban on Syrian students). The question remains as to whether Coursera's efforts will be successful in once more sharing its free content, arguably with those who need it most.

Aasis Vinayak
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University finance: how should we judge value for money?

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 16:26

Sponsored Q&A: Join our live chat 7 February on how to cut costs without damaging the university experience

As the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announces reductions to spending in 2014-15, universities are looking for new and innovative ways to save money. For many, this has meant outsourcing campus services, including catering and facilities management.

But how do universities go about making these decisions and what do they see as value for money?

Jane Wills, professor of human geography at Queen Mary, University of London, says that while outsourcing can save money, it often squanders university morale.

"In relinquishing control, universities are ensuring that some of the most prominent workers on campus are less invested in the organisation," she says. "Not being part of the host community implies you are less important, that you are less valued. Outsourcing also puts downward pressure on wages and conditions of work, and is reflected in the wages you get."

Losing that sense of community spirit is a big concern for many in the sector. Last year, staff and students protested against privatisation which they felt would undermine their university experience.

Yet cutting costs shouldn't mean reducing standards. So is collaborative procurement between universities – where they share facilities, resources and equipment – a better model?

Although many universities have been doing this since the 1980s, they have so far struggled to meet their target to collaborate on 30% of their non-pay spend.

The big question is this: how do you convince people to work together at a time when universities are competing in an increasingly tough market – and then make this the norm? Florence Gregg, a higher education procurement consultant, says it's all about understanding when it's appropriate to collaborate.

In our online discussion, we'll be discussing how institutions can be efficient in their spending without reducing the quality of university life. We will look at the role of social enterprise in helping canny universities think creatively to deliver services and manage operations in ways that can increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve quality.

We want to discuss:
• Outsourcing versus insourcing
• Shared services
• Enabling social enterprise
• Success stories

The debate this Friday (7 February) – in partnership with Efficiency Exchange – is open to all and will take place in the comments section below this article from 12-2pm GMT. Create a Guardian comment account to join in.

Contact claire.shaw@theguardian.com to be on the panel.

Panel to be confirmed

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next university role? Browse Guardian jobs for hundreds of the latest academic, administrative and research posts

Claire Shaw
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First self-publishing MA offers DIY education

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 12:38

University of Central Lancashire will coach students to make the most of their manuscripts

The University of Central Lancashire has announced the launch of what it describes as the world's first degree in self-publishing.

The MA will begin in September, and course leader Debbie Williams believes it will help "legitimise" self-publishing. "Things have definitely changed. In the last two years, self-publishing has stopped being a dirty word, and is a legitimate option for authors," she said. "Even the biggest authors are looking at it now."

Despite the negative light in which self-publishing is viewed by some – Jeffrey Archer recently said "it doesn't work, don't do it. The only person who reads it is the person who gets it published", while Sue Grafton has characterised DIY-ers as "too lazy to do the hard work" – the university pointed to research from the books data company Bowker, which found that around 390,000 titles were self-published in the US in 2012, up 59% on 2011 and a massive 422% on 2007. Digital self-publishing also continues to boom, accounting for 40% of self-published titles in the US in 2012, up from just 11% in 2007, according to Bowker.

"Self-publishing is becoming a global phenomenon," said Williams. "Everyone has a book in them – and many of us have a manuscript sitting in the drawer, unsure what to do with it. Think of all the literary treasures that have never had the chance to see the light of day because their authors were put off by the traditional publishing model. Our new MA will help guide these individuals through the process to help them realise the dream of seeing their book in print."

The idea of launching a self-publishing MA was sparked by demand, she said, and would-be students are already applying. The course will consist of a mix of lectures, seminars and workshops, featuring expert industry speakers, with modules to include production, marketing and the creation of ebooks. It is not a creative writing course, Williams stressed, although the university will help "with structural editing".

"We're the first self-publishing MA in the world. It's unbelievable we are, but we are," Williams said. She hopes students will go on to publish future bestsellers, she added, pointing to the university's former student Kerry Wilkinson, who self-published his Jessica Daniel crime series and hit Amazon's bestseller charts.

Hugh Howey, the bestselling science fiction author who self-published before landing a traditional deal, recently pointed out that Amazon's science fiction charts are currently an extraordinary mix of established names such as Orson Scott Card and George RR Martin and self-published writers including BV Larson and AG Riddle.

"I think it means that a sustained and profitable career as a science fiction author is more likely, these days, to have its origin in self-publishing," said Howey. "I don't think it should come as a shock that indies are killing it in these underserved genres. The supply simply can't keep up with reader demand."

Alison Flood
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Technologies shaking up education – in pictures

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 11:04

Digital breakthroughs are changing the way we learn: our gallery picks some winning ideas, from surgery augmented by Google Glass to cats teaching Spanish









The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success – review

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 11:03

This book has stirred up a storm of controversy. But why shouldn't Tiger Mother Amy Chua and her husband investigate the success of certain cultural and ethnic groups? The question is: are they right in their explanation of it?

Asian-Americans make up about 5% of the US college-age population, and 19% of Harvard's undergraduate body. At Yale, that figure is 16%. At Princeton, 19%. And at the California Institute of Technology, where, argue the authors of The Triple Package, admissions are based solely on test scores rather than a combination of scores and more opaque criteria, a whopping 40% of undergraduates are Asian-American.

Figuring out why this might be is an enterprise fraught with danger, likely to trigger instant and loud accusations of racism. This is exactly what happened in the run-up to this book's US publication, when it was variously described as "a despicable new theory" of "racial superiority" (Salon), espousing a "racist argument" (New York Post), and harbouring "uncomfortable racist overtones" (Forbes magazine).

