Alison Farrell spent 13 years working for Oxfam before signing up for a PGCE course. She talks to Rebecca Ratcliffe about how teaching changed her mind about young people
Alison Farrell is head of geography at Lampton School, west London. Before teaching, she spent 13 years working for Oxfam lobbying the UN on gender and development before signing up for a PGCE course.
I started with a big picture, then went small. My first job after graduating was at Oxfam – I was a bit idealistic and wanted to make the world a better place. I was lucky enough to spend time working at the UN in New York, and lobbying on gender and development in the run up to the UN's fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing 1995. It was exciting, but what I do on a day-to-day basis now has a far greater potential to challenge attitudes.
I didn't used to like young people, I found them intimidating in their packs. When I became a teacher – I was around 35 – it was a bit of an eye opener. I realised that actually, young people are victims of stereotypes as well. The majority of them are hanging around in a group because they're happy to be with their friends, not because they're up to no good.
I used to bite my nails but as soon as I started by PGCE I stopped. You don't have any down time in the day, you're on a timetable all the time. The shape of the school day wasn't a shock – everyone's been to school, so you know what it's like. But the out of hours work is another matter.
Who knows what my students will do when they're older. We help the students to raise money so that they can volunteer on a programme with a development organisation. I feel that it's really important that they get an opportunity to do something completely different and learn what it's like in some of the poorest areas in the world.
Every day I talk to hundreds of faces, it's not like being in an office where there are five or six people. Working in a school is very different. Before I had a lot of freedom about how I organised my day, but when you're a teacher you have a strict timetable and you have to be in a certain place at certain times.
Teaching isn't a craft. For me, it's really important that you have that academic knowledge underpinning what you do. The PGCE gave me the depth and space to reflect on how I was teaching and why. Without that understanding of pedagogy and research, it's easy to become very particular to a certain school or education authority – and that might be an approach that suits some of your students, but not others.
Getting them to do what they're supposed to do is the hardest. You can only really learn that once you're in a school. If you're using positive behaviour management in a school that doesn't have that approach or ethos, then that's not going to work.
There's always a buzz at school. Even though the timetable is fixed, every lesson is different. Who know's what's happened the lesson before or the night before? That's what keeps you fresh and excited.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, sign up for the Guardian Teacher Network newsletter here.Rebecca Ratcliffe
How would you feel about having a two-way mirror in your classroom? Rachael Stevens talks about the revolutionary effect an observation classroom has had on her school
I recently tweeted the question: What's the best CPD you've ever had as a teacher? And what's the worst?
The 25-plus answers I received fell into two distinct camps.
Worst: Being talked-at, forgettable whole-staff sessions led by non-teachers about the New Big Thing, tired group activities involving post-its and sugar paper and even workshops involving balls of energy being thrown. Eww.
Best: Networking on Twitter, reading and reflecting on blogs written by fellow teachers and, by far the most popular, getting into other people's classrooms – in or out of your own establishment.
And the movement in academic research and wide-ranging evidence confirms what we probably already know: in order to improve teaching and learning, continued professional development should start in the classroom: talking about our teaching, learning from our peers, sharing good practice and developing coaching models.
Our headteacher is a big fan of Sir Tim Brighouse, who says he can spot an outstanding school a mile off because "… [these] teachers talk about teaching, teachers observe each other's practice, teachers plan, organise and evaluate their work together rather than separately, and…teachers teach each other". So, the head's idea was to create a place that actively encouraged reflection on pedagogy. This became our observation classroom.
It was installed four years ago using a generously-sized classroom with a large stock-room behind it. The latter has become a viewing room with recording and editing equipment. There's also seating on high stools (our 'Westlife chairs') for staff to watch lessons from behind the huge window, unseen when the lights are off from the other side of the two-way glass.
We observe a protocol about the room's use: students always know they are being watched and permission to be filmed is included in our home/school agreement.
Since we've had our so-called Big Brother classroom, it's morphed into something that really is quite exciting. At first, most teachers used it purely to record themselves teaching, which they watched through their fingers at home. This is unarguably an excellent starting point for all teachers and trainees, however mortifying at first; it encourages you to look at your lesson – and your hair and your backside – from a different perspective.
However, having your lesson filmed is something that anyone can achieve with a flip cam. So how else can an observation classroom be used imaginatively?
Well, we also often observe lessons from the other side of the Magic Glass without filming them. The room is soundproofed so up to 10 observers can talk about the lesson at normal volume with sound mic'd into the room. Volunteer teachers book in to teach a lesson and we invite staff who aren't teaching that period to attend.
We call these open lessons and it's been probably my favourite use of the room. It's non-judgmental; all observers are there to discuss teaching and learning; it works perfectly in a cross-curricular way where teachers (and support staff) can discuss generic aspects of classroom practice but it also works very well for subject-specific focuses. Our modern foreign languages department are booked in to watch their subject leader teach soon, where they will be exploring an agreed focus.
For many teachers, the idea of being observed by a gaggle of colleagues and then having the lesson picked apart might be on their to-do list just under appearing on Embarrassing Bodies but, believe it or not, there's a waiting list of staff wanting to teach an open lesson. It's great that colleagues feel comfortable enough to trust we will use this experience supportively and developmentally.
Another use of the room is the running of CPD which is advertised widely and booked by other schools. The courses consist of an hour's workshop to introduce the focus, a 'live' lesson to see strategies being put into practice and then another hour with a discussion about what has been learned. We've run courses with a variety of themes, with more planned this year.
Aware we are parping our own brass instruments here, but the most common feedback we receive is: "This is the best CPD I've ever had". Yes, the lessons have gone well and we've been very proud of the students and the learning that's visibly taken place. But in some ways that's not the point. Everyone on the course is a teacher: they know that we all have lessons that don't go as well as planned and that students can also be an unpredictable bunch. It's not about teaching outstanding lessons, it's about learning in real contexts so a lesson that goes a bit Pete Tong is just as valid a starting point for discussion and learning.
More and more of us in schools are discovering the benefits of discussing teaching and learning in real contexts, whatever our levels of experience. As such, the observation classroom is a powerful resource that encourages us to learn about our practice in all sorts of ways.
And nothing can beat seeing the horrified face of year 9 Charlie last week, who had clearly forgotten that 10 teachers were watching him. At the end of the lesson, as he preened in the huge 'mirror', we mischievously turned the viewing room light on to suddenly reveal our presence. If only we'd filmed THAT.
Rachael Stevens, English teacher and lead practioner at Christopher Whitehead language college, in Worcester. She is also a specialist leader in education (SLE). Rachael tweets as @murphiegirl and blogs here.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.
Hensher, branded ungracious by Cambridge professor, says it's becoming impossible for writers to make a living and expect pay
An angry backlash has erupted among UK authors who are increasingly frustrated at being asked to provide their time for nothing, whether writing, reading at literary events or judging book prizes.
Frustration spilled out on Facebook after a University of Cambridge professor of modern German and comparative culture, Andrew Webber, branded the acclaimed literary novelist Philip Hensher "priggish and ungracious" for refusing to write an introduction to the academic's forthcoming guide to Berlin literature for free.
Hensher said: "He's written a [previous] book about writers in Berlin during the 20th century, but how does he think that today's writers make a living? It shows a total lack of support for how writers can live. I'm not just saying it for my sake: we're creating a world where we're making it impossible for writers to make a living."
Hensher, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008 for his novel The Northern Clemency, a portrait of Britain's social landscape through the Thatcher era, wrote his first two novels while working a day job, but said: "I always had an eye to when I would make a living from it. If people who claim to respect literature – professors of literature at Cambridge University – expect it, then I see no future for young authors. Why would you start on a career if it's not just impossible, but improper, to expect payment?"
Author Guy Walters, this week vented his frustrations at a rising number of requests to work for free in an article for literary journal the Literary Review. In it, he cursed his own foolishness for having accepted an invitation to speak at Hay festival in return for six bottles of wine.
"The problem is not just festivals, it's across the lots and lots of different institutions, organisations, literary prizes and events who expect authors to do things for very little or no money, because it's an honour to do it," Walters said. "There's a romantic notion that authors work for the love of culture and high ideals, but it doesn't put food on the table. If you value culture, you must pay artists. It's a complete con and an absolute racket. There's a word for working for free: it's slavery."
In his Facebook post, Hensher commented: "Authors be warned – if you suggest that you want to be paid for your hard work, prepare to be insulted by Cambridge professors."
He received a flood of support from friends and fellow writers including the Guardian critic Nicholas Lezard and novelist Aminatta Forna.
"It's not reasonable to say if you're not being paid, you shouldn't complain and you shouldn't be angry. Nobody would say that about absolutely any other profession," Hensher added. "It's our duty as writers to place a value on our work, and not to allow it to be unreasonably eroded. There is increasingly a culture of consumers not paying for cultural products, whether it's downloaded music or free newspapers. You can have writers who do it in their spare time, who have independent means, or have literature written by people in institutions, but it's not going to lead to an improvement in literature."Walters, whose books include Hunting Evil, an account of Nazi attempts to escape at the end of the second world war, added: "I absolutely refuse to do anything for free, no matter what it is. It basically supposes that authors live in a rarefied world in which they don't need money. If you want culture to be enriched, you need to enrich authors."He said that publishers' advances had been reduced over the past decade, which added to the squeeze on authors' income, making payment for one-off freelance jobs all the more important.
