It's more critical that governors understand their roles and the practical ways to make a difference, argues Lord Bichard
Since Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested last month that we might have to pay governors to join the boards of schools in tough circumstances, there has been a lot of debate about competent governance and how to achieve it.
Over the past 18 months I have travelled around the country speaking to governors and local authorities about how to raise standards of governance - and the message is clear: at times school governors can be ineffective, not because they lack motivation or incentive, but because they can lack the confidence and understanding as to what good governance actually looks like.
In this country we have developed a system of governance that is driven by an army of highly-skilled volunteers who are responsible for millions of hours of altruism and good will. Governors do what they do because they want to exchange their own particular blend of skills and experience for better education outcomes for children. The rewards need not be financial; governors turn up because they want to make a difference.
So if we have an abundance of motivated governors all keen to make their mark, what is the problem? What are we trying to solve? To my mind, the central issue in the debate, and one which Sir Michael Wilshaw raised in his speech, is of governor effectiveness. He suggests that there is "... too much time spent looking at the quality of school lunches and not enough on maths and English". He is right to say that too often, too many governors are unsure of the sorts of issues they should be confronting.
In my time advising Ten Governor Support, a question-answering service for school governors, we have collected web usage data on the sorts of practical problems and issues that governors across the country are trying to overcome; and by some distance, the most common questions are "what is my role?", "what do I have to do?" and "when do I have to do it?" Looking through a list of the most popular articles on our website reveals a lack of certainty on the part of school governors. Of all the articles most frequently read, two of the top three, 'Governors' year planner' and 'Annual work plan for the governing body', specifically address the "what should I do and when?" type question.
This level of uncertainty highlights the fact that the role itself is complex and largely unrecognised. A recent survey conducted by YouGov for Ten Governor Support shows that even though school governors control more than £38bn of public money, 82% of the public are oblivious of their influence. When asked who decides how to spend a school's budget, answers ranged from the prime minister to Michael Gove, with 41% simply confessing they didn't know.
The elephant in the room is the chronic disparity between the good will of the governor community and the investment required to make sure that governors' time, their goodwill, is put to effective use. Governors need to understand their roles and appreciate how they can practically make a difference; they need examples of where other governing bodies have succeeded and failed. The reality is that a reduction in local government spending has heavily impacted upon the quality of local authority delivered governor support.
Governing bodies need to own the fact that, to all intents and purposes, they are the responsible body for their school. If the school succeeds, they are doing a good job; if it doesn't, they aren't. But if they are to fully embrace this accountability, they must be provided with the training, information and support they require in order to be effective. School governors embody the very spirit of the 'big society', which is why pay is not the critical issue.
Lord Michael Bichard is a former public servant chief advisor at Ten Governor Support.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get articles direct to your inbox, and to access thousands of free resources, sign up to the Guardian Teacher Network here. Looking for your next role? See our Guardian jobs for schools site for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobsLord Michael Bichard
Nobel peace prize nominee, 15, describes her return to school as the most important day of her life
Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan while advocating girls' education, attended her first day of school in the UK, weeks after being released from hospital.
The 15-year-old, who is among nominees for this year's Nobel peace prize, described her return to school as the most important day of her life, as she joined other students in Birmingham.
"I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity," she said in a statement.
Accompanied by her father and carrying a pink rucksack, Malala joined other pupils at Edgbaston high school for girls, close to the hospital where she underwent surgery to reconstruct her skull last month.
Alongside other students in Year 9, she will be studying a full curriculum in preparation for selecting her subjects for GCSEs. "I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham," she said.
Malala was brought to Britain for specialist treatment after being shot in the head at point-blank range by Taliban gunmen last October in the Swat valley in north-western Pakistan. Members of the Pakistani Taliban said she was targeted because she promoted "western thinking".
She left hospital in February after making a good recovery from surgery during which doctors fitted a titanium plate to her skull and inserted a cochlear implant to help restore hearing in her left ear.
"She wants to be a normal teenage girl and to have the support of other girls around," said Edgbaston headteacher Ruth Weeks. "Talking to her, I know that's something she missed during her time in hospital."
Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and current UN special envoy for global education, said: "This is a great day for Malala, for her family – and for the cause of education worldwide.
"By her courage, Malala shows that nothing – not even bullets, intimidation or death threats – can stand in the way of the right of every girl to an education. I wish Malala and her family well as her courageous recovery continues."Ben Quinn
Removing climate change from the curriculum denies children the right to participate in the debate about their own future
Betrayal is a word not to be used lightly. But no betrayal is worse than the betrayal of children, and the Department for Education's attempt to remove all explicit reference to climate change from the national curriculum guidelines up to the age of 14 would, if it succeeds, betray a whole generation of children.
The purpose of education is to prepare us for the challenges we will face in life. Climate change, and our success or failure in dealing with it, will be a defining challenge. A successful response would take all the major economies to a carbon-neutral energy system in little more than a generation. The social and political consequences of this transformation will be as dramatic as any we have ever experienced. We cannot let our children face such a journey without equipping them at the earliest possible stage with a compass.
But that transformation has yet to begin. Without a dramatic acceleration soon, the current global response to climate change will be looked back on as the greatest failure of politics in history. My generation, with its hands now on the levers of power, has hardly begun to grasp the urgency and intensity of the challenge. Elites across the major economies talk about their commitment to deal with climate change while continuing to lock us ever more tightly into a high-carbon future.
There are two paths now available: one leads towards a world in which by mid-century the basic needs of 9 billion people can be met by co-ordinating a successful response to climate change. The other looks increasingly like descent into competition, fragmentation and conflict, as the interconnected stresses of food, water, and energy insecurity become unmanageable.