The authors, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, both law professors at Yale, are a married couple. Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the bestselling exposition and defence of strict Asian-American-style parenting. This book is a widening of that thesis to cover other "cultural groups" in the US – Mormons, Cubans, Nigerians, Jews, Indians, Lebanese and Iranians – groups that, by conventional measures of success, are disproportionately represented at the top of the league tables.

The squeamishness of the response to this new book implies that, given the abuses to which this kind of information has historically been put, it is never admissible to aggregate data and link ethnicity with performance – which is absurd. How groups behave is an area of legitimate academic concern, one which it is surely possible to explore without resorting to racist stereotypes.

Whether the authors' explanation as to why some groups thrive is valid is another question, and it's a problem with this kind of book that the marketing hook – in this case the "triple package", a clunky formulation the authors have chosen "for lack of a less terrible name" – is often too flimsy or too broad to be meaningful.

The three factors that make up the triple package and determine success, Chua and Rubenfeld argue, are insecurity (outsiderdom), a sense of superiority and good impulse control, which together make up a puritan mindset long ago abandoned by white Protest­ant America – a section of the population that now has below-average wealth. Immigrants from certain parts of the world these days tend to possess such a mindset, and it represents an advantage. (Whether or not it brings happiness is a question the book also fleetingly addresses.)

The upward mobility of some immigrant groups compared to others is startling. So "Indian Americans have the highest income of any census-tracked ethnic group, almost twice the national average." Nigerian Americans, while representing 0.7% of the US black population, account for 10 times that percentage of black students at university. Mormons make up 1.7% of the population, and own "10 times more Florida real estate than the Walt Disney company". In 2008, according to the authors, the Church of England had assets of about $6.9bn (£4.2bn). Even 10 years earlier, the Mormon church was worth four times that.

The Mormons are not immigrants, but, Chua and Rubenfeld argue, they have the same combination of internalised superiority that comes from believing themselves "chosen", rigorous self-denial, and a social ambition motivated by being outside the mainstream that many immigrants share. The result is mainly visible on Wall Street: the chief executives or CFOs of Marriott, American Express, Citigroup, Deloitte, Sears and Roebuck and a handful of other corporations are all Mormons, who, the authors speculate, are sensitive to scepticism regarding their religion and motivated by a need to prove themselves.

All of which sounds reasonable, as does the fact that, within three generations, this upward mobility more or less burns out. "Assimilation and success weaken the insecurities and other cultural forces that drove the first and second generation to rise." "America," the authors write, "is the great wrecker of impulse control." One example: "from 1950 to 1990, Jewish high schoolers made up roughly 20% of the finalists in the prestigious, nationwide Intel Science Talent Search; since 2010, only 7%." And there are many more.

The fact that Chua and Rubenfeld belong to two of the eight groups focused on gives them licence to make the sort of statements other authors would shy away from, such as: "Asians are now so overrepresented at Ivy League schools that they are being called the 'new Jews'." They do this with an amused eye on the fainting fit they know it will cause, and they are appropriately dismissive of lazy notions of causation. The Chinese, they write, are not successful because, as is often stated, they come from an "education culture" – the corollary of which is that less successful groups come from "indolent cultures" – but due to more wide-ranging contextual factors, among them the fact that "Chinese kids are typically raised on a diet of stories about how Chinese civilisation is the oldest and most magnificent in world history."

The main problem is that in trying to give the book enough window-dressing to encourage sales, the authors veer from academic rigour to lightweight anecdotal evidence in a way that squanders much of their authority. News events, from the financial collapse to David Blaine standing on a plinth, are shoved through the sausage machine of the Triple Package argument, resulting in lame-sounding suggestions such as disgraced financier Bernie Madoff exemplifying the "triple package disease" of "insatiable need". Or perhaps he is merely a narcissist. Who knows?

I would hesitate to rest assumptions, as they do, about Jewish identity on Greg Bellow's cross memoir of his father, Saul Bellow's Heart, which seems complicated by a million other factors. And quoting the remarks of "one 23-year old Indian American professional" talking about ethnic anxiety in a chatroom looks like the fruit of a Google search. As with so many books about ideas, this is indicative of the fact that The Triple Package could have covered the same ground in half the number of pages.

But there is still a lot to find interesting. The Amish have extraordinary "impulse control", but no interest in conventional success. "The titled nobility of Victorian England had plenty of superiority but were not famously hard-working." It would have been entertaining to see the authors tackle the Scientologists, given their wealth, prominence and superiority complex – rooted in a belief in their magical powers.

They draw on eye-opening studies of the influence of stereotypes and expectations on various ethnic and cultural groups. (White people who were told playing mini-golf was a test of "sports intelligence" did better than when they were told it measured "natural athletic ability".) Above all, the authors' willingness to pursue an intellectual inquiry that others wouldn't is bracing. The conclusion is countercultural in the best sense, arguing, rather sensibly, for a correction to the modern culture of instant gratification and making a broad point about America mollycoddling its children.

It also reaffirms something we intuitively know – that origin stories matter, and that, despite the vast influence of external factors, the story you are permitted to tell about yourself has a lot to do with how that story unfolds.

Emma Brockes
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Benedict Cumberbatch detects the way to Sesame Street

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 10:38

The Sherlock actor aided Count Von Count and Murray Monster in sleuthing their way to a fruit-based mystery

He has played the great English sleuth Sherlock Holmes, voiced magnificent dragon Smaug, slipped on the wig of Julian Assange and even stepped into the shoes of the late great Ricardo Montalban as supremely bright Star Trek villain Khan.