Neither the Hay Festival director, Peter Florence, nor professor Webber were available for comment when contacted by the Guardian.
A Cambridge University Press spokesperson said: "We do, of course, pay our authors and other contributors royalties and other fees at a level that can be supported by the book in question. When we publish academic books, the audience for each book is naturally often relatively small. Most of our authors are practising academics whose main job is teaching and research, and who write for us primarily to promote the circulation of academic ideas. That is the purpose of the press, too: we exist to advance knowledge, learning and research, not as a commercial organisation. Some people who write for a living may naturally want to be paid for what they do at a level which is beyond the economic scope for these types of books, though we are delighted that others are happy to participate in our books, including Cambridge Companions, for other reasons."Liz Bury
Year 5 teacher David May reveals how sending out one tweet snowballed into an amazing collaborative project with astronauts on the International Space Station
One of my favourite topics to teach with my year 5 class is space. It's a fantasticsubject that never fails to motivate the children that I teach. I was desperate to look at some way of using technology to bring the topic to life – I have always used YouTube videos and so on, but this year I wanted something more.
The answer came on a late September evening when I was catching up with news online and came across a link about Adam Cudworthand his incredible story. I knew it would inspire my class; it had already inspired me.
Adam is a university student who builds his own hot air balloons and sends them into space. He had sent a digital camera up with his latest balloon and taken some incredible photographs of the curvature of the Earth – something I was teaching about that very week. I knew instantly that we had to get in touch. The most I was hoping for was to be able to get the children to write to Adam, follow him on Twitter and possibly look at some of his photographs.
But Adam took the time to write a brilliant four-page letter back answering all my students' questions. You can imagine how amazed the children were when they looking at his photographs and were shocked that he had replied to us. The spark had been well and truly lit within the children. I would have been more than content to leave our project here, happy that we had successfully used social media in the classroom to inspire the children.
Then the project started to snowball …
Of course the children loved hearing about Adam and his experiment but it was quickly forgotten and we moved onto other topics. But a few months later we received an email from Adam. He invited my class to send up an experiment with a balloon that he was planning to launch in a few weeks. The class didn't quite believe it when I told them their work would actually be going into space; I didn't quite believe it either.
The first job was to get the children to work in pairs to design an experiment that could be sent into space. There were certain constraints, it couldn't be flammable, dangerous or alive. The children came up with some incredible ideas, including sending a tube of toothpaste to see how the pressure changed. Using SurveyMonkey the children voted on the experiment to send to space – in the end they chose to send a magnet to see if it changed when it returned.
Still at the back of my mind I doubted whether the project would actually happen – but it did. On the day of the balloon launch I was on a course but the children, back at school, were able to download Adam's app and track the balloon while I did the same remotely.
This level of online collaboration was amazing and provided a real, hands-on learning experience for the children. I was totally blown away when that night Adam sent me some photographs of the balloon in space on Friday night – you could even see the magnet with the Earth in the background. I was so eager to tell the children that I almost wished it was Monday.
When I was able to get back into school and tell the children about the success of the 'magnet in space' project they were as excited as I had ever seen them. Then we had an idea to tweet about our project and see if we could get any replies.
We were amazed when UK astronaut Tim Peake and Luca Parmitano – an astronaut currently living on the International Space Station (ISS) – got in touch. I was genuinely shocked that somebody who lived in space had seen our experiment, started in my classroom a few months before.
We followed Luca on Twitter and he tweeted us about another astronaut, Karen L Nyberg, who was also on the ISS. My class loved watching her videos of washing her hair in space – who better to learn about space from than somebody who actually lives there?
A few weeks later, when Luca was on national news because he was doing a space walk, the children were able to say: "He saw our work!"
The project has really got me thinking about the power of Twitter in primary school.
The potential for collaboration, working with others and reaching a global audience is amazing and a real motivator for the children. I would encourage all teachers to take the time to tweet or message an expert about the children's work in class.
Before this project, I will readily admit I didn't see the benefits of blogging and a global audience but I've been convinced. What better feedback on a story ending from the author who wrote the book who inspired it? What better feedback from an artist who gave the children the idea of their portraits. The possibilities are endless.
Now we regularly message experts regarding our work. Year 1 has contacted Chester Zoo and a university professor regarding their mini beast project – and got replies.
Children in year 4 received a message from Toronto International Art Festival regarding their artwork while a boy in my new class received feedback from football journalist Henry Winter and Tim Vickery from the BBC on a football report he wrote.
The impact of the project has been widespread and inspired children across the school to become confident, but also safe and responsible, users of the internet for online collaboration.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.
Around the world, 66 million girls are going without education. That's bad for them, bad for society. We can change it
• You tell us – how useful are such international events?
Friday is International Day of the Girl, which means that, by tomorrow, the brief frenzy of outrage elicited by articles like this will have passed. This is human nature; I'll be the first to admit that thinking about the scope of international female suffering often makes me feel like a metronome swaying between rage and despair. Because I know that globally a little girl is still worthless compared to her brothers. And because this makes no damn sense.
I take the long view. We are shortchanging humanity both economically and intellectually by throwing away the potential of our girls. As of this moment, 66 million of them do not get an education. There will be 14 million child brides in 2013 – that's 13 little ones who were smeared in garish makeup and married since you began this paragraph. And 150 million girls are sexually assaulted each year, half of whom are barely pubescent.
It feels almost impossible to visualize these numbers and easier to just move on with the day. It is reasonable to conclude that until the last fundamentalist beheads a woman, we are doomed never to experience the true interdependence of men and women that we know we are capable of.
For sure, the day when the world's girls are free from fear may be dismally far in the future. But I have seen the stuff they are made of, as I travel from nation to nation with Plan International. It has become strikingly clear to me how often the boundaries of females are casually breached. I have seen forced tiny prostitutes with dark circles under their eyes, child brides who died in childbirth – their bodies too underdeveloped to handle the stress, adolescents hobbled and feverish from extreme genital mutilation.
Like you, I have felt the agonies of empathy as I thought about Jyoti, my Indian sister gang-raped to death with a metal pole on a bus, or of Malala from Pakistan being shot in the head for simply asking to be a full human being. For simply wanting to learn.
And yet … how many girls have I met on my travels who have endured the worst but tell me they are not broken! Who clamor for education so they can become doctors or accountants! Who beg for birth control. Who come up with detailed plans to make their villages prosperous, but lack any backing to make their visions a reality.
We owe it to these small, bright sparks of humanity to overcome our world-weariness and take decisive, practical action, right now, before the browser refreshes. Clicking through to Girl Rising, for example, reveals how education shatters entrenched patterns of poverty and violence in just one generation. How can this be? Educated girls marry later and have fewer, healthier children. They participate in the labor force or start small businesses. Their work boosts their local economy and they put money aside to educate their daughters as well as their sons.
Crucially, these young women model different ways of being and relating to their sons. Men are the most powerful and vital allies a woman can have in the developing world, and in many cases, they are the key to allowing a girl to attend school. Men born to educated mothers are inclined to do just that.
We must refuse to let let this day pass by like a meaningless milestone. We must take action, with pride, knowing that there will be a ripple effect. Each of us will be directly affecting a girl's subsequent economic potential and the fate of her future boys and girls. The gesture will be felt down the generations. By educating a girl today, you will change the world.
• Editor's note: the second picture caption was amended at 6pm (ET) on 11 October
Frederick Wiseman's immersive if uneven documentary about the University of California at Berkeley offers a strangely refreshing exploration of middle-class angst
• Interview: Frederick Wiseman
Frederick Wiseman's latest documentary is a study of the University of California at Berkeley, and the way its prosperous calm is being tested by budget cuts and California's financial crisis. The film demonstrates Wiseman's directorial signature: long, unbroken takes, no voiceovers, no interviews, no subtitles indicating exactly who or what we are looking at, nothing that overtly directs the viewer's attention.
Running at a little over four hours, At Berkeley is so immersive and encompassing that it almost ceases to function as a documentary in the normal sense. It becomes something nearer to an archive resource, or an audio-visual database, from which selections or edits could conceivably be made by interested parties. Or perhaps, as a cynic might put it, it is a film to be placed in a time capsule and opened again in 2113, or 2213, or never.
Its star is the university's chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, a Canadian-born physicist with white-blond hair and a flashing smile, whose placid, diplomatic manner makes him the perfect academic administrator. We see him in various committees discussing ways of managing the budget squeeze, and Birgeneau's easy charm stays intact until the very end, when we see him react with a touch of contempt to a boisterous student activist sit-in and its impossible "shopping list" of demands. In his day, Birgeneau says, activists had specific causes — Vietnam, human rights — not this vague sprawl of grievances. He is even shown to be slightly gleeful at the very impracticality of their demands. It means he doesn't have to give in.