If anyone has a right to be informed about what is at stake at this threshold, it is today's children. Equally, what is now clear is that their voices – already speaking out – need to be heard more than ever. Those who are young today will, for better or worse, have to bear the brunt of the decisions made by my generation. That gives them a unique right to be listened to on climate change. We should be stretching every sinew in our schools – as many excellent teachers up and down the country have been doing – to instil in our children the knowledge and confidence to make themselves heard.
I recently had the privilege of leading a lesson on climate change for a class of eight-year-olds. I had asked each to bring a relevant object from home. One brought a slice of bread. He explained: "To make bread you need wheat. To grow wheat you need the right amount of sunshine, and the right amount of rain." The argument that eight-year-olds, let alone 14-year-olds, are too young to learn about climate change is patronising.
The proposed new guidelines do not, as their advocates point out, prohibit teachers from mentioning climate change. But they would make it legitimate not to do so. What is not mentioned cannot be reflected upon, debated, and brought to life in the choices we make.
The intent behind the current proposal is not clear. It may simply be a result of inattention; an unhappy byproduct of an otherwise laudable attempt to simplify the curriculum. Or may derive from motives that would be familiar to Orwell, who understood the relationship between language and political outcomes. It certainly bears a striking resemblance to the now notorious efforts by the Bush administration to remove the phrase "climate change" from as many official publications in the US as possible.
But whatever the intent, the effect would be a weakening of the basis for learning and debate about climate change in schools at a time when it needs to be further strengthened. At the very least, climate change and its human consequences should remain explicit in the new geography guidelines.John Ashton
MIT president says names of employees in public documents will be blacked out 'to protect privacy and safety' of individuals
The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced on Tuesday that the school will voluntarily release public documents related to the prosecution of the free-information activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself in January as he faced trial on hacking charges.
The email announcement by MIT president L Rafael Reif came in response to a request on Friday by lawyers for Swartz's estate to have the US district court in Boston make the documents public. The university has come under fire for what critics say is its compliance with federal prosecutors in the legal case against Swartz. Supporters of Swartz have painted him as a zealous advocate of public online access, a martyred hero hounded to his death by the government he antagonized.
To prosecutors, the 26-year-old Swartz was a thief whose aims to make information available didn't excuse the illegal acts he was charged with: breaking into a wiring closet at MIT and tapping into its computer network to download millions of paid-access scholarly articles, which he planned to share publicly. Swartz was facing possibly decades in prison after being indicted in Boston in 2011 when he hanged himself in his Brooklyn, New York, apartment.
The documents will be released at the same time as an internal analysis of MIT's role in the Swartz case is made public. No date has been set for the release of that analysis, which is being conducted by professor Hal Abelson. The documents will have MIT employees' names blacked out in order to protect their safety, Reif wrote. The university will also black out information that might open it to further hacking attacks.
"In the time since Aaron Swartz's suicide, we have seen a pattern of harassment and personal threats," Reif wrote. "In this volatile atmosphere, I have the responsibility to protect the privacy and safety of those members of our community who have become involved in this matter in the course of doing their jobs for MIT, and to ensure a safe environment for all of us who call MIT home."
Swartz's family said his death was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach". Federal prosecutors have defended their pursuit of the case and say Swartz was offered a deal under which he would have spent just four to six months in prison. Charges were dropped after Swartz's death.
A lawyer for Swartz's estate welcomed Reif's decision, but questioned MIT's need for secrecy and worried that documents with names blacked out would be "incomprehensible and impossible to follow". "It's long overdue that they've agreed to release something," San Francisco-based attorney Elliot Peters said. "But I don't see the reason to redact. I am not aware of any threats having been made to anybody at MIT. I don't know why that's a concern."
Lawyers for Swartz's estate said in their filing on Friday that "the public has an important and clearly established interest in receiving the information necessary to understand the events that led to Aaron Swartz's arrest and indictment."
Peters said: "It would show what happened and show the role MIT had in this."
The lawyers asked that names remain in the documents if released. "Redaction of these individuals' names would merely add a layer of confusion and opacity to the documents without any additional privacy benefit," they wrote.
MIT's computer system has been hacked a number times since Swartz's death. The campus was placed into lockdown last month when someone called to report a gunman in a university building. MIT later said the gunman report was a hoax apparently prompted by Swartz's death.
The annual 60 minute light switch off is back on 23 March. So why not use the event to teach about climate change? Here are our top resources to help you plan your green lesson
Every year at the end of March, individuals, governments, companies and organisations switch non-essential lights off for 60 minutes to mark Earth Hour - a global event which aims to raise awareness of climate change and environmental concerns. It may only be symbolic, but watching iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower and Sydney Opera House be plunged into darkness sends a powerful message.
The seventh annual Earth Hour on 23 March, 8.30pm to 9.30pm, is a flash of inspiration for teachers wanting to explore climate change in more depth - from the science of global warming to energy saving and renewable energy. The event is made even more relevant this week after teachers in England condemned the British government for dropping climate change from the geography curriculum for under 14s.
The Guardian Teacher Network, Environment section and Earth Hour website are rich with resources, interactive multimedia, videos and picture galleries to help you plan your next green lesson. Here are our pick of the best:
Not sure where to start? This interactive guide is a hexagonal spider map which will help you find your way around this labyrinthine issue and answer many of the burning questions orbiting this hot topic. Covering everything from science and politics to economics and technology, your class will be able to delve deeper into all the subjects covered by the issue.
Last year was one of the top 10 hottest on record. But was it a freak of nature or the tip of a slowly melting iceberg? Engage your students in a debate on climate change, exploring the facts and data surrounding the topic, using this animation displaying a progression of changing global surface temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2012. The map clearly shows global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.55°C (1F) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Niña. What does your class think could have caused this rise in temperature?