Yet Benedict Cumberbatch has now proved himself as capable a brain as the parts he's played after solving a maths riddle on Sesame Street.

Cumberbatch appears with series stalwarts the Count and Murray Monster in a new segment for the long-running US children's show. Charged with defeating his nemesis, "Murraryarty", the actor – referred to as Benedict Sherlock, is put through the intellectual wringer with a counting challenge involving a number of apples and oranges. With the help of the Count, he successfully solves the mystery.

Cumberbatch is said to have taped the appearance in January while promoting the new series of the BBC's Sherlock in the US. He follows in the footsteps of fellow thespians Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Tom Hiddleston, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nicole Kidman, Mila Kunis and Cameron Diaz, all of whom have appeared on the long-running show.

Ben Child
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Zita Holbourne: fighting austerity's bigger impact on black and minority ethnic people | Mary O'Hara

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 08:29

Zita Holbourne co-founded the anti-austerity organisation Barac to highlight how welfare reforms and cuts to public services disproportionately affect black people

There are two aspects of the government's austerity policies of which Zita Holbourne is absolutely certain – first, that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately affected and, second, that as an issue it has been noticeably absent from the wider public discourse around cuts. "This needs to be understood and it needs to change," she says, pointing out that this sector of society is "already more likely to be poor or to live in deprived areas … and to face existing discrimination in the jobs market" on top of being overrepresented in low-paid, vulnerable work even before austerity was introduced.

Holbourne, 47, is co-founder of the anti-austerity group Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (Barac). Since the summer of 2010 the organisation, which she set up with Lee Jasper (a former adviser to Ken Livingston when he was mayor of London), has been challenging austerity policies and attempting to shed light on the numerous negative effects on minority ethnic individuals, families and communities. Comprised of a mixture of trade unionists, grassroots activists and voluntary groups across the UK, Barac was born of a sense of urgency when it became apparent how severe and enduring the coalition's austerity project would be, Holbourne says, adding that she "just knew" that the ramifications would be "horrific".

Barac (as the name suggests it was inspired by the election of Barack Obama and chosen for memorability) evolved in much the same way as other equalities-based anti-austerity organisations such as Dpac (Disabled People Against Cuts) so that the people most affected had a voice, Holbourne says. "What we aim to do is bring the perspective of the black community, the migrant communities in the UK and the disproportionate impact of all of the cuts and attacks."

Calling austerity "economic vandalism", Holbourne says the cuts "represent the literal death of hope and opportunity" within impoverished communities. She speaks of the "interconnected" issues of austerity, cuts, poverty, racism, injustice and discrimination, before running through the litany of "multiple" disadvantages.

"We are particularly concerned about the double impact [of cuts] on black women and young black people because of the elimination of the education maintenance allowance [EMA], public sector job cuts and [cuts to] the voluntary sector, another area where there are a high number of black workers," she says. In addition, the fact that so many minority ethnic women tend to take on caring responsibilities adds even greater pressure to families as local statutory and voluntary services, such as advice centres or children's groups, face cuts, Holbourne says.

She believes the abolition of EMA to be one of the "most devastating" for minority ethnic families because it offered "a lifeline" that encouraged youngsters to go on to further education. "This was [already] a society where black boys are more likely to go to prison than to university," she says.

Pointing to government figures released last month showing that minority ethnic workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, she says the "barriers" to stable employment are higher post-recession, as zero-hour contracts have proliferated and public sector opportunities have disappeared. "And, if you lose your job as a black person it's going to take a lot longer to get another because of the discrimination that already existed in the labour market," says Holbourne.

Holbourne has been involved in the trade union movement for more than two decades, working on "everything from wage disputes to discrimination". She says minority ethnic workers feature prominently in the public sector, due, in part, to "generally better equalities policies". For this reason, she says, the cull of public sector jobs, along with wage freezes is a major example of disproportionate impact.

A performance poet and artist, as well as campaigner, Holbourne speaks enthusiastically about her work in the community and in schools with children, including running poetry workshops on subjects such as black history. "It's just as important as all the other work," she says.

She has been an activist almost her whole life, against racism and wider social injustice. Her mother was a primary influence, inspiring her to speak out. As a child in London, she watched her mother face down "blatant" racism and believes this meant she absorbed messages about prejudice and discrimination early on. When she was six, she recalls, her mother challenged a local shopkeeper for stocking products from South Africa and told him she would organise a boycott of the shop. "At the time you don't think these things are influencing you, but of course they do."

As for Holbourne's father, a white Welshman, his work for the UN meant she visited a number of developing countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh while growing up and it cultivated a broad political perspective, she says. While on a trip to South Africa she couldn't eat in the same restaurant as her father. This had a profound effect on her, she recalls. Such experiences helped lay the ground for years of anti-apartheid campaigning while at art college in London in the 1980s, and for her later community activism and trade union work.

Other major influences were events such as the Brixton riots and, later, the death of Stephen Lawrence, as well as ongoing issues such as stop and search by the police, which adversely affects young black men. But if one thing galvanised her more than anything, she says, it was the birth of her son, who is now at college. "He's been the driving force throughout my time as an activist. I did not want him and his life path to be blocked because of racism."

Holbourne says she worries for the younger generation because of the far right's resurgence and the presence of more "overt racism" as the government ratchets up anti-immigrant rhetoric. But she says what people worry about most is that the economic landscape for young people and the poor remains difficult, with more cuts to come. Recovery, she insists, "is not being felt" by the poorest or most excluded.