We get a lot of talking heads. As well as Birgeneau himself, there are various lecturers, students, visiting speakers, all holding forth calmly and at some length to various classes and academic audiences. It is a rather "top-down" approach, and even the sit-in scene is defined by its speeches. Robert Reich (a former labour secretary under Clinton) lectures on leadership and the need for feedback, and recalls how one junior intern once told him to stop doing so many hand gestures when speaking in public. Throughout his Berkeley lecture, Reich thrashes his hands around pretty wildly. Is Wiseman tipping us a sly wink? Maybe. These scenes are interspersed with palate-cleansing ambient shots of students somnolently hanging out on the sunlit grassy spaces and even playing frisbee. Wiseman is flirting with cliche here.
If the film has a theme, it is middle-class angst: an interesting contemporary idea. In a number of scenes, the students debate the new bourgeois financial anxiety and white suburban poverty. It is their own problem. One student begins to cry as she describes her difficulty meeting fees. An economics professor condemns divisive new "differential" charges for courses likely to lead to high earning power (law, medicine). But then an African-American student is openly derisive of this new white angst, pointing out how tough it was for her to get into Berkeley and suggesting that maybe these Wasp high-fliers should start to feel some pain in their wallets.
Does the new middle-class angst manifest itself in the film? Does Wiseman's camera capture tiny symptoms of group dysfunction? Again, it's not clear. There are some tense discussions about whether or not students are doing enough to include blacks in informal study groups. But these discussions would have been quite as tense – maybe more tense – during the good times. Certainly Berkeley does not seem to be in a 90s-style uproar over politics and political correctness. The once controversial western civilisation course isn't even mentioned. Everything seems very subdued; even the subject of college sports and college football – surely a theme to put some dangerous glamour and excitement into any film about a top US university – hardly features, its treatment limited to a 30-second clip of a marching band surging out onto the field.
As with Wiseman's previous film about the Crazy Horse nightclub in Paris, At Berkeley does look offputtingly like a promotional video for the host institution. And it's like a day's worth of lectures, some boring, some not. But everything here is so unworldly and high-minded that the resulting emphasis on ideas is strangely refreshing.Peter Bradshaw
Local council investigate club night in Leeds as a student campaign gathers over 2,000 signatures
An investigation into a student club night has been set up by Leeds City Council, after it received complaints from a local councillor and individuals. The investigation comes as over 2,000 students sign a petition to close the night down.
The club night, called Freshers Violation is run by Tequila at Mezz club in Leeds. Students on social media have complained about a video posted on the club's Facebook page which, the objecters say, "promoted rape culture".
The video, which has since been taken down, included a presenter asking a student: "How are you going to violate a fresher tonight?" The student replied: "She's going to get raped."
The text under the video, which can still be read on the Facebook page despite the video's removal, reads: "Fu*k me I'm a fresher! Another huge night at Tequila with pole dancers, a violation cage and lots of second and third years seeking out new freshers."
Leeds Student newspaper has set up a petition to get the Tequila club night closed down. It has reached 2,040 signatures at the time of writing, and is going up by the hundreds every hour, according to the paper. This campaign follows Leeds Student Union's ban on the song Blurred Lines earlier this month, which students felt promoted rape culture.
Councillor Neil Walshaw, who has registered a complaint, says: "Rape culture and rape banter is wrong, full-stop. I, along with other councillors, are campaigning against the spread of rape culture and rape banter in our city.
"I warn promoters, businesses and venues to stay away from this kind of marketing. The council is looking at all sanctions and takes the dimmest possible view of this. One of the sanctions available is the revocation of a licence. That door is not closed. We will take the strongest possible approach."
Jasmine Anderson, associate editor of Leeds Student, says: "We want to combat the sexist attitudes that are prevailing in Leeds clubs. We were so frustrated with the general attitude towards women in the clubbing society that one of our editors decided it would be best to take it further.
"The normalisation of rape culture is very concerning. Even the people in the office who wouldn't consider themselves feminists felt that the Tequila video was overstepping the mark. It shouldn't be acceptable, so we decided to use the paper as a force for good. That video had to go through a process, someone had to make it and not see it as disturbing, someone had to edit it and ultimately the promoters had to OK it."
Despite the video being taken down, the Leeds Student newspaper and signatories of the petition continue to have concerns about the club night and the type of promotion it uses.
Anderson says: "On their nights, girls are encouraged to take their clothes off in order to receive shots. There are girls on their site who have what is meant to look like semen down their trousers while someone tries to pull out their boob while they drink tequila."
Rosanna Pound-Woods, associate editor of Leeds Student, says: "The video is the catalyst. The club's promotion has a sleazy and uncomfortable feel to it and the petition is a way of logging the amount of students that are dissatisfied with it.
"When you go there they use a lot of sexual innuendos. One of their slogans on their posters is 'Tequila: come and swallow'. Girls lie on the bar and bar staff put whipped cream on them, which guys have to come and lick off. They would say it's good fun but I've found it uncomfortable."
Dr Rebekka Kill, a lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University, says: "This petition is important, and I personally fully support it as we need our students to feel safe when they come to Leeds and club venues do have a duty of care in this.
"Rape is not a joke, and rape banter isn't funny and shouldn't be tolerated. The claim that the nightclub were not aware of the actions of their promoters is a worry but the bigger concern is that anyone could think that this is OK in the first place. I'm genuinely shocked."
Tequila have removed the video from their Facebook page and issued an apology, which says: "We recognise that there has been a lot of questions raised about the way we promote, manage and market our club nights after a video from one of our freshes' events, with content that can only be described as deplorable and completely despicable, was uploaded to our Facebook page.
"We wish to apologise unreservedly for the offence that has been caused. We categorically do not think it is acceptable or appropriate to normalise, excuse, tolerate or condone rape or any sexual offence of any sort and we are taking this situation very seriously."
A spokesperson for Tequila UK, says: "We're not out there to promote rape. It was a mistake and an apology statement has been written and can be found on our Facebook page.
"We don't condone rape at all. It's not something we want to promote or we want to be associated with in any shape or form. [The Tequila night at Mezz club] is a very popular student night, which thousands of students attend weekly."
West Yorkshire Police say they are aware of the situation and will be talking to the promoters and the venue's management.
This article was amended on 11 October 2013 to correct an error, changing Leeds County Council to Leeds City CouncilAbby Young-PowellLibby Page
Sponsored feature: Monoglot Britons and Americans must begin to accept that they can't be complete global citizens without language skills
Britain and the United States must rapidly increase their number of competent foreign-language speakers if they are to compete in the global jobs and services markets of the future – but how best to do it?
The University of Maryland's Center For Advanced Study of Language and the British Academy gathered more than 150 professors, researchers, policymakers and government employees for a day-long seminar to discuss just that issue at a conference held near Washington DC on September 30.
While not coming up with a single answer (in all probability, there isn't one), the linguists on hand were at least able to clearly enunciate the problem: that without significant changes in policy, the loss of facility in language will continue to erase the competence of English-speaking societies to engage culturally with the rest of the world and compound problems competing in the international market for jobs and services.
Being close to the heart of the US government and its need for foreign-language speakers across departments, Michael Wertheimer, director of research at the National Security Agency, was one of the first speakers.
Addressing part of the conference's thematic question, Languages for All?, Wertheimer regretted that, since 9/11, the first Americans many people meet in the rest of the world are in uniform. "Why aren't the first Americans they meet tourists speaking their language, coming to them with inquisitiveness instead of a gun?"
The legacy of terrorism, he continued, has impeded America's greater strategic vision. "I want to see the day when we're not listening in on people's conversations, but we're actually part of those conversations," he said.
While participants acknowledged cross-cultural understanding and integration as benefits of communication, they warned that a broad federal programme to encourage and standardise the learning of languages was unlikely in a time of budget cuts.
Americans, like Britons, have grown accustomed to the dominance of English and often see little cultural or economic advantage in learning a second, or even third, language. But research has found that demand for languages other than English has dramatically increased over the past decade. A white paper soon to be published by the University of Maryland states that the US education system is "failing to provide a critical skill to the majority of this country's youth".
Correcting the deficit is possible using advances in technology, but only if scientific breakthroughs are exploited effectively by the formal education system and by the language-services industry. According to Hans Fenstermacher, chief executive of language industry trade group Globalization and Localization Association (Gala), the US has done little to match Europeans in constructing a multilingual infrastructure and an intercultural skill set.
"Talking about education and language is interesting, but it doesn't motivate," said Fenstermacher. "It's time to create an infrastructure, policy and context that will allow us to be economically competitive and, therefore, secure. Language is at the heart of that and we haven't been doing a very good job of seeing that as a nation."
With companies such as Google and Microsoft investing heavily in the area, the translation business is growing at 12% a year. Fenstermacher believes that with so much more content (only 30% of internet traffic is in English), technology must be part of the solution: linguists, by contrast, view translation technology as a neat trick that doesn't work.
The driving force for any change is going to be economic, panelists agreed. To make that argument, employers and educators need to get the evidence across that languages are needed and that their acquisition is feasible.
"We're so far behind because we've been religiously monolingual and we've got away with that – till now," says Dr Richard Brecht, director of language policy initiatives at the University of Maryland. "Now there's a global war for talent and we can't compete in that market."