Ask your pupils to play UK prime minister and give them the tricky task of cutting our fuel guzzling country's carbon emissions by 80%, but still providing enough electricity to meet demand. The calculator, which allows students to set policy on energy, transport and other sectors, may have originally been created to tie in with the 2010 general election, but it's still a handy tool to use today, engaging the class in mathematics and political debate.
News stories and documentaries about melting ice caps are worrying, but tales of crumbling glaciers thousands of miles away can often leave pupils feeling cold. Sometimes, seeing is believing and this fascinating video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows how the Arctic ice retreated over the summer from April to September 2012.
Talking about the weather is a national pastime in the UK. And we've had more than our fair share of storms, floods and snow drifts this winter to keep us chatting until summer finally decides to arrive. But is our weather any worse than it was 10, 20 or 50 years ago? Engage your pupils in a discussion about Britain's infamously unpredictable weather by joining a national initiative that seeks to explore and record people's meteorological memories, especially those associated with extreme weather events in the recallable past. The scheme is particularly interested in the way in which memory and experience influences understanding of climate change issues. Pupils can add to this memory bank by interviewing their parents and grandparents.
Is global warming an inconvenient truth or green wash propaganda? The data in favour of the climate change argument is certainly compelling, but there are some in the scientific community and elsewhere who remain sceptical about the topic. This Teacher Network resource, suitable for citizenship students aged 11 to 18, explores the role, if any, scepticism should play in debates over climate change.
From games teaching children about cleaning the world's oceans to an online activity book packed full of great ideas for lessons on the environment, the official Earth Hour website has plenty to keep your class busy. It's also an ideal place to source inspiring videos and pictures related to the campaign and find out how your school can get involved.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get articles direct to your inbox, and to access thousands of free resources, sign up to the Guardian Teacher Network here. Looking for your next role? See our Guardian jobs for schools site for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobsMatthew Jenkin
The launch of UCL Academy has not been without fire, says Michael Worton, but the chance to shape curriculum and collaborate with educational colleagues was too good to miss
Today sees the opening of the UCL Academy, the first school in England with a university as sole sponsor. It is early days, but I believe that the close relationship already enjoyed by school and university is bearing fruit. Yes, staff and students of our two institutions are benefiting from the links, but with time I think our respective sectors will also gain from the new approach to teaching and learning being pioneered.
Why are we doing it? UCL has from its inception been committed to education both within our walls and beyond in the local community. For many years, we have been working with schools in London and with a significant outreach and widening participation programme. In 1999, we established a partnership for excellence with City and Islington College, an idea godfathered by Lord Adonis, later one of UCL Academy's most enthusiastic supporters as education minister.
This activity continues, but we wanted to do more. The opportunity to shape the curriculum afforded by the academies programme was too good to turn down, despite the fact that we knew we would be dragged into the political fire surrounding the programme. For us, though, the choice was clear: either let this rare opportunity pass, or act to play a more active role in developing academic excellence beyond the traditional university environment.
Our borough, Camden, badly needed a new school, and we were excited at the chance to play a hands-on role and shape the debate around both the school and the university curriculum, and so to help redefine the relationship between our sectors.
The process has been much longer and more torturous than we had imagined. The years leading up to today's opening have seen us involved in political wrangles at both local and national level, being subjected to judicial reviews, all while navigating the oceans of bureaucracy that come with a project as ambitious as this.
And just as it seemed we were there, in 2010 the coalition government was formed and Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, decided to review everything. But we finally got the green light, and the first brick was laid on our site on Adelaide Road.
It was not only the building, but also the curriculum that had to be designed from scratch. This enabled us to think through what is really meant by terms that are bandied around like 'child-centred' or 'self-directed learning'. These words are used all the time, but it is not simple to ensure that everyone, both teacher and pupil, takes responsibility for learning – and through learning establishes a responsible and useful role in the world.
For us, the academy was to be much more than an extension of our outreach activities: we wanted it to be about changing radically the way in which education operates. The academy is young and UCL has 187 years of history, but just as all learning organisation should do, we are both learning from each other.
As a sponsor, we set the ethos and the education vision, but the relationship between UCL and the UCL Academy is already one of partnership. One very obvious example for the visitors to the spectacular building is that students and teachers are not tied to one classroom. Each floor at the school has a 'superstudio', a long room with a central tiered amphitheatre-style learning space and an area on either side for various learning activities designed to enable classroom group learning, project-based and pair work or independent study as appropriate.
I would also highlight the work on object-based learning, pioneered by UCL through our museums colleagues and now being applied in the Academy, where new ways of using it are emerging. UCL's own commitment to languages manifests itself in the fact that all academy teachers and pupils are learning Mandarin together.
UCL and the academy have also come together to design an engineering science suite, which includes workshop spaces and labs designed to give students the experience of being engineers – a tangible response to the identified issue of the lack of qualified engineers in our society. In these and other ways, we work to understand each other's goals and objectives and to work out how we can work better on curriculum design, both in schools and in universities.
At the university end, the flow of excitement about being so deeply involved with a school has revitalised our commitment to thinking creatively and radically about education. Working with the academy is helping our academics think more about learning and education and how we really go about enthusing young people.
To me, a partnership between school and university seems a natural and obvious fit – how long will UCL be the only university to venture into this territory? We wholeheartedly encourage other institutions to follow our lead and engage directly with the young people in their communities by developing academies of their own. The challenges are huge, but I am already clear that the payback is massive and we will gladly offer our time and support to any institution that wishes to go down the same route.
How can universities manage facilities and services while balancing the books? Join our #HElivechat 22 Mar 12pm GMT
As Northampton vice-chancellor Nick Petford says, university procurement is not a sexy subject, but an important one.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has predicted it will face £150m limit on how much it can spend in 2013-14, reductions increasing further to £280 in 2014-15.