Some people have questioned why Barac focuses on one group within society when so many are affected by cuts. Holbourne stresses that Barac and other rights groups form alliances and she says that links forged with other groups, such as the People's Assembly and the Justice Alliance to save legal aid, are crucial to nurturing an anti-austerity movement. "It's all part of the same attack [from government]. It's the same for disabled people and other groups. It's a multiple impact, multi-layered attack," says Holbourne.

Organisations such as Barac also remain necessary, she says, because so many of those affected disproportionately by austerity don't hold out hope that a Labour government will reverse cuts. "Where do you go if the mainstream political parties are not going to represent you," she asks. "It's about people power isn't it?"

Mary O'Hara
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The new social entrepreneurs: young, tech-savvy – and improving the world

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 07:59

Solving social problems rather than getting rich is the priority for tomorrow's ambitious entrepreneurs

Technology has levelled the playing field, opening up remarkable opportunities for young people. According to a Populus survey, more than a quarter of 16- to 25-year-olds want to set up their own business, and 14% are in the process of doing so, compared with 8% only a year ago.

But there is something else at play here, another trend emerging. For many of these new digital entrepreneurs, the primary objective is to improve the world rather than their own bank balance. They are looking for radical solutions to social problems rather than creating a product or service that will make them a stash of cash.

That doesn't mean their aims are any less ambitious. Take 22-year-old Aaron Jones, whose goal is universal access to education. He has set up the multi-award winning Fikay, a lifestyle brand all about successful living and giving. It produces fashion accessories using recycled cement bags, employs co-operatives and members of fair-trade organisations and, for every purchase made, Fikay donates to educational building projects in south east Asia.

Fikay has already helped to build one school in Cambodia with plans for many more to follow. "Why," says Aaron, "do some children have the right to an education while others don't? Fikay is my adventure and mission to change this."

If social change is the primary driver for many of the new generation of entrepreneurs, digital is their vehicle of choice. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of initiatives designed to encourage young people to develop their digital skills. Code Club, Young Rewired State, Freeformers, Digital Youth Academy and Coderdojo (itself established by 21-year-old James Whelton) are just some of the organisations equipping young people to move from being consumers to producers of digital content, products and services.

A new generation of digital makers is emerging, but more exciting still is the fact that so many young people are using their digital skills to tackle such seemingly intractable social challenges as education, healthcare, human rights and social isolation.

Milena Bottero is another inspiring example. Her online Room for Tea, set up when she was 22, is a network that connects interns and apprentices who need short-term, affordable housing with an older generation of hosts who want the company.

Jamie Davies, 15, takes time out from school and homework to fine-tune hacks on his startup, CauseHub. By far the youngest team on the Nominet Trust/Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator, Jamie and fellow co-founders Sanjay Poyzer, 23, and Jerome Toole, 21, are working on a product that will disrupt the way we engage in online decision-making. Sanjay says: "We want to enable people to act online in more meaningful ways than just placing their name on a petition. We want to ensure that people contributing to a cause can clearly see the effect their action has."

These new social tech entrepreneurs are all about action, as demonstrated by the huge demand for courses offered by Apps for Good, which provides support for young people wanting to design apps that will improve their world.

Aaron Sonson, 25, a graduate of Apps for Good, is the founder of the Stop & Search app, which allows users to check their rights and to give feedback on their experiences of the controversial police practice. Released in April 2013 and downloaded by more than 5,000 people, the free app has had great feedback from the Metropolitan Police and locals in south London. Aaron says: "The app brings more fairness, accountability and transparency to the stop-and-search procedure."

Digital technology is the single most powerful tool we have ever had. It's exciting to see a new generation of social entrepreneurs using this technology in imaginative ways to tackle complex social challenges. The future looks to be in good hands – and hearts.

Annika Small is the chief executive of Nominet Trust.

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Fair admissions: how can we secure balanced intakes in secondary schools?

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 07:30

Random allocation would ensure all schools have a population that reflects society, improve education standards and boost student opportunity, says Peter Mortimore

Schooling is the way our society socialises future citizens. As well enabling individuals to learn and achieve qualifications, schools are the means by which society reveals its values, transmits its culture and sorts its future roles.

For schooling to work as fairly as possible, all schools need to receive a balanced intake of students. This includes: those who find learning easy and those who do not; those who come from relatively advantaged social, cultural and economic family backgrounds and their opposites; and those from a wide mix of ethnic groups, faiths and abilities so that any school's population authentically reflects our society.

But the reality is different. While some English primary schools and some secondary schools have a fair range of students, many others do not. Some 7% of students from families able to afford school fees, attend private schools. The result is that, as reported by the 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey, regardless of how good these schools might be, they "perpetuate a form of separate development in Britain".

A small but significant number of students attend the 164 state grammar schools left over from the tripartite era of education. Such schools used to form the top tier (with much greater status and resources) above technical and secondary modern schools. They continue to select by ability, recruiting those deemed most capable in tests. Some state schools also manage to over-recruit talented students, which gives them an advantage in the league tables. And some – though not all – faith schools recruit more than their fair share of talented students.

As a result, many young people grow up mixing only with those from a particular social class, ethnic, faith or ability group with all the limitations that this entails.

How could this be changed so that all secondary schools receive a fair intake and all students have a fair chance of success? Of course, schools would still differ to a certain extent, but the current large differences in the intake to schools would be much reduced.

I like the argument that children should attend their local school. The problem is that housing patterns mean that those from poor areas and those from more advantaged ones usually go to different schools. Bussing, banding and "random allocation" appear to be the only possible ways to achieving more of a mix.