The US, he explains, has always treated language as a national security issue and run policy at the federal, not state, level. "We want to turn language policy from a national security issue to an education issue. With Washington gridlocked, any advances in policy will likely have to come at the state and local level."
Part of the solution is to get rid of advocacy and show students that a second language is crucial in the job market – that they can't be a whole global citizen without one. "It's a very hard case to make, but that's the case we're making now. In 20 years we won't be making it – it'll be obvious to everyone."
Headhunters concede they have been slow to get the message across, despite mounting evidence that multinational companies simply exclude applicants who can't show a second language. "There's a mismatch between skills and demands of corporations globally," says Manpower's Tron Allen. "Language is not the be-all and end-all, but opens up additional doors."
The University of Maryland's Center For Advanced Study of Language has put resources into identifying people with an aptitude for learning languages and into 'working memory training', or ways to prepare the brain to learn.
Additionally, members of the faculty are looking at ways to integrate languages into educational and research programmes, and, with linguists, prefer to view themselves as language scientists.
"Part of what we want to do is to create globally prepared graduates," says the university's vice-president and chief research officer Patrick O'Shea. "We want them to be culturally and linguistically competent – not go around like Anglophone idiots."
With so many pieces in the language puzzle, from neuroscience to economics, culture to biology – and not least the question of why heritage languages such as Gaelic are endangered while others, such as Faroese, Icelandic and Hebrew are flourishing – conference attendees largely agreed that brains with more than one language work better. Language also broadens our appreciation and understanding of the cultures in which we live.
But with English still dominant, convincing the public of the importance of preserving heritage languages or developing new language skills is an uphill battle. If language proficiency used to be mandatory, learning languages is now often seen as too hard.
"Kids think they don't need it," says Colin Phillips, director of the university's new Language Science Center. "They think it's OK to be horrible at languages. But you could never say, 'Oh, I'm horrible at reading'. We've got to find a way to shift it from one box to the other."Leading languages
Australia is often identified as a leader in progressive language policy. Unlike Britain – where it is possible to learn, say, Hindi or Arabic at community schools organised by ethnic groups, but not achieve A-level qualifications in those subjects – Australia has developed a curriculum with a wide range of language options.
"In Britain, there's an official discourse that says we value languages and we want to help develop them for international outreach, but the education system is not in line with Britain's linguistic talents," says Professor Anne Pauwels, dean of the languages and cultures faculty at the University of London. "The number of languages you can take is very narrow and a lot of languages cannot be used in educational terms."
By contrast, Australia has built up curricula for 75 of the 125 languages used in the community and bolstered teacher training. "If a student wants to build up on Vietnamese, they can do it at A-level and that gives value to the language," says Pauwels. "It proved to be a very good development."Edward Helmore
Neverwhere removed from Alamogordo school library, as parent complains Gaiman's novel is 'inappropriate' for teens
Neil Gaiman's urban fantasy novel Neverwhere has been removed from a New Mexico school's "required reading list" after a mother objected to her daughter bringing it home.
According to the state's KRQE news station, Nancy Wilmott complained to Alamogordo High School because of the book's "sexual innuendos and harsh language".
When asked to read sections of the book on air she declined. "I cannot read this to you and put it on the news," she said. "It's too inappropriate. It's that bad."
"I trusted the school system," Wilmott added. "I trusted the school district to pick proper material, and this is not."
Portsmouth-born Gaiman, who now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is currently back in the UK promoting his new children's book Fortunately, The Milk, on the back of a mammoth tour for his recent fantasy novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. After hearing of the ban he asked on Twitter: "Is anyone fighting back?"
Neverwhere began life as a BBC TV series written by Gaiman, which aired in 1996, and was later adapted by the author into a novel. It was recently broadcast to critical acclaim as a radio play on Radio 4, adapted by Dirk Maggs. It tells the story of a man who discovers a hidden and magical other world below the British capital, called London Below.
As of Thursday, Neverwhere had been removed from school library shelves following Mrs Wilmott's complaint, though the school officials said it was the first complaint about the book they had received since they put it on the curriculum in 2004.
Gaiman has fallen foul of US censors before, with his Sandman graphic novel series regularly making the list of banned or challenged books compiled by the American Library Association (ALA), with claims of being "anti-family", featuring offensive language, or being deemed "unsuited to age group".
The removal of Neverwhere comes just two weeks after the ALA's annual Banned Books Week, which this year cited works ranging from 50 Shades of Grey to Captain Underpants as being complained about, challenged or removed from shelves.
According to the ALA, a challenge "is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice."
Physicist says he learned of his award from an old neighbour who stopped him on the street as he returned from lunch
Peter Higgs first heard he had won the world's most famous science prize when an old neighbour stopped him on the street a few yards from his top-floor Georgian flat in Edinburgh.
Higgs, a self-effacing theoretical physicist who values his privacy, had quite deliberately disappeared last Tuesday morning and headed for a secluded lunch in the old port of Leith, just as the Nobel prize committee in Stockholm had prepared to announce he was this year's joint winner of its prize for physics.
The honour had been nearly 50 years in the making, after billions of pounds were spent on the most advanced science experiment ever devised, at Cern, near Geneva, to finally prove his theory that an infinitesimally small particle is the binding glue of the physical universe.
Higgs, now 84 and retired, was eating soup and sea trout, washed down by real ale, on his own. Rumours circulated that he had disappeared into the Scottish mountains or that he heard the news at a Greggs pie shop near his home. Even his closest friends had no clear idea where he was. He has no mobile phone, no computer and does not use email.
"I had originally decided to be rather further away, in the west Highlands, but that plan didn't come to anything and I simply got out of the way for a short period in the middle of Tuesday while the telephone messages mounted up," he said in his first public appearance since the announcement.
"Curiously enough, I heard the news when I was returning from my lunch in Leith later in the afternoon," he said, flanked by Edinburgh University's principal, Sir Tim O'Shea, and three senior colleagues. "A lady in her 60s or 70s got out [of her car] and introduced herself as a former neighbour, a widow of a judge who died recently, and congratulated me on the news and I said 'what news?'. And so she told me that her daughter had phoned from London to alert her to the fact that I had got this prize."
The news was no surprise. Higgs, now emeritus professor of physics at Edinburgh, had been a clear favourite to win ever since scientists at Cern's Large Hadron Collider confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in July last year.
He had celebrated with a beer then, too. As he and Professor Alan Warner, his close friend and colleague, had flown home from Geneva the next day, Higgs had turned down a glass of Prosecco and opted instead for a bottle of London Pride.
Higgs has substantial misgivings about the impact his global fame will now have. "I face the immediate future with some foreboding," he said. "Because having experienced the wave of attention which followed the announcement at Cern in July 2012, I anticipated that this last announcement would trigger, well, an order of magnitude more attention. I think I'm going to have difficulty in the next few months having any of my life to myself."
Higgs shared his prize – Edinburgh University's first Nobel for physics – with François Englert, a Belgian who arrived at the same theory almost simultaneously in 1964. Higgs said a third physicist, Robert Brout, ought to have been with them too; Brout died in 2011, and so was excluded.
Higgs said his discovery, while crucial, was just one element in a worldwide research effort to find the elementary particle that binds matter together, which began in 1960 and only concluded in 1967 when the US physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg finally completed the theory. (In doing so, Weinberg showed that Higgs and his counterparts had got part of their theory wrong.)
Edinburgh University is now collecting promises of funding from education ministers in the Scottish and UK governments for a new campus building, the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics. One wealthy funder, Professor Walter Nimmo, has already pledged £100,000.
Higgs faces one final conundrum: how to spend his share of the Nobel's £776,000 prize money. "I haven't yet come to terms with what I shall actually use the prize money for; that still has to be sorted out," he said. "I'm coming to terms with it gradually."Severin Carrell
As our student themed week ends, share your social enterprise experiences with us
To tie in with this week's Q&A on students and social enterprises, we asked two students involved with the social enterprise movement to tell us about their experiences.Megan Partridge, student, University of Northampton
I am a second-year student at the University of Northampton and I presume many students are oblivious to what the term social enterprise means, just as I was a year ago. When I started university I received an email offering me a "High Achievers Social Enterprise Scholarship". I had no idea what social enterprise was at the time, but the requirements seemed achievable and I received £2,000 a year for doing it – so I accepted straight away.
I never anticipated caring or becoming interested in social enterprise or the other benefits of the scholarship I was lucky to be offered. I felt this way for a couple of months until I attended a talk by John Bird – founder of The Big Issue. I was really intrigued by John's passion for social enterprise, The Big Issue and the voluntary sector in general, and everything he said was to the point and honest.
By the end of the talk I had a completely different view. Now I think social enterprises are fantastic – they benefit everyone and also present an opportunity for students, especially, to do many things. In my case, I want to create my own to make a difference in a positive way and get a job out of it as well – what more could you want?
Once you graduate you are more than likely going to join the queue of hundreds searching for the same job which can be hard, and sometimes disappointing. Even if you're not a budding entrepreneur, involvement in either creating a social enterprise with others or volunteering with one that is already up and running will increase your chances of employability, help the community and also add something to your CV that will help you stand out.