And with the sector spending in the region of £10bn every year on buying goods and services, universities are looking to reorganise – through outsourcing or collaborative procurement – to reduce costs.
But as higher education institutions increasingly look to outsource campus services including catering and facilities management, staff and students are responding in their numbers against these acts of privatisation which they feel will affect their university experience.
Staff and students currently in their fifth week of occupation against the outsourcing of key services at the University of Sussex are not the only ones expressing concern over a lack of clarity and communication behind university decision-making, arguing the move will jeopardise employment terms and conditions.
London Metropolitan University is using a private firm to reshape its non-teaching services. Falmouth University plans to move academic support staff to a private company, FX Plus. And in November, the University of Central Lancashire became the first public university to apply to become a private company.
Some of the key issues at hand:
• Fear that universities are becoming more like businesses
• The growing view of students as 'consumers'
• Impact of privatisation on the student and staff experience
• Commercialisation of learning on campus
• Implications for public role of the university
"If universities are profit-driven, this destroys the possibility that they have any level of community responsibility," said Rachel Wenstone, NUS vice-president for higher education, in response to the Sussex occupation, "and it means students will not have the opportunity to shape what that looks like."
Amid widespread opposition to outsourcing, what are its benefits – and alternatives? In 2012, the University of Northampton launched the 1 Billion Pound Challenge, a scheme that aims to support local economies and bring wider community benefits, while at the same time helping universities and colleges develop efficient, sustainable procurement practices. "Building relationships initially through procurement could prove a route in for academic activities including research, consultancy and student placements," said Petford of the move.
Meanwhile, research by Sheffield Hallam University in 2012 found facilities management service delivery at a turning point across the board with traditional models failing to meet customer needs. The study found what was driving companies in a range of sectors was the chance to gain innovation in service delivery within tight budgetary restraints.
Does the same apply to universities? Higher education budgets are tight, but is the answer to balancing the books in outsourcing services, or rather, making use of a university's resources and expertise on campus? Is it a simple case of homegrown verses imported services? Or more about collaboration between universities and private providers, staff and students, and the growing field of social enterprise?
Join our live chat Friday 22 March 12-2pm GMT to discuss the best models for universities and how they can be implemented. Is the view that private providers are just out to make money from universities fair, or are there other factors to consider?
If you would like to be on the panel, please email email@example.com
You can also follow the debate live on Twitter using the hashtag #HElivechatPanel to be confirmed
ARM president Simon Segars will take reins from self-professed gadget luddite Warren East in July
ARM's incoming chief executive has vowed to resist any takeover attempts and keep the fierce independence that has helped transform the Cambridge startup into the world's largest microchip designer.
Simon Segars, president of ARM, will take the top job in July when Warren East steps down after 12 years, the company said on Tuesday in a surprise announcement.
Segars, who joined ARM in 1991 when he was 23, said: "We have 300 licensees of our technology, we share confidential information with each other and they rely on the neutrality of our position. Being an independent company is the right model."
East, 51, has been one of Britain's most successful listed company bosses, having overseen the creation of a $20bn (£13bn) business. A low-key executive who plays the organ in his village church, he has described himself as a "luddite when it comes to gadgets". East propelled ARM to international success by putting it at the heart of the smartphone boom.
Discretion and neutrality were key to his strategy. ARM creates designs that can be licensed to any other company, but has never ventured into manufacturing chips itself, unlike its arch-rival Intel. The result is that ARM's designs are in 32% of semiconductors sold worldwide, double Intel's 16%.
East has never spoken much about his most important client, but ARM's business was transformed by the use of its chips in Apple products, particularly the iPhone.
Created as a spinoff from Acorn Computers, in which Apple took a 30% stake for $3m in 1990, Advanced Risc Machine, as it was known, joined the stock exchange in 1998, after which Apple gradually exited its holding while maintaining the collaboration.Juliette Garside
Open thread: A union leader claims the threat of being axed is putting teachers and heads off applying for leadership roles at struggling schools. Do you agree?
Turning around the fortunes of a struggling school is an unenviable task. And for many headteachers who do rise to the challenge, failure is not an option. According to the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, headteachers can face the axe if the school does not improve within just a few weeks.
Lightman claims that taking on a headship at a failing school is "career suicide". He also criticises politicians and inspectors for treating headteachers as "commodities you can throw away".
But what do you think? Are headships at struggling schools career kryptonite? What incentives should there be to attract talented heads to work in struggling schools? And how do we entice more teachers into leadership roles in some of the worst performing schools?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below.This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get articles direct to your inbox, and to access thousands of free resources, sign up to the Guardian Teacher Network here. Looking for your next role? See our Guardian jobs for schools site for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobsMatthew Jenkin
Help the British Science Association find great ideas for practical science demonstrations by nominating videos of demos you have found online
The Myers-Briggs personality test is used by companies the world over but the evidence is that it's nowhere near as useful as its popularity suggests
I was recently reviewing some psychological lectures for my real job. One of these was on personality tests. The speaker mentioned the Myers-Briggs test, explaining that, while well known (I personally know it from a Dilbert cartoon) the Myers-Briggs test isn't recognised as being scientifically valid so is largely ignored by the field of psychology. I tweeted this fact, thinking it would be of passing interest to a few people. I was unprepared for the intensity of the replies I got. I learned several things that day.
1. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used by countless organisations and industries, although one of the few areas that doesn't use it is psychology, which says a lot.
2. Many people who have encountered the MBTI in the workplace really don't have a lot of positive things to say about it.
3. For some organisations, use of the MBTI seemingly crosses the line into full-blown ideology.
So how did something that apparently lacks scientific credibility become such a popular and accepted tool?