Bussing was tried extensively in United States in the 1960s following the US Supreme Court's insistence on the desegregation of schools, but it's generally deemed to have been unsuccessful.

Banding requires students to be assigned to an ability band on the basis of their results from primary school. Secondary schools then admit set proportions from each band. The major defect is that it depends on the public labelling of children, which is frequently unreliable. Labelling also has a powerful psychological impact on students, leading to an inevitable downgrading of expectations for many, which is why it's not permitted in Finland.

The only realistic way to achieve balanced intakes for secondary schools in urban areas is through random allocation. Such a system would mean that all secondary schools receive a mix of students – able and with difficulties, rich and poor, white and from ethnic minorities. Each school would have an intellectually, socially and ethnically mixed population. It would make league tables, which I dislike intensely, fairer because for the first time, schools would be comparable. Parents could also relax, knowing that their children could gain a good education whichever school they attended, greatly relieving the stress currently felt by them and their children.

Like any system, random allocation isn't perfect. Some parents would resent their children not automatically getting a place in their nearest school and estate agents would no longer be able to use a powerful marketing tool. The title of the process – random allocation – also sounds inhuman: being selected by a robot rather than a caring professional. Yet it is just this objective element that makes the admissions system fair. Perhaps the process should be re-titled "an equal chance admissions system".

Exceptions would have to be made for siblings so that families could stay together. Large areas would also have to be subdivided to ensure that no student had an unreasonable journey and care would be needed to ensure that each sub-area included a range of different housing patterns.

My argument will be hard to win, but I believe that adopting such a system of student allocation would improve standards and greatly improve many students' opportunities – as well as making our society fairer. It will take both time, and courageous politicians, to convince people. But change is successfully embraced when a sufficient number begin to see its advantage. Who would have thought 20 years ago that smoking would ever be banned from public areas?

Peter Mortimore is a teacher and researcher and the former director of the Institute of Education, University of London. He is also author of Education Under Siege.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.Peter Mortimore
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Twelve applications are submitted for every UK apprenticeship

Wed, 05/02/2014 - 01:01

Number of apprenticeships posted online grows by 24% in a year but minister implores more companies to use the scheme

The number of apprenticeship vacancies in the UK rose sharply at the start of this academic year but employers are failing to keep up with demand, with 12 applications for every position.

Figures from the National Apprenticeship Service show 37,410 vacancies were posted online between August and October last year, up 24% on the previous year. Over the same period applications jumped 43% to 461,530. The number of female applicants rose sharply, to 47% of the total, from 43% the previous year.

The numbers were welcomed by the government, which has made apprenticeships a flagship policy for young people, more than a million of whom are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock said schemes allowing young people to learn and earn simultaneously were growing in appeal. But he encouraged more employers to become involved.

"With each online position attracting an average of 12 applications, demand continues to outstrip supply and I would urge more employers to consider how they can take advantage of this available pool of talent and grow their business through apprenticeships."

There was less positive news for the coalition's push to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing and exports. The latest figures suggested that the greatest numbers of both applications and vacancies were in the business, administration and law sectors.

The north-east recorded the greatest leap in apprenticeship applications, up 60% on the previous year. That was followed by Yorkshire and the Humber and the south-west (58%).

The latest government figures, which cover actual starts on schemes rather than vacancies, showed there were 868,700 apprenticeships in the academic year 2012/13, up 77% from 2009-10.

But those headline figures do not translate into vast new opportunities for young people and the biggest gains were for over 25s. In that period, the number of over 25s on apprenticeships trebled to 392,900. Under 19s on apprenticeships fell to 181,300 and the 19-24 age group saw a more modest 40% rise to 294,500.

Katie Allen
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Jeremy Hunt tried to appoint former Tory whip as food agency chair

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 21:16

Claims of Tory efforts to recruit political figures to public jobs boosted after health secretary role with Food Standards Agency

Jeremy Hunt tried to appoint a former Conservative chief whip as chair of food regulator the Food Standards Agency last autumn but had to back down when ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland objected, it has been revealed.

The health secretary then tried to break the standoff by suggesting another candidate with personal links to David Cameron for the role – putting forward a name that had not been on the earlier shortlist.

Sources close to the process told the Guardian Hunt's first choice for the chairmanship was David Maclean, who was Conservative chief whip until the 2010 general election, when he retired as an MP and was ennobled as Lord Blencathra. He was in line to replace Lord (Jeff) Rooker, a former Labour MP.

However, the independent review panel responsible for appointing Rooker's successor had initially favoured another candidate, John Hirst, the head of the Met Office, over Blencathra – until Hunt intervened.

When Blencathra's candidacy foundered, Hunt suggested Tessa Green, the wife of Michael Green, Cameron's boss when he worked at ITV company Carlton.

The revelation will reignite accusations that the Tories have been seeking to fill public posts with political appointees and friends.

The row between Labour and the Conservatives was sparked last weekend by education secretary Michael Gove's sacking of Labour peer Sally Morgan as chair of Ofsted.

When the independent panel proposed Hirst over Blencathra, Hunt decided the shortlisted candidates should be re-interviewed, which he did personally in the presence of the chair of the panel.

Blencathra's name was then put forward to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ministers who make the appointment jointly with the UK health secretary – but all three devolved administration ministers rejected the peer.

Blencathra said he made "no apologies" for emerging as the preferred candidate.

"I don't think the secretary of state was favouring his own party at all, any more than Jeff Rooker was favoured by Labour when he was appointed.

"If he wanted to appoint me, it was because I was the best man."

A spokesman for Hunt said he "utterly rejected" any suggestions he had recommended candidates for public appointment on any grounds other than merit.