Whatever your field of interest or career plan I highly recommend even just looking further into social enterprise and its purpose as it has inspired me and given me a new career direction. There are thousands of social enterprises out there and involvement will be both self-rewarding and beneficial to yourself and society, not shareholders. I study psychology and counselling and I am currently working on my own business plan for a social enterprise that is (fingers crossed) going to help a lot of people and also provide me with a job for when I graduate and also jobs for many others. Social enterprises are not for everyone, but the sector is growing and can help you as a student one way or the other.Hollie Gordon – founder, Milaana
For students wanting to engage with the exciting world of social enterprise, figuring out where to start and what skills are needed can be very confusing. Especially as the concept of social enterprise is more of an approach to tackling problems than an industry in itself.
Setting up your own social enterprise while studying isn't easy but I can promise it is extremely rewarding and you'll be amazed by the support that comes from all directions. From my experience right now when you're a student is actually one of the best times to start a social enterprise. You have the time to think through your ultimate social enterprise idea and direct access to an incredible network of like-minded people to help you get it off the ground. If you are on to something exciting – share it. By nature social entrepreneuers are innovative, just like students, so you are already in the right frame of mind to be utilising the resources you have around you.
The greatest challenge when trying to start a social enterprise whilst completing your studies is determining and balancing your priorities, closely followed by attaining financial sustainability and having a supportive network.
In my final semester with a full-time study load getting a social enterprise off the ground has meant I've had to think deeply about my priorities and goals. It gets busy but when you are passionate about what you are doing, it is the energising kind of busy. The most important part of balance is of course ensuring you are balanced. Give your brain time off by doing something fun like going on a road trip!
The second challenge is figuring out how you will, financially, sustain the enterprise and ergo, yourself. This is why I started it while still "safe" as a student so that come graduation, the concept would be proven and I could start generating revenue.
Finally, having a supportive network of family, friends, mentors and colleagues helps keep everything together and should never be underestimated.
Combating the challenges of our generation requires innovation, co-operation and a commitment to showing there is an alternative solution to the status quo. Embarking on a path of social entrepreneurship will result in incredible experiences upon which to base an exciting and meaningful career.
Are you a student interested in social enterprise? Have you started a degree in social enterprise? Are you a student start-up? Share your experiences below.Aimee Meade
Whether you've got a good idea for handling stress or are looking for advice, join us, Thursday 17 October, 6pm to 8pm
Combating stress can be difficult. It requires taking a step away from work to switch off and think about how you can change your approach to make life easier. But when you're feeling overwhelmed with the number of things you have to do, finding time to do this effectively can feel impossible.
Time is precious for teachers. Often there is no time to stop and breathe during the school day and time at home is consumed by lesson preparation and marking.
Mindfulness is a technique that has become popular for helping people make the most of the time they do take out and keep calm when they are under pressure. It's a form of meditation where breathing exercises are used to calm thoughts and help people change the way they respond to demanding situations.
In a recent post, associate principal Amanda Bailey talks about how practising the technique on a daily basis has transformed the way she feels.
She said: "It has helped me train my 'monkey-mind', which is how I describe a mind that buzzes all over the place without focusing on what really needs attention.
"I can now step back, change my mental gear to a more settled state and, as if by magic, creativity and the ability to find solutions to problems returns."
The principal said she achieved this by setting aside 20 to 40 minutes each day to simply stop and pause.
"Mindful is about paying close attention to whatever you are doing," said Amanda. "Otherwise we rush through one activity to the next and live much of life in an unconscious way."
We'll be exploring lots of ways of managing stress in the live chat. We'll be discussing how schools can help teachers, what needs to change to reduce stress in the profession and where people can find support.
We'll also be looking at the causes of stress, whether it's financial concern or overwhelming workloads, and what can be done to support teachers with this.
Join us, Thursday 17 October, 6 to 8pm, to share ideas and get advice on preventing and beating stress.
The debate will take place in the comment thread below - and is now open for advance questions and comments. If you would prefer to email a question, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Hunt is the winner of the Queen's Award for Enterprise. He taught for 100 terms at secondary level, and was a national coordinator at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. He is public speaker, an author of educational books, psychotherapist and life-coach. He visited Downing Street to discuss the need to reach teachers who are under stress, and offer them real help and useable alternatives so they can start to feel better straight away.
Karen is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education. Her work explores issues related to work-life balance and educational reform within the UK and international contexts, with a focus on leadership, policy and networking.
Amanda is the associate principal of the Bright Futures Educational Trust. She runs mindfulness courses for teachers, pupils and parents and her passion is for mindfulness to be part of the vocabulary of all young people across the UK. Her success has seen .b for Teens, a course run by the Mindfulness in Schools project, become part of the curriculum at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls with eight trained teachers.
Jill is a former headteacher and education consultant. She taught English for 30 years and was the head of a girls' independent school for the last 10 of these. She is now studying for a professional doctorate in education and working as an associate for the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Sarah Eggleton completed the Teach First graduate programme and is now a secondary school English Teacher working in Manchester. She is in her fourth year of teaching.
Jayne is a professional stress and well-being expert. She is the author of Burnout to Brilliance and is resident life coach expert for the NHS Online Health sector. She runs on-to-one sessions and seminars.
Abby oversees a team of people at Teacher Assurance who are dedicated to supporting teachers and helping them to make informed financial decisions about their future. As a result of her close relations with teachers and the National Union of Teachers, Abby is familiar with the burdens and worries teachers face on a day to day basis.
Sandra is the development manager of the charity Teacher Support Cyrmu, part of the Teacher Support Network, which provides 24 hour practical and emotional support to teachers.
In the 1950s, a group of schoolboys made a major scientific discovery in the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire – but these fossils are now under threat
When Charles Darwin was writing The Origin of Species he knew there was a problem with what he was proposing. To be able to account for the many different species that had been found in Cambrian rock (rock less than 540 million years old), Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection needed complex life to be far more ancient. He needed Precambrian life – he needed the Precambrian seas to be teeming with life.
He stated his concerns in The Origin of Species:
Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures. To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer."
Unfortunately for Darwin, the accepted scientific view at the time, and right up to the 1950s, was that complex life emerged in the Cambrian period. It was thought the Cambrian explosion was the period in which most major animal phyla appeared and that Precambrian rock was largely devoid of life.
Then, in 1957, the evidence that Darwin sought was finally found. A group of schoolboys were rock climbing in a Charnwood Forest quarry and spotted what they thought was a fossil. They knew there weren't supposed to be any fossils in this type of rock – but they saw something that looked like a leaf. Fortunately, one of the boys was Roger Mason and he had a contact at Leicester University. Trevor Ford, a geologist at the university, confirmed the discovery and the following year a paper describing Charnia masoni was published in the journal of the Yorkshire Geological Society.
Since that discovery, Ediacaran fossils, as they are now called, have been found in only a handful of locations around the world. They are extremely rare, but Leicestershire can boast that it is home to several sites. The fossils are also extremely important – the discovery of Ediacaran fossils effectively proved Darwin was right. The Precambrian seas did indeed "swarm with living creatures" and there had been evolution for tens or hundreds of millions of years before the Cambrian explosion. In fact, there wasn't so much an "explosion" of life during the Cambrian, more a shift in preservation. The fossil evidence of the Precambrian is rare because the Ediacaran biota had soft bodies and no skeletons, which meant that they would only fossilise in perfect, chance, conditions. During the Cambrian, however, with the development of shells and skeletons, fossilisation was relatively more likely.
The discovery made by Roger Mason – now Dr Roger Mason, a retired geologist – can be seen at Leicester's New Walk museum. Leicestershire's other Ediacaran fossils, however, are not so safe. One of the very accessible fossil beds is in Bradgate Park. "They are next to a path and over the years they have been marked by graffiti," says Dr Mason. But a more recent development, since about 2000, is that people have tried to take the fossils out using a hammer and chisel. You can't do this. The rocks have undergone metamorphism and deformation after they were deposited. If you try to collect them you just shatter the rock and destroy the fossils."
Previously, the only form of protection these delicate fossils had was to simply keep them secret; there was a policy of keeping the location of fossils confidential. This form of protection is clearly not good enough and is not working – new damage was discovered as recently as July of this year.
The Charnia Research Group has been in discussions with Natural England, which is responsible for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, about protecting the locations. Dr Mason is also trying to raise the profile of the fossils. In his article for the Geological Society he implores that "this truly world-class geological locality should be much more widely publicised. Visit it if you have not yet done so". He believes an informed public should play a major role in protecting the Charnwood fossils.
The fossils at Bradgate Park are astonishing. If you visit the fossil beds in the late afternoon, with the sun low in the sky but still bright, so that the light shines across the rock face, signs of life leap out at you – you can easily spot them. It is an incredible feeling looking at the fossils while keeping in mind that these are creatures that were alive more than 540m years ago.
There are many options under consideration for how the fossil beds can be protected – hopefully Bradgate Park and Natural England will find a solution soon. There are not many places in the world where you can see the remains of Precambrian life, and Bradgate Park in Leicestershire has some of the finest examples. Fossil poaching and vandalism is being brought to our attention in places like China and Mongolia, but we must not overlook our own fossil heritage and the damage being done here. Dinosaurs may get the headlines, but we must look out for these beautiful and important specimens too.