The MBTI was developed during World War 2 by Myers and Briggs (obviously), two housewives who developed a keen interest in the works of Carl Jung. They developed the MBTI based on Jung's theories, with the intention of producing a useful test that would allow women entering the workforce to be assigned jobs that would be best suited to their personalities.
This is already enough to make some people wary. Myers and Briggs weren't trained scientists, but you don't need to be scientifically qualified to make a very valid contribution to science. Look at Galaxy Zoo. Also, deriving all your information from a single source is always questionable in science, even if it weren't the work of Jung, whose theories were/are very influential and far reaching but largely scientifically untestable and subject to numerous criticisms. But the debate around the validity of Jung's theories certainly isn't something I could settle in a blogpost.
The trouble is, the more you look into the specifics of the MBTI, the more questionable the way it's widespread use appears to be. There are numerous comprehensive critiques about it online, but the most obvious flaw is that the MBTI seems to rely exclusively on binary choices.
For example, in the category of extrovert v introvert, you're either one or the other; there is no middle ground. People don't work this way, no normal person is either 100% extrovert or 100% introvert, just as people's political views aren't purely "communist" or "fascist". Many who use the MBTI claim otherwise, despite the fact that Jung himself disagreed with this and statistical analysis reveals even data produced by the test shows a normal distribution rather than bimodal, refuting the either/or claims of the MBTI. But still this overly-simplified interpretation of human personality endures, even in the Guardian Science section!
Generally, although not completely unscientific, the MBTI gives a ridiculously limited and simplified view of human personality, which is a very complex and tricky concept to pin down and study. The scientific study of personality is indeed a valid discipline, and there are many personality tests that seemingly hold up to scientific scrutiny (thus far). It just appears that MBTI isn't one of them.
But so what? People often benefit from things with a limited scientific basis, for many reasons. Scientific validity is necessary if you're trying to diagnose a disorder of some sort, but in the everyday workplace for team building and the like? This is what MBTI is used for most, so why go on some major nerd-rant about how unscientific it is when it doesn't really matter?
Yes, the MBTI is harmless and potentially useful if you're aware of its limitations. That's the problem, though; the MBTI is predominately used in the workplace by HR departments, development/training teams and the like, who can often be clearly unaware of its limitations.
I've been fortunate enough in my career to never have been profiled by someone utilizing the MBTI, but many others haven't been so lucky.
(N.B. The following comments were among numerous emailed to me directly in response to a tweeted request. Commenters are anonymous as their livelihoods could be threatened if their identities were known).
As a member of the [Development] team I am expected to, at the very least, support the use of Myers Briggs. MBTI is the default training solution for any kind of team building event... People very often say something like "Erm, I think that I am not just a T or an F. Can I be somewhere in the middle?" And my colleagues will patiently explain that you must be one or the other. This is the most disputed aspect of the whole thing. And yet there we are explaining with complete authority that "No, you ARE either a thinker or a feeler." It is stupid. I wince when I see one of the members of my team trying to convince an employee (who I happen to know has a Psychology degree) that MBTI is infallible.
Several reports like this revealed just how deeply entrenched and rigid this faith in the MBTI really is. Training in the MBTI and its variations is typical for those in Human Resources etc. and can be quite expensive. The MBTI as an industry apparently makes $20 million a year. When you've spent so much time and money on learning something, of course you're going to have a faith in it, even to the point of cognitive dissonance.
This sort of thing has been going on for quite some time, as the next commenter reveals.
When I was back in school (25+ years ago) a lot of teachers gave the test at the beginning of the year… In one class I was asked to write about "what I learned about myself" by taking the test. I wrote a whole paper about how unscientific the test was and how I didn't learn anything. That teacher had me removed from her class within a week for unrelated trumped up reasons. It was like I was questioning her religion.
It's easy to assume that this unthinking faith in the MBTI is the preserve of businesses and companies, but it seems it's found in schools too. And I've been told about people enduring MBTI-based assessment with negative consequences in our beloved cash-stricken cuts-ravaged NHS. That's right; the health service seemingly spends a lot of money on training and assessment methods that aren't as supported by evidence as many would expect. Worrying.
The extent to which the MBTI is relied upon can reach quite farcical levels, as another commenter revealed.
I interviewed for a new job, and after the first interview stage, I received an email from my recruiter that the second stage interview wouldn't be an interview at all, but a set of tests, which would help the company to understand my mathematical and reasoning ability, my understanding of language, and my personality. That's right, just like something out of a teen magazine, my second interview would not involve me meeting the people I would work with, meeting again with management, or even a technical test, but instead, would be the grown-up, corporate world equivalent of a "Could You Date Justin Beiber" quiz!
Some employers trust the MBTI more than their own judgement? Even if potential employees were entirely passive and unfailingly honest, this would be unwise. I've even been told about companies that make a point of putting employee MBTI profiles on the doors to their offices, so people entering know how best to engage with them. Whether the employees had the results of their drugs tests tattooed on the back of their necks too wasn't mentioned, but wouldn't surprise me.
I obviously can't verify the above quotes, and I know anecdotal evidence should be taken lightly, but this is just a small selection of the responses I got from one casual query.
There are many possible reasons why the MBTI is so entrenched in workplaces and promoted so enthusiastically. There's the expense and training involved, mentioned above. It may be because everyone uses it, so people conclude it must be reliable, and thus its success becomes self perpetuating. Also, any personality type you get assigned is invariably positive. There is no combination of answers you could give on the MBTI which says 'you're an arsehole'.