After several months of exchanges, Hunt proposed a fresh candidate – Tessa Green, a barrister with personal links to the prime minister who has also held non-executive director roles in the NHS. Green was also a former head of communications at Carlton, where Cameron once worked.

Green was put forward by Hunt as a compromise in a letter – but the devolved administrations insisted that since agreement could not be reached on the final candidates put forward by the panel, the process must be restarted

Green told the Guardian she had been approached by the Department of Health and headhunters for the FSA job but had not been interested in it and was unaware that her name had subsequently been put forward.

"I was approached by DH a long time ago – I am regularly approached – but it was not a job that took my interest," she said. "My name may have been put forward but I was never contacted by Jeremy Hunt about it nor by anyone from his office as far as I am aware."

A spokesman for Hunt said: "The health secretary utterly rejects the totally bogus suggestion that his recommendation was made on party political grounds.

"He makes recommendations for public appointments based on merit, just as he did with the recent appointment of former Labour adviser Simon Stevens as chief executive of NHS England."

A Welsh Government source said there had been "significant alarm" within its government at the way the appointment was being handled.

" It seems to fit with the recent pattern of Tory yes-men being placed into top jobs in the run up to the general election. In this instance we had a right to veto and the UK government has been forced into an embarrassing climb-down," he said.

A spokesman for the Scottish government confirmed that it had failed to agree a name with the health secretary and that the recruitment process had been restarted.

"The responsibility for appointing a chair to the FSA rests with all four health ministers across the UK. Decisions have to be made jointly. In an appointment round in 2013 Ministers could not reach agreement on their choice," he said. The failure to agree an appointment has left the FSA without a permanent chair at a time when it has had to deal with the horsemeat scandal – the largest food crisis it has ever faced.

The role will now be advertised again and the lengthy process restarted – so that it is likely to be a full year before the agency has a properly appointed leader.

Rooker left last July, having earned between £50,000 and £55,000 for the role between 2012 and 2013.

Felicity Lawrence
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Twelve applications are submitted for every UK apprenticeship

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 18:11

Number of apprenticeship jobs posted online grows by 24% in a year but minister implores more companies to use the scheme

The number of apprenticeship vacancies in the UK rose sharply at the start of this academic year but employers are failing to keep up with demand, with 12 applications for every position.

Figures from the National Apprenticeship Service show 37,410 vacancies were posted online between August and October last year, up 24% on the previous year. Over the same period applications jumped 43% to 461,530. The number of female applicants rose sharply, to 47% of the total, from 43% the previous year.

The numbers were welcomed by the government, which has made apprenticeships a flagship policy for young people, more than a million of whom are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock said schemes allowing young people to learn and earn simultaneously were growing in appeal. But he encouraged more employers to become involved.

"With each online position attracting an average of 12 applications, demand continues to outstrip supply and I would urge more employers to consider how they can take advantage of this available pool of talent and grow their business through apprenticeships."

There was less positive news for the coalition's push to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing and exports. The latest figures suggested that the greatest numbers of both applications and vacancies were in the business, administration and law sectors.

The north-east recorded the greatest leap in apprenticeship applications, up 60% on the previous year. That was followed by Yorkshire and The Humber and the south-west (58%).

The latest government figures, which cover actual starts on schemes rather than vacancies, showed there were 868,700 apprenticeships in the academic year 2012/13, up 77% from 2009-10.

But those headline figures do not translate into vast new opportunities for young people and the biggest gains were for over 25s. In that period, the number of over 25s on apprenticeships trebled to 392,900. Under 19s on apprenticeships fell to 181,300 and the 19-24 age group saw a more modest 40% rise to 294,500.

Katie Allen
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Carpe diem, Mr Gove – this is all the Latin state school students need

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 17:52

The education secretary wants state school pupils to learn Latin, so, says Miles Jupp, here are five essential phrases to help them get by in the modern world

It is Michael Gove's stated mission to make state schools more like private schools. This may not actually be for ideological reasons, but simply so that he can understand what people are talking about when they come and talk to him about state schools, and he doesn't have to go through all that "Sorry, what actually is year 10? My school finished in the upper sixth," business that plagues his waking hours.

If, as he suggested in a speech on Monday, he thinks that what state school students need is to learn Latin and Greek, then who are we to argue? And if, in order for this policy to work, pupils are going to have to be taught these languages by people who haven't actually learned them themselves, then that's all just part of the fun, isn't it? If, however, after a bit of a think, Gove decides that it is not possible to make these proposals work, then have no fear. Because these five Latin phrases are all you really need to get by in the modern world:

O tempora o mores

Translation: Oh what times, oh what customs.

A perfect way to despair about the absolutely deplorable state of the modern world. It may even be what Gove uttered when he first discovered (probably in the past fortnight or so) that Latin is not taught in all comprehensives.

Salve

Translation: Hello.

You should never overlook something just because it appears to be simple. Think about how many different ways you can use the word "Hello", just by changing your inflection. Being able to say "Hello" also means being able to say: "Ooh, it turns out that we do have milk in the fridge"; "Crikey! He/she looks a sort"; or "Is that a cat out there in the garden or are you a burglar? If you're the former, you may remain; if the latter, kindly leave." So now you can say all that in Latin, with a single word.

Et cetera

Translation: And the rest / And the others.

Particularly useful if you wish to know the literal meaning of certain Smiths lyrics.

Rem acu tetigisti

Translation: You have touched the thing with a fine point.

Colloquially this means: "You have hit the nail on the head." Thus if somebody says to you, "Do you know what your problem is? You talk in a needlessly pretentious fashion", you can reply with the words "Rem acu tetigisti".