• Kash Farooq is a software developer, a blogger at The Thought Stash and regular contributor to the weekly podcast Pod Delusion. He is studying astrophysics at Open University and you can find him on Twitter @kashfarooq. He interviewed Dr Roger Mason for episode 207 of the Pod Delusion.Kash Farooq
A school has barred two Muslim pupils from classes for sporting facial hair. Its justification looks a little fuzzy
In attempting to justify barring two Muslim boys from Mount Carmel Roman Catholic high school in Accrington on account of their beards last week, the headteacher stated: "It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain."
Setting aside (as the headteacher himself did) any arguments for special religious dispensation, the head's words speak volumes. Sporting a beard is seen as a choice, and making that choice somehow lowers standards.
Like all beardies, I don't have a beard through choice. It just grew on the front of my face. I choose to have a beard in the same way that I choose to have two legs. Yes, I suppose I could elect to remove either of the offending limbs, but I'm damned if I'm going to.
The Accrington headteacher isn't alone. Society seems to think that scraping or strimming the hair off your face is an admirable thing to do; that not doing so is odd. Paxman appears on Newsnight – after the watershed – with full, unadulterated facial hair, and Twitter erupts. The Lib Dems' spin-doctor grows a beard, and Nick Clegg immediately orders him to cut it off. Nigel Slater sprouts some facial fuzz and braces himself for the inevitable flak. Get over it: they're only beards.
Men who go for the default (bearded) option aren't making some kind of statement; it's those who choose to mow their faces who seem to have something to prove. What's your problem? Afraid to grow up, boys? Ashamed of your masculinity? In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice had it right: "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man."
The world is outraged when an 18-year-old pop starlet dresses as a schoolgirl to sell a few million singles. Yet when fully grown men shave their faces for that prepubescent-schoolboy look, nobody bats an eyelid. It's all seen as perfectly normal. Standards must be maintained.
Such nonsense was even going on in 19th-century Tierra del Fuego. When Charles Darwin witnessed the meeting of a man known as York Minster, one of the Fuegian natives abducted during the Beagle voyage, with some of his long-lost compatriots, he recorded: "When York Minster afterwards came on shore, they […] told him he ought to shave; yet he had not twenty dwarf hairs on his face, whilst we all wore our untrimmed beards." York Minster was letting his hide-clad, stone-age side down in front of the uncouth Europeans, it would seem.
What about the environment? Have the face-strimmers ever stopped to consider the carbon footprint of their unnatural daily ritual? Figures I've just made up indicate that, were every man in Britain to refrain from shaving, we would be able to close two medium-sized coal-fired power stations. So there you have it: grow a beard and save the planet. Baby-faced George Monbiot ought to hang his head in shame. He of all people should appreciate the enchantment of going feral.
Not convinced? Carry on scraping your faces, if it makes you happy, chaps. But don't try to pretend for a second that those of us who don't are the ones making the freakish choice.Richard Carter
Pearse Elliott drama Man in the Moon inspired by real events tackles taboo subject in republican west Belfast
An award-winning Belfast playwright and TV dramatist has confronted the issue of rising suicide rates in Northern Ireland's post-ceasefire, peace-process era, after the number of his friends and neighbours who have taken their own lives reached 30.
And for Pearse Elliott, whose television screenplays and stage dramas capture working-class life in republican west Belfast, it is the "absence of war" that has been responsible partly for a huge spike in suicides since the Troubles ended.
Elliott's new play, Man in the Moon, focuses on the devastation suicide wreaks on one family, particularly on one son whose two brothers have taken their own lives.
The one-man show has run at Belfast's Grand Opera House before touring across Northern Ireland.
"It is based on a true story, on a family I actually knew, where two out of the three boys took their own lives" Elliott says. "The play is a one-man performance about the surviving boy, sitting on a park bench trying to work out what has happened to him and his family."
The survivor is played by Ciaran Nolan, a long-term friend of Elliott's and actor who has just starred in Channel 4's new drama London Irish about young exiles living and working in the UK's capital.
"I was very close to this story because these lads in real life were friends," Elliott explains.
"It was time to write about this because generally speaking men in particular do not talk about this massive social problem. From where I am in west Belfast I can think of at least 30 people – friends, neighbours – who have taken their own lives over the last decade."
The play premiered in a west Belfast social club in front of an audience that included men who had lost friends and relations in recent years.
"When it opened in the club I had one guy come up to me afterwards and remind me about a mutual friend called Gabe who had taken his own life not long ago. The only thing this guy could bring himself to say to me was: 'I just wish he was here.' At that moment I could see that the taboo was breaking, that local men were finally talking openly about what was happening," Elliott recalls.
The 42-year old writer who has tackled subjects including drugs and the lives of petty criminals in what was once a cockpit of the Troubles, says he believes the end of the conflict played a large part in the rise in suicide rates.
"Once upon a time this community had a common enemy, the forces of the state. There was a common cause and a common bond. Nowadays people are disenfranchised and alienated in the absence of war. I'm not saying for one moment they were the good old days, they weren't. But there has been an erosion of community and family values, people more out for themselves, people are more alone," he says.
Then Elliott points to new graffiti on the walls of west Belfast that reflects the changing times.
"On a wall near me where they used to put up political slogans or paint 'Up the IRA', I recently saw graffiti that simply said 'We kill dogs'. The nihilism of that kind of summed it all up."
The play's producer Tony Devlin stresses that its message has universal appeal. "We are taking it on a tour all over the north of Ireland, but I really think the themes contained in the play would be understood if we staged it in the north-east of England or the big cities of Scotland. The issues of men, teenagers up to those in their middle age, coping with the loss of friends to suicide, the loss of their own identities, the pressures from life they way it is now, all of that could be understood especially in places where ordinary people have lost out," Devlin adds.
The play puts a human face on figures that show alarming increases in suicide since the ceasefires and the Good Friday agreement in Easter 1998.
A Queen's University of Belfast survey last year found that survivors of the worst years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland are more prone to suicide and are using antidepressants to cope with living in an era of peace.
Suicide rates have nearly doubled for middle-aged men – who lived through the darkest days of the violence – in the decade of peace from the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the research found. The number of men who took their own lives went from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008.
In another survey by Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency (PHA), it was noted that after a period of relatively static figures in the latter half of the last century, between 1999 and 2008 rates of suicide in Northern Ireland increased by 64%. Most of the rise was attributable to young men in the 15 to 34 age group.
Placing adolescent girls at the heart of development programmes can benefit entire communities. Eliza Anyangwe reports as experts discuss how best to implement the 'girl effect'
The name Malala Yousafzai became known the world over after the Pakistani teenager was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban — a high price to pay for demanding the right to an education. Her courage has won the 16-year-old international recognition, but her story has also brought into sharp relief the lives of adolescent girls living in the developing world.
There are 250 million girls living in poverty today. Most, after their last immunisations, will disappear from national policy agendas and slip through the cracks of development programmes until the birth of their first child, but the Girl Declaration — a set of ambitious but achievable goals in education, health, safety, economic security and citizenship — gives these invisible girls a voice. The challenges they face were discussed by 15 decision-makers from international agencies, business, NGOs and academia at a roundtable event hosted by the Guardian, in association with The Girl Effect.
Once ignored, it is now recognised that adolescence is a crucial phase in the transition from childhood to adulthood. For a young girl growing up in poverty, puberty not only brings physical and psychological changes, it marks the point at which she is exposed to multiple vulnerabilities: she is often forced into early marriage, faces an increased risk of sexual violence and is denied the opportunity to continue her education. The World Health Organisation reports that the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 is complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
"The bottom line is that women are not valued — and this translates to girls," Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli told other participants at the roundtable. The tragedy of this patriarchal view, as all at the event were keen to point out, is that it ignores two important truths: first, that every girl has a right to reach her full potential — and it is the duty of society to ensure that she does — and, second, that investing in girls makes economic sense.
Caroline Harper, head of the social development programme at the Overseas Development Institute, explained: "An extra year of primary school increases a girl's future wages by 10-20% and an extra year of secondary by 15-25%." Reiterating the point, Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, added: "Seventy per cent of a woman's salary goes back into her family. If you want to tackle poverty, you help girls become women, get educated and employed."
For those who advocate on behalf of girls' rights, the combination of moral and economic imperatives makes for an irresistible call to action from the development community – and this dual-advocacy approach to those in power is starting to bear fruit. Speaking earlier this year about what is being referred to as 'the girl effect', the UK development minister, Justine Greening, said: "Investing in girls and women is the smart thing to do. By unleashing their potential, we see incredible returns for girls and women themselves, for their families and communities, and for their economies and countries."
With the 2015 deadline for the millennium development goals looming, 'the girl community' has a unique opportunity to get adolescent girls added to the next set of targets. "There is a significant prize out there," said Howard Taylor, managing director of the Nike Foundation. "The girl effect is all about transforming the prospects of every adolescent girl in the world, and ending intergenerational poverty." But, as with every area of development practice, how exactly to intervene is often the cause of heated debate.