I personally feel it's more to do with people's tendency to go for anything that offers an easy solution. People will always go for the new fad diet, the alternative remedy, the five dollar wrinkle trick that makes dermatologists hate you for some reason. For all that it may be well-intended, the MBTI offers a variation on that. People are very complex, variable and unpredictable. Many users of the MBTI believe that a straightforward test can simplify them to the point where they can be managed, controlled and utilised to make them as efficient and productive as possible. It's no wonder businesses are keen to embrace something like that; it would be the ideal tool if it were guaranteed to achieve this.
Evidence suggests it isn't though. People are far more sophisticated than any basic yes/no test could ever hope to encompass. Employers who assume otherwise in the face of all available evidence run the constant risk of alienating and infuriating those they intend to manage more effectively.
Dean Burnett's personality can be effectively assessed from his Twitter feed, @garwboy
[Spoiler warning; it's awful]Dean Burnett
Pupil-teacher interaction outside of the classroom is fraught with dangers, but Lizzie Deane, 16, can't understand why her Manchester school doesn't embrace social media
In every school there are young, attractive teachers that all the girls and all the boys fancy: there was probably one in your school, there's at least one in your child's school, and there's probably one in my school in Manchester – but that would be telling.
Everyone has fond memories of that poor object of forbidden excitement. The difference today is that you can follow that teacher on Twitter and Facebook.
"Staff must not use social networks to communicate with students" is the guidance given in my school's e-safety policy. Nor should they "have students classed as 'friends' or the equivalent". But this is just a guideline; there is no explicit rule preventing online teacher-pupil communication because no law exists to enforce it. Therefore if I were to become friends with that young teacher on Facebook, we would both merely be advised to cease contact on the grounds that it was inappropriate.
Obviously, there are safeguarding issues that the guidance seeks to comply with – the scores of well-publicised sexual relationships between pupils and teachers are evidence enough to stigmatise this kind of 'online contact'. But teachers are having to adapt to new roles and expectations created by the internet, particularly with social networking.
So, do teachers have a responsibility to tweet/post responsibly? In my school a picture of a drunken teacher found on a social media site would spread round the whole school in about an hour, everyone openly laughing at the hapless victim. (There is invaluable advice about this in the policy: teachers will "ensure all online activity, both in and out of school, will not bring their professional role into disrepute".)
You don't have to search for long to find examples of how teachers can suffer from inappropriate online scrutiny: ratemyteachers.com is a favourite. These comments may seem harmless to students (or parents for that matter) but the issue of cyber-bullying arguably affects teachers as much as it does pupils. I have heard stories of violent threats being made and worse.
So teachers and schools must defend themselves; social networking and the thorny issues that come with it are not simply going to disappear. Forcing a child to delete an account or labelling some behaviour as "inappropriate" will only feed the curiosity, like when you tell a child not to go by the river because it's dangerous – they will anyway. So if they cannot prevent it, schools would do better to attempt to manage it in a smarter way.
Teenagers know that schools are hopeless with social media – the fact email is the only way they can talk to teachers is the biggest clue. Ask any teenager how often they email and you will see. Besides, email is surely more dangerous; one-to-one conversations can become very personal, whereas open contact on a social media site is much more transparent. Facebook itself started in a university, designed to connect Harvard students. Perhaps a return to its educational roots wouldn't be a bad idea?
Virtual learning environments or VLEs are all the rage in schools at the minute. They allow teachers and pupils to access class content, homework etc and some even have social spaces where they can interact through threaded discussions. Brilliant right? The only problem is the school splashes out all this money and no one uses it. Not even teachers. Because it's basically a more boring version of Facebook. Why then, shouldn't schools use Facebook for the same means? It's free, most pupils will go on it regularly anyway and would be far more popular – Facebook could be the world's biggest and best VLE.
A teacher could post essay questions on the special 'Yr11 English' group, and the class could post ideas, debate or ask questions in an environment they're all familiar and comfortable with. The class learns, the school saves money and (unlike email) it is completely transparent.
Of course, there will be those that emphasise the 'social' in social media – teachers are there in a professional capacity to teach, not to socialise. And Twitter is a very different story; it is much more difficult to monitor and contain, there is no way protecting tweets, nor is there the possibility of creating private online spaces.
But by demonstrating that they can use social media – and more importantly, use it positively – schools will garner more respect from students. And in the internet age, with its blurred boundaries and hierarchies, this mutual respect toward social media could prove crucial.
• Lizzie Deane lives in south Manchester and is currently in her final year of high school
• This article was amended on 19 March 2013 to remove a quote from ratemyteachers.com.
Previous generations' ignorance led to global warming. To change the curriculum now is an outrageous backward step
My name is Esha, I am a secondary school student from the Heathland School in Hounslow and a member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC). Geography has always fascinated me. Volcanoes, globalisation, development, you name it. It's the one subject that has left me with the desire to find out more. In fact, it inspired me enough to appreciate that not only is the Earth a beautiful place, but that it is one in desperate need of our help. More importantly, it inspired me to get out there and do as much as I could to make a difference.
Climate change is the most pressing and threatening issue facing us. Through lack of understanding from generations before us, we are now having to fix it.
And how could we do this without education?
However, yet again, our government – part of the generation who bear more responsibility for this problem – intend to not only fail to act on climate change themselves, but to obscure the truth, and any chance young people have to act. It is outrageous that Michael Gove can even consider the elimination of climate change education for under 14s. This education is vital if we want young people to be as skilled and informed, as I and others like me are, in taking on this challenge today.
The biggest surprise of all has been the reaction from organisations such as the Royal Geographical Society and the Geographical Association. They welcome these shocking changes and in doing so discredit their reputations. These organisations have responsibilities to their membership; all the lecturers, students and teachers.
All the people who are passionate about this issue call for more climate education, not less. We should be taking a step forwards, not backwards. For most, these institutions provide a place for their passions to flourish, providing them with inspiration to be involved in proactive change not held back from education.