Mea culpa

Translation: (US) My bad.

A delightful way of taking the blame for something. "Who wrote this?" you may well ask. "Mea culpa," I might well say.

The great thing about Latin, although this is also true of English, is that if you don't understand what on earth anybody is talking about, then you can just keep on nodding politely until the conversation ends.

Miles Jupp
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Year of Code scheme offers £500,000 fund for computing teachers

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:32

Money will be used to pay experts to train teachers in coding ahead of new computing curriculum launching in September. By Samuel Gibbs

Samuel Gibbs








My first Tet away from home

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 15:28

For international students, cultural festivals can be the hardest moments to be away from home. A Vietnamese student describes her first New Year in the UK

I'm 16. I've been in England for five months, and I've just experienced my first Tet holiday (the Lunar New Year in Vietnam) away from home.

In this foreign country, there wasn't much to remind me of Tet. Here, no one knows what Tet is, or if they did recognise the date, they just know it as "Chinese New Year". And, unlike previous years, I still had to go to college on Tet this year.

I didn't have the chance to eat any of the traditional foods I'd normally eat at Tet, and as the only Vietnamese student at my school, there was no one to join me in celebrating the special day.

This was my first Tet away from home, and it passed with a coldness – not only because of the weather, but rising up from inside, from my soul and my heart. Tet this year was the feeling of trying not to burst into tears when talking to my parents on video chat, it was the struggle not to say "I'm sad, I miss Vietnam" when seeing my friends from home getting excited about Tet, and it was hiding my homesickness in front of British friends and my homestay family.

The first Tet away from home passed very quickly and quitely, without much to remember. On New Year's Eve, trying to reminisce about Tets gone, and in an attempt to create a Tet atmosphere for myself, I carried out some of the customs that my mother does at Tet: I finished my work before 12pm, I recharged my laptop and mobile before new year, I emptied my bin and at the last moment I folded a red rose (I don't know how to fold a blossom – the traditional flower at Tet).

Looking at the red rose and waiting for the sacred moment, I just felt blank: no matter how much I tried to make my own holiday, I still couldn't feel Tet.

The reason was simple: I wasn't with my family. I wasn't in my beloved home country, where they would have been waiting for the fireworks, looking forward to a better year together.

The more I think about it though, the more I can see that I was being selfish by feeling so sad to miss out on Tet. In a developing country like Vietnam, thousands, (or millions) of people never get to enjoy a national holiday with their family, because they are too busy worrying about money and life.

Insted of celebrating, many people have to take advantage of Tet to earn more money, because they can sell more bread or collect more rubbish. Some simply don't celebrate the holiday because they are embarassed that they can't give their families the happy festivities that others can.

In a developing country like Vietnam, a 93-year-old woman might have to live under a bridge, without a blanket. In that country, a family with 14 children has never had a Tet in their slum. And in that developing country, some people don't even dare to mention a word about Tet, thinking they may seem lavish by thinking of that luxurious term.

Sadness can be seen in those people's eyes, even at supposedly happy times like Tet. But it's not just about sadness – for many people their lives are consumed by worry, the worry for their parents, their children and above all the constant worry of money.

My first Tet away from home was sad. It lacked the warm atmosphere of family and of my home country, but it was something that I will always remember. It taught me that no matter how far you are away from home you don't have to be alone – if you keep the thoughts of your family and your country in your heart, and remember how lucky you are.

Lê Bảo Hiền
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Google Earth: how much has global warming raised temperatures near you? | Dana Nuccitelli

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 14:00

The University of East Anglia has released an interactive Google Earth layer with local temperature data

If you've ever wondered how much global warming has raised local temperatures in your area or elsewhere on the globe, the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (UEA CRU) has just released a new interactive Google Earth layer that will let you answer this question with ease. UEA CRU is one of the scientific organizations that compile temperature data from around the world. Their temperature dataset over land is called CRUTEM4, and is one of the most widely used records of the climate system.

The new Google Earth format allows users to scroll around the world, zoom in on 6,000 weather stations, and view monthly, seasonal and annual temperature data more easily than ever before. Users can drill down to see some 20,000 graphs – some of which show temperature records dating back to 1850.

The move is part of an ongoing effort to make data about past climate and climate change as accessible and transparent as possible. Dr. Tim Osborn from UEA CRU said,

"The beauty of using Google Earth is that you can instantly see where the weather stations are, zoom in on specific countries, and see station datasets much more clearly.

The data itself comes from the latest CRUTEM4 figures, which have been freely available on our website and via the Met Office. But we wanted to make this key temperature dataset as interactive and user-friendly as possible."

The Google Earth interface shows how the globe has been split into 5° latitude and longitude grid boxes. The boxes are about 550 kilometers wide along the Equator, narrowing towards the North and South poles. The red and green checkerboard covers most of the Earth and indicates areas of land where station data are available. Clicking on a grid box reveals the area's annual temperatures, as well as links to more detailed downloadable station data.

Curious about how much global warming has caused temperatures around the winter Olympics venues near Sochi, Russia to rise? Just click on the grid in Google Earth and a graph pops up showing flat temperatures from 1900 to 1990 followed by a nearly 1°C rise over the past 25 years.

Wondering how much the area around London has warmed in recent decades? The answer again is just a click away, and shows a similar rate of warming to that near Sochi.

This new initiative is described in a new research paper published in the journal Earth System Science Data. Scientists at UEA hope that making the temperature data easily accessible to the public will add another level of quality control. Dr. Osborn said,

"This dataset combines monthly records from 6,000 weather stations around the world – some of which date back more than 150 years. That's a lot of data, so we would expect to see a few errors. We very much encourage people to alert us to any records that seem unusual."