All participants agreed on the importance and urgency of transforming the lives of adolescent girls, but there was much debate about what the greatest barriers to change were and how best to address them. The first challenge identified was the lack of data. "Adolescent girls are vulnerable because they are not counted or accounted for," said Michelle Milford Morse, an adviser at the United Nations Foundation. "So many countries are not collecting information about girls — and as the adage goes: what gets counted gets done."
The silos that exist between organisations were also identified as barriers to change. Unleashing the girl effect depends on the ability of all stakeholders to see the bigger picture. Lakshmi Sundaram, global co-ordinator of Girls Not Brides, illustrated how interventions that were too narrowly designed were failing girls: "Programmes exist to address maternal mortality, yet they do not focus on child brides. If you don't recognise the different sets of needs, you can't tackle those needs."
Payal Dalal, who heads up the girls' programme at Standard Chartered Bank, suggested it was time that organisations working with adolescent girls prioritise relationship building, a prerequisite if they are to develop a common plan and share stories of failure.
The issues around access — getting aid to the communities that need it most — were also undeniable, but for Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA, the dilemma wasn't how to get aid to girls, but how much aid was getting to girls." We know we can reach girls if there is daring leadership to do so," she said. "How much of the overseas development assistance [aid] committed will reach the girls in a significant way? I don't like [this term] 'trickling down'. We need showers of resources in our villages. We need to put communities first."
However, changing cultural norms emerged as the greatest obstacle. "Until we design programme interventions that take cultural norms into account, nothing will change," said One's director of multilateral programmes, Edith Jibunoh. "We need more role models that look like the girls, who are educated and successful, but are still part of their culture. What [communities] need is exposure, not development interventions."
Of course, to have role models, women need to be found in positions of influence — and making the decision to open up government and other institutions to them requires strong leadership. Rwanda was twice quoted as an example of such leadership, as its post-genocide constitution ensures a 30% quota for female MPs. At 56%, Rwanda has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world.
It is this good example from within developing countries — and the role of men and boys — that participants were keen should not be left out as their representative organisations take advantage of the renewed global interest in adolescent girls. Despite making international headlines after its senate failed to remove a clause in the constitution that legitimises child marriage, Nigeria is one of the few countries to have scaled up sexual health education, Chandra-Mouli pointed out. And it was Malala Yousafzai's father who encouraged her to go to school, Tanya Barron, CEO of Plan UK, added.
Creating and enforcing the conditions that empower girls and allow them to reach their full potential depends on stakeholders working together. It is vital to listen to adolescent girls, interpret their voices and then provide sufficient resources — draw up plans that start girls and their communities on a journey towards equality.
Almost 20 years after the Beijing declaration, where governments committed to ensuring "the full implementation of the human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms", there is another opportunity to turn the attention of policymakers to the plight of adolescent girls.
Campaigners are bristling with cautious optimism. So much is at stake. So much detail is still to be decided. But the Girl Declaration is an important stride forward. "It allows us all to rally around a set of goals for girls that they themselves have helped develop," said Taylor. "So it's an authentic, short-term play to embed girls in a 15-year agenda that will be negotiated and agreed in the next two years, not a long-term agenda to address everything that a girl needs."In focus
• Girls are out of sight and out of mind: Of the world's 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls, and nearly half of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls 15 and younger.
• Investing in adolescent girls is both the smart thing to do and the right thing to do: Adolescence is a critical time. If supported during this stage, a young girl is likely to marry later, have less children and invest more money into her family and community.
• Developing countries are starting to lead the way: For the rights of adolescent girls to be recognised and respected, it is essential that change comes from within governments — and must include whole communities. Change is happening all over the world.
• It's now or never: There is an opportunity to see that adolescent girls feature in the next set of development targets. But a shared plan, led by girls themselves, is essential.At the table
Jo Confino (Chair), executive editor, Guardian News and Media
Caroline Harper, head of the social development programme, Overseas Development Institute
Lakshmi Sundaram, global co-ordinator, Girls Not Brides
Monique Villa, chief executive officer, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Payal Dalal, head of education and girls programmes, Standard Chartered
Tony Kingsley, director of the international development assistance network, PwC
Edith Jibunoh, director for multilateral institutions, One
Mary Garvey, chief executive and secretary to the board of trustees, Brac UK
Nik Hartley, chief executive officer, Restless Development
Steve Murigi, regional communications manager, Amref
Brita Fernandez, schmidt executive director, Women for Women
Howard Taylor, managing director, Nike Foundation
Michelle Milford, morse advisor and project lead, United Nations Foundation
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary, World YWCA
Tanya Barron, chief executive officer, Plan UK
Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli, scientist and expert in adolescent, sexual and reproductive health, World Health Organisation
Roundtable report commissioned and controlled by the Guardian. Discussion hosted to a brief agreed with Nike Foundation. Funded by Nike Foundation.
Contact: Steve Rackham on 020 3353 2700 (email@example.com).
For information on roundtables visit: theguardian.com/sponsored-content
Unencumbered by bureaucracy and politics, they can offer a critical viewpoint, says Tanya Filer – if offered publicly
The Higher Education Network's early career researchers platform frequently carries bold posts. Three recent pieces possess characteristic punch and timeliness: stick or twist: the postdoctoral dilemma; the truth of the academic job hunt – even one with a happy ending; and PhD: so what does it really stand for?
This trio is arresting, particularly in the British context, where the scale and pace of debate around recent opinion pieces by early career researchers in US publications leave us in wide-eyed wonderment. The welcome audacity of these three posts sits, however, in uneasy contrast with the coyness of their authors, who have published under cloak of anonymity. The writers apparently feel unable to sign their criticisms because they are 'not yet there' and, unprotected by namelessness, they fear that they might never get there – wherever 'there' might be.
As a doctoral candidate, I have some sympathy with this choice of anonymity. I have written articles on the academic pay scale, women in university leadership and PhD funding. My thoughts remain safely filed away in the far corners of my laptop, a truth painfully ironic given that I study (Argentine) public debate and am acutely aware of the perils of self-censorship, pared-down spaces of public conversation and elite-dominated national debate.
But how do we publicly challenge institutional orthodoxies or propose improvements to organisations from which we might one day seek employment? What might the career consequences be? And should we, anyway, when we are not yet there?
Any profession or industry has its flaws and these imperfections have a habit of revealing themselves most clearly to new arrivals. No longer wholly outside nor securely inside either, new entrants may offer valuable insights, unencumbered as they are by the sometimes heavy weight of bureaucracy and institutional history.
Liminality can enlighten. Yet challenges exist. Being 'not yet there' is a state of anticipation: we are waiting for a certain kind of legitimacy, greater intellectual confidence and financial stability. The anticipation of a more secure personal future makes commenting anonymously an attractive proposition. We can contribute to the discussion of institutions while mitigating the risk of those opinions damaging our chances of joining one.
The problem with this 'best of both worlds' approach is that if we start out with anonymous comment, our future is surely one in which anonymity has already sedimented as a legitimate – perhaps necessary – condition for institutional debate. And that does not spell a better collective future.
The principal fear is surely employment-related. Academic institutions may be centres of critique, but it is difficult to imagine them placing top of job lists (at least without pausing for thought) those candidates who publicly decry their structures. The current oversupply of candidates gives universities no reason to fast-track supposed rabble-rousers, even ones who propose solutions alongside criticism.
The anaemic body of early career researchers contributing to higher education policy debate suggests that a critical mass share this anxiety. It hints at self-censorship among the youngest generation of a profession that tasks itself with driving ideas and change-making conversation. We must not, then, ignore this feeling.
Other fears may also come into play. We risk accusation of holding youthful fancies or putting our academic pubescence on public display. Presenting openly an argument that turns out to have little backing could reveal our outsider status in embarrassingly public form. But anonymity appears to dissolve this last anxiety. Readers may inaccurately transform the nameless writer from individual thinker into 'the' early career researcher or, as Pascal Junod recently lamented,take an incognito commentator as messenger for the multitude.
'Are we there yet?' is a question familiar to anyone who took a family road trip as a child. Asked insistently enough, it won you a silencing-if-spluttering juice carton or fun-for-five-minutes car game. "Be patient!" we were told. Or, the white lie: "Not too far to go, now." Those trips taught us either patience or that we were not patient. Later experience revealed that patience is not always a virtue, despite the values that a western education attempted to instill in us.
Now, experience should be our guide, pushing us not to wait patiently, silently, anonymously for what might come, but instead to open ourselves up to the risks that putting our opinions and names out into the world can engender. Whatever the uncertainties, this will surely do more to delegitimise, not just in theory but in practice, the fear-based anonymity that is now emerging as a dangerously accepted condition for institutional debate.
Signing our opinions before we are there signals an encouraging optimism for a public forum in which scholars can productively critique, their names and faces revealed, the institutions that we hope will make critics of us. And that is the kind of future to which I, at least, would like to belong.