The proposed change to the curriculum will reduce our potential to help tackle climate change. It stops us from taking a stand to protect our futures.
Like so many people, I owe my passion for furthering the understanding of climate change to my school geography lessons. I was able to understand the many issues and perspectives surrounding climate change. The beauty of geography is the fact that it gives us the skills to frankly express the problems that the Earth and humanity faces, without hiding the truth.
The change to the curriculum takes away this opportunity for honesty. Geography showed me that climate change isn't fair. It isn't fair that we are causing harm to people less well off due to our own carelessness. Geography lessons taught me more than that "the polar bears are dying". They allowed me to realise that climate change is unjust, it affects people in an inhumane way. Not only that, but it is also something we can stop.
It is clear that we don't have all the solutions. We don't know how to stop the ice caps from melting. We don't know how to reduce natural disasters. But we do have the opportunity to learn and change this. If young children aren't able to learn about climate change in an environment which allows them to be inspired, how can you ask us to take the lead in the future? The fact is, we can't. That is why it's so important so teach us.
• Esha Marwaha is the organiser of a petition to keep climate change on the geography national curriculum for children up to 14 years old
Schools and councils in England handed out 41,224 £60 fines in 2011-12, compared with 32,641 the year before
The number of fines imposed upon parents for allowing their children to miss school has leapt by a quarter in a year as part of a crackdown on truancy, statistics reveal.
Figures released by the Department for Education show schools and councils in England handed out 41,224 £60 fines in 2011-12, compared with 32,641 the year before.
The fine doubles if parents fail to pay it after 28 days. Parents may be prosecuted if they still have not paid after 42 days. Some 6,361 parents were prosecuted, compared with 5,629 the year before.
The number of pupils in primary, secondary, special schools and academies who missed at least a month of school – children known as "persistent absentees – fell to 5.2% from 6.1% the year before. There were 333,850 persistent absentees - 60,000 fewer than the year before.
The coalition changed the definition of a persistent absentee in 2011 from a pupil who missed a fifth of the school year to one who missed a quarter.
On a typical school day, 327,000 pupils were out of school, compared with 370,000 the year before.
Overall absence for holidays, illness and truancy fell to 5.1%, from 5.8%.
Some 0.5% of lesson time was lost because parents had taken their children on holiday, the same proportion as last year.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "If children are not in school they cannot learn. Too many children are still missing too many lessons. We must continue to tackle poor attendance and make sure every pupil gets a good education."
• This article was amended on 20 March 2013. The original said that the number of fines imposed upon parents for allowing their children to miss school had risen by a third in a year. This has been corrected to a quarter.Jessica Shepherd
Your images of packed lunches made for school children across the UK.Guardian readers
When we asked to see what's in your school children's packed lunch, you gave us something completely different. Here's a round up of the best alternative tweets (see the real ones here)
[Please note: this column is put together using Storify, which does not work on our mobile site and apps. If nothing loads below this paragraph, click here to go to Storify itself, or use the desktop version of the site.]
To see the real UK packed lunch pictures go here.Guardian readers
The Broad Vision programme at Westminster University lets art and science students see the world through one another's eyes. Now in its third year, groups have been working together to build sculptures of their faces out of bacteria, develop bio-luminescent light installations and construct experimental dream machinesWill Coldwell
Creativity abounds when art and science students put their heads together
Dripping dye from a pipette on to a microscopic slide, a group of students in lab coats watch eagerly as a nondescript blob of bacteria changes from blue, to black, to pink. "It looks like an embryo," one of them exclaims. "Now it looks like a bird, no, a fossil."
"I'm so glad it's pink," says another. "Now all we need is some glitter…"
This is not, as you can imagine, the reaction you would expect from a scientist conducting an experiment. Then again, this isn't your typical science lesson.
The students are taking part in Broad Vision, a programme at Westminster University that encourages an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Bringing together undergraduates from both the sciences and the arts, students work in groups to carry out creative research projects in response to a theme. This year it is data, truth and beauty.
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of art science courses taught at UK universities. Central St Martin's now offers an art and science master's, while UCL has launched a whole range of arts and sciences degrees to encourage interdisciplinary research. The Westminster course, now in its third year, is perhaps the most experimental. Originally an extracurricular option, it is now an accredited module.
There is no fixed curriculum, instead students are encouraged to follow their own interests – and the results are exciting. One group of students is making a dream machine: a spinning structure that sends out pulses of light that could, if it works, induce a hallucinatory, dreamlike state in your mind. Another group is producing a light-emitting artwork using bioluminescent bacteria. Others are growing a living sculpture of a face using bacteria taken from their own faces.
"I would never normally have this opportunity to, for want of a better word, 'play' in a laboratory and use these different mediums to make art," says media student Kitty Edwards, standing behind a row of petri dishes labelled, "ear", "forehead", "chin" and "inside Robbie's nose". "You start to think about it all in a different way."
This is the kind of response Heather Barnett, the project leader, is hoping for. An artist herself, who has spent the past 20 years working on interdisciplinary projects in labs, she believes that it is an approach that gives students a way to recognise their own expertise and skills. Academics, who are drawn from a range of backgrounds and schools, are expected to facilitate, rather than control, the learning outcomes. Students are assessed on their research and evaluation rather than the success of their ideas. "It is highly student-centred," Barnett explains. "They become teachers."
"When we start, we really don't know what is going to happen."
The programme itself is also the subject of research, with several academic papers observing student engagement on the course. "We want to influence the way education is done," says Barnett.
Being able to work with and, more importantly, explain your ideas to someone from a different academic background is one of the central challenges.