NASA has a similar tool that allows users to click a spot on the globe and see data from nearby temperature stations, but this new product from UEA adds the user friendliness and fun interactive nature of Google Earth.

Dana Nuccitelli
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Richard III: a year since we found him

Tue, 04/02/2014 - 13:44

Four researchers tell of the 'unbearable' pressure, relentless media attention and career opportunities since the discovery

On 4 February 2013, researchers at the University of Leicester announced that the twisted spine found in a car park was that of Richard III. We hear from some of those involved in the dig to find out what it has been like over the past year.

Turi King, lecturer in genetics and archaeology at the University of Leicester

I have been leading the DNA identification part of the Richard III project since 2012. I was away at a conference when the discovery was made and actually found out through a text. It was a bit of a heart-stopping moment when I heard all the details – that the skeleton had all the features we might expect of the remains of Richard III. Then came the realisation of the amount of work ahead.

While I could do all the work on the modern relatives here in Leicester, we don't have an ancient DNA lab, so I had to travel. It has been a tremendous amount of work, first to see if any DNA could be retrieved from the remains, and then to see if there was a match with proven relatives.

Doing the project under the public and media gaze certainly added a layer of pressure. I've had media attention for my previous work on the link between surnames and genetics, but nothing on this scale. I've also been under pressure from members of the public and the genetic genealogy community to release all the results into the public domain prior to scientific peer review. I don't think anyone could have prepared us for it.

It's easily been one of the most exciting, fun, stressful and interesting projects I've ever done. I really love working on interdisciplinary projects and this has been a perfect example of that. It has opened up possibilities for other projects and collaborations and I've been able to do a lot of public engagement, talking about how you can apply genetics to these sorts of questions.

I'm still working on the final scientific aspects and analysis of the project and hope to have it written up and submitted in the next few weeks. Once the paper is accepted, I'm going to the spa for a day with friends – a Christmas present from some of the gang on the project.

Carl Vivian, video producer at the University of Leicester

I was asked to produce a video record for "the Search for Richard III" project. From the outset it seemed unlikely that the remains of Richard III would be found, but on Wednesday 5 September 2012 everything changed. I filmed Jo Appleby exhuming skeleton one, in trench one of the Greyfriars archaeological site. I was a lone observer as she started to uncover the skeletons spine. I was unaware that she already knew that this skeleton was a youngish male with head injuries.

As the spinal abnormality became visible we both realised that we were looking at something truly extraordinary. Appleby left the trench to inform the rest of the archaeology team while I continued to film.

I spent the next six months filming and photographing the team as they worked on the project. I produced two films that were an unemotional record of the work that proved, "beyond reasonable doubt", that skeleton one was indeed the remains of Richard III. I took the official photographs of the whole skeleton which would later feature in Time magazine's pictures of the week and their list of the most surprising images of 2013.

At times, however, the pressure was unbearable. I've cried and laughed as I recorded this project. The images I took have been used in books, documentaries, newspapers and online. As a camera person, you dream of being present at a historic moment and I always wondered if I'd be able to handle that sort of opportunity. I now know that I can. The images I took means that I'll always be part of the story of Richard III – for me that's life changing.

Lin Foxhall, professor of greek archaeology and history at the University of Leicester

At that time, the Greyfriars excavation was just another project undertaken by the school's professional archaeological unit, University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). What ULAS (and the rest of us) hoped to find was evidence of the lost Greyfriars' precinct. None of us ever expected to find the bones of King Richard III, and none of us could quite believe it when we did. On the day the discovery was made, I'd been away, and Richard Buckley, director of ULAS, phoned me in the evening. The first thing he said to me was "sit down". The rest, as it were, is history (re-written)…

Much of what I have done has been to pick up the pieces. I had to ensure that we found secure lab space for working on the skeleton, secure clean-room space, as well as lots of media and outreach work. I can truly say that every single day over the past year has been different, with new challenges and tasks popping up almost out of nowhere.

I am passionate about communicating the importance of archaeology and what the past can (and can't) teach us to the wider public. So I really welcomed the opportunity to show the world why archaeology was so exciting and what we could learn from this amazing discovery. But, I think all of us were overwhelmed. We knew it would be a big story, but none of us (even the press office) expected quite the amount of unrelenting media attention from all over the world that we received.

This is such an unusual discovery that it's hard to compare it to anything else. Normally we don't know anything personal about the people we discover. We don't normally look for or find named, famous individuals. So it probably isn't every researcher's dream, but it's still pretty amazing!

Sarah Hainsworth, professor of materials engineering at the University of Leicester

I have research interests in stabbing and dismemberment and my work helps criminal prosecutions by identifying which implements or weapons were used create marks on a bone. I approached the Richard III skeleton in the same way as any other forensic case. I only realised how much national and international interest there was when I arrived at the university on the day of the discovery and found the car park full of media vans.

Over the past year, it has been great to go and talk about the research in schools, my parents' village chapel and at Middleham (where Richard III lived for a period of time). The level of interest from everyone has been really quite special. My two young daughters enjoyed being driven to the BBC so that I could talk to BBC News 24. Their understanding of what I do has changed: before Richard III they thought all I did was sit in boring meetings.

I would never have envisaged working on stabbing, dismemberment and a 500-year-old king when I was studying materials engineering as a student, but it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting year.

This article was amended on 5 February 2014 to change a date from 2011 to 2012 for the sake of accuracy.

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Claire Shaw
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