Tanya Filer is a PhD candidate in the department of Spanish and Latin American Studies at University College London – follow her on Twitter @TanyaFiler
ICT access alone won't empower girls, unless it is made part of a holistic strategy that tackles gender discrimination, poverty and all barriers that prevent girls from going to school
In rural Cameroon, two teenage girls are doing their best to access a computer in a poorly equipped computer lab in their school. There are 10 computers for 1,000 students, and only five of them work. Girls end up fighting with boys to use the functioning computers. "When a girl succeeds to sit at a computer ... a boy will raise his voice ... saying 'why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will hold a baby's napkin,'" says 17-year-old Fabiola.*
The second International Day of the Girl on 11 October, focuses on 'innovating for girls education.' Innovation is often used interchangeably with information communication technologies, and any programme that involves a computer or mobile device is mistakenly touted as 'innovative'. Although new technologies hold great potential for empowering girls and supporting their education, one cannot ignore the barriers many girls face in accessing and using ICTs.
These include girls being discriminated against because they are seen as a burden and inferior to boys.
A new Unicef report (pdf) supports the premise that innovation should look at more than just the means of implementation. Innovation should, instead, be evaluated in terms of outcomes. The report suggests that when measures are taken to overcome the barriers girls face, the inclusion of new ICTs into proven communication for development (C4D) strategies can help 1) expand and extend girls' connection, engagement and agency; 2) increase girls' access to knowledge; and 3) improve governance and service delivery.
U-Report, for example, works through partners in Uganda to reach a network of youth reporters who share their views on a variety of topics by answering a survey sent to them via mobile phone. Information is used to orient government responses. A girls security mapping initiative, implemented by Map Kibera and supported by Unicef, enabled girls to use digital mapping as a way of identifying places where they felt unsafe. They then engaged community leaders in addressing their concerns. The Rural voices of youth programme in Nepal added SMS as a new option for young people to join discussions on issues affecting them and saw a large boost in participation from populations outside of urban areas.
Though including ICTs in programmes has enhanced girls' access to vital information and offered new channels for them to participate, many causes of girls' low access to education can be resolved only through long-term initiatives to promote gender equality and reduce poverty.
As part of the report, Plan International conducted a 'fast-talk' consultation with adolescent girls from several countries to get a better idea of what they see as the innovative and empowering potential of ICTs in their lives. Their responses inevitably tied back to the importance of education and holistic programming: "Girls are still treated as second priority … in our community. Once both males and females get the) same opportunity to get (a) good education this problem will be solved forever," said Minakshi, 15, from India.
A core tenant of C4D is to work with all the orbits of influence that surround adolescent girls, including individuals and institutions such as family, community and policy makers. In this way, C4D strategies create spaces for dialogue and participation that transform these systems of relations, ultimately allowing girls to develop in a supportive environment.
In order to transform the lives of adolescent girls, a holistic approach is needed — one that takes into account the many obstacles that the most marginalised adolescent girls face, such as low rates of schooling, early pregnancy, sexual violence, disability, low availability of ICTs in schools and communities, poverty, discrimination and the heavy burden of household chores. Once these challenges are accounted for, the added benefit of integrating ICTs into development programming can be truly transformative and earn the term 'innovative'.Unicef recommendations
Girls as active participants in programme design
Understand local context and ensure communication channels are accessible. This will often require multi-channel and multiple platform approaches that reach more marginalised girls who may not have access to or use of ICTs. Programmes should be community driven, and real-time feedback from girls should be incorporated to adjust programmes to their needs and preferences. Mentoring is a key component of programming with girls, and holistic programmes designed together with girls tend towards being more successful.
Privacy and protection
Every programme should conduct a thorough risk analysis of proposed approaches to ensure that girls are not placed at risk by participating, sharing and consuming information, or publicly holding others to account. Girls should also be supported to make their own informed choices about their online presence and use of ICT devices and platforms. A broader set of stakeholders should be engaged and influenced to help mitigate systemic and structural risks to girls.
Research and documentation
The evidence base for use of ICTs in C4D programming with marginalised adolescent girls is quite scarce. Better documentation would improve understanding of what programmes are the most effective, and what the real added value of ICTs are in these efforts.
Because the integration of ICTs into C4D work is a relatively new area that lacks a consistent methodological framework, organisations should support a comprehensive training process for staff to cover areas such as programme design, effective use of new ICT tools in combination with existing tools and methods, and close attention to privacy and risk mitigation.
One policy recommendation for these types of programmes is the use of free and open source software. In addition, child protection policies, measures and guidelines should be updated to reflect changes in technology, platforms and information sharing.
*Girls' last names have been withheld
Keshet Bachan is a consultant specialising in gender equality, girls' empowerment and girls' rights
With unique skills and a broad range of graduate jobs on offer, music students have better prospects than people imagine
If you study medicine at university, chances are you'll become a doctor. For music students, it's less obvious what job you'll end up with… but it could be really fulfilling. The perception that options are narrow and jobs are few for music graduates needs to change.
It's wrongly assumed that when it comes to jobs, music students are confined to their field of study. In reality, music graduates go on to do a wide range of jobs in a variety of different industries.
Alumni surveys from the University of Nottingham show that music graduates are employed across a varied range of fields. As you might expect, a large proportion (50%) work in the creative industry, but the roles performed by graduates vary greatly.
Music grads work in publishing, editing, media production, broadcasting, and marketing. A number work with professional ensembles, but not all are performing as musicians – many work in management roles.
Less anticipated but no less common is the employment of music graduates in finance and banking, legal and consultancy.
Dr Robert Adlington, an associate professor of music at the University of Nottingham, credits these successful and varied outcomes to the highly desirable skills developed by music students during their studies.
In 2011, the Confederate of British Industry outlined the seven skills that define employability: self-management, team work, business and customer awareness, problem solving, communication, numeracy, and IT skills. Adlington says that music students develop all seven of these. By this measure, music graduates are among the most employable of all.
While some of these skills are acquired students of all subject – for example, team work, good communication, self-management – Adlington points out that music students have an edge. The experience of organising, hosting, and performing in events that are open to the public provides them with skills beyond those on other degree programmes. Few degrees require knowledge of customer awareness, or interaction with the public, for example.
James Lister studied music at the University of Nottingham but is now an associate with legal firm Charles Russell. His degree "taught a whole load of things you can't find elsewhere", such as public speaking and self-expression. He says that these skills, in addition to the "highly analytical aspects of a music degree", which enable graduates to read, digest and form an opinion on a huge amount of information, greatly aided his transition into law.
The employability of music graduates appears to be in for a further boost. In addition to covering the traditional elements of a music degree (composition, performance, theory, history and so on), new modules that are focused specifically on employability are set to be introduced.
"Students don't want to leave their future to chance anymore," says Adlington, adding that employability is "part of our core model".
Equally promising prospects can be achieved with less traditional, more hands-on degrees. The SAE Institute (previously known as the School of Audio Engineering) offers music courses that emphasise production values and teach students to a professional standard.
Jordan O'Shea, who graduated from SAE with a first in audio production, says the institute fast-tracked his career, allowing him to go it alone. He says:
"Without SAE, I wouldn't have been able to record my own album. It allows you to go from being a bedroom producer to being a contender." He adds: "Of course, there's no guarantee you'll be the next guy producing Adele."
Students are taught not to depend on having access to a studio, or support or funding from a record label. Since leaving SAE, O'Shea has set up a self-built studio. From it, he co-founded Bear on a Bicycle, an award-winning Oxford-based music and art collective that cracked the city's scene in under a year.
The collective's success is a reflection of how changes in the music industry allow artists to produce and publicise themselves. The internet means artists can publish, distribute, and promote their own work. These methods are nothing new, but if combined with professional knowledge and experience, it can be a winning, name-making recipe.Harry Slater
This week's research round up includes: request for body image classes and England's poor rankings in mathsCall for classes on body image
Teenage girls' self worth could be improved by training teachers to talk about body image with pupils, research has found.
As part of an Institute of Psychiatry pilot study, 261 teenage girls at three state secondary schools attended six classes on body image.
Ideals of beauty, unhealthy interactions with peers – such as making negative comments about weight – and practical measures for boosting self-esteem were covered in the course.
Dr Helen Sharpe, who helped develop the programme as part of her work at the Institute of Psychiatry, said the lessons were effective in improving self-esteem. She also said the programme showed promise of being able to tackle problems caused by a negative body image, such as eating disorders.
Read more on the study's findings on the BBC.
Language development is crucial between the ages of two and four, a brain scans suggest.
Scientists from King's College London and Brown University, Rhode Island, investigated the brains of 108 children aged of one and six.
They found that brain circuits associated with language were more flexible before the age of four, offering a possible explanation for why young children are good at learning foreign languages.
The study tracked the distribution of myelin (a type of cell) through the brain. From the age of four, it was found to become more fixed.
The researchers said the findings had implications for many developmental disorders, such as autism.
Read more on the results of the brain scans on the BBC.
Young people in England are achieving some of the lowest results in literacy and numeracy in the industrialised world, a major study has found.
Out of the 24 countries assessed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), England came 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy.
Northern Ireland's young adults performed better than those in England, but they were in the bottom half of rankings.
When the poor scores were considered in the context of other factors, such as the socio-economic background of the young people, England was the only country where results went backwards – with the older people doing than younger adults.
Young adults in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands performed the best. The study involved 166,000 adults taking tests in 24 education systems.
Read the full report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the organisation's website.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.Holly Welham