Standing in a pitch-black cupboard, lit only by the glow of a beaker full of luminous bacteria, Benjamin Palmer, a human and medical science student, explains his experience of working with an illustrator. "We're literally yin and yang," he says. "It works quite well. We're constantly spurring each other on while limiting each other; he's able to do blue-sky thinking, but we can also provide each other with foresight you'd never have from your own field. In science everything is so precise. We had a taster session at the start and there were finger paints; the scientists went crazy. It was so good to be able to break free of that."
Even as an observer, it is difficult to leave the laboratory. The excitement of the students is catching. I spend my last 20 minutes drawing a picture of a cat using bacteria as ink, and go home with a recipe describing how to make fluorescent liquid out of squid using stuff you can find in the kitchen.
"People always ask, what have you done today?" says Robbie Duncan, an illustrator. "Normally, all you can say is lectures … I hate that. With this I can say: I've grown some bacteria!"Will Coldwell
We're all agreed that the issue of teaching climate change schools is political, but where do the political divides lie?
A couple of weeks ago Joe Smith from the Open University posted a draft submission to the consultation on National Curriculum reforms (closes 16 April, if you want to have a pop too). Smith traced the 221 page document for mentions of climate change and sustainability, but they seemed to be entirely absent. He was angry and didn't hold back in his reaction:
"Their removal appears political: playing to imagined prejudices of a Tory right that recalls a globe half draped in the Union Jack. It is a melancholy fact that Mr Gove and his Cabinet colleagues are unlikely to experience the worst of the anticipated consequences of the current lack of political vigour on environmental issues. It is the young who will get to fill in the gaps in their geography curriculum first hand across the course of their lives."
On Sunday evening, the Guardian ran a similar story with quotes from worried scientists and activists. "Down with this sort of thing" indignation quickly spread through the web (there's an e-petition, if that's your sort of thing).
Yesterday afternoon, Leo Hickman blogged some cold water over the fuss. He'd dug into the text in detail to argue that there is still a lot of scope in the new draft to teach climate change. He concluded it's really just an ideological difference between top-down and bottom-up approaches to teaching, coming out largely in agreement with the proposed changes emphasis on the latter. Teachers should be free to teach the subject in the way they want.
So is it all a fuss about nothing? Or have we at least got our spot-the-politics the wrong way round?
Yes and no. Hickman is right to note the ideological difference in approach to education rather than simply around concern over climate change. However, I think we should still be sceptical about how much freedom this really gives teachers. I've seen rhetoric like this before. Apparently looser codes of education often mask less obvious ways of allowing the easy replication of social hierarchies and divides through education systems. If we can collect together to learn to spell (see appendix 1 of the consultation document), we can think about huge global challenges like climate change together too. Moreover, I'm not convinced the bottom-up/top-down issue really is the key ideological difference here. As Hickman himself notes, Tim Oates, the government's new curriculum adviser, said back in June 2011 that he wanted to see a move away from the teaching of scientific "issues" and instead a desire "to get back to the science in science". That's different. It also reflects deeper problems in science education which impact on a lot more than just the climate question.
The idea of getting back to the science sounds good too, doesn't it? Smells refreshingly rigorous. It's also tripe. The scientific equivalent of back to basics, hollowly looking to an imagined space we probably don't really want to return to even if it had ever existed.
The way we conceive of science education is often too atomised around abstract disciplines and too focused on building neat divided sets of science undergraduates, rather than serving and connecting the public at large. This is not a new tension. Interestingly, it was Margaret Thatcher who first called for a shift to build school science for the people, back when she was education secretary. A more problem-based approach doesn't mean we should stop training people to be scientists, in fact it can be part of the training of scientists (one of the problems I have with the 21st Century Science model is the implication you can divide proto-scientists and proto-publics at such a young age). It's just a slightly different way to do science, a bit more challenge-orientated, a bit more rooted in the idea of connecting human knowledge to work together to deal with the topics we use science to deal with, rather than atomising everything into abstract disciplinary boundaries which might be traditional, but can also be a bit arbitrary, not to mention a bit stifling.
The building of any curriculum is a highly political act, a matter of picking and choosing. In many ways it's a collective expression of what we as a nation value. That's why it's so controversial, because we disagree over what's most important. I think climate change is important, and I think the Department for Education should too. The word "geography" is there. As is the word "mathematics". And "spiritual", "phonic", "Attenborough", "Gladstone" and "Tolpuddle" (play your own Ctrl F games for more). I don't think we should get overly worried about forces of climate denial taking over our schools, but the lack of attention played to the topic is something to be concerned about.Alice Bell
Authorities at University of Central Florida found pistol, assault weapon and explosives in room of James Oliver Seevakumaran
Authorities at a Florida university believe they thwarted an attack on their campus by a student armed with assault weapons and explosives.
James Oliver Seevakumaran killed himself with a single gunshot to the head as police arrived at a dormitory building at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, in the early hours of Monday.
"His timeline got off," Richard Beary, the UCF police chief, said at an afternoon press conference. "We think the rapid response of law enforcement may have changed his ability to think quickly on his feet."
According to Beary, Seevakumaran, 30, pulled a gun on one of his three roommates in Tower 1 of the university's dormitories shortly after midnight. The student called 911.
At about the same time, Seevakumaran set off the seven-storey building's fire alarm, a ploy, Beary believes, to get students out into the open where they would be easy targets for an attack.
On reaching Seevakumaran's room, officers found a pistol, an assault weapon and what police described as improvised explosive devices in a bag.
University officials were in the process of removing Seevakumaran from the halls of residence for anti-social behaviour, according to spokesman Grant Heston.
Although he was no longer enrolled as a student, Seevakumaran had been allowed to remain as a temporary resident of the building on compassionate grounds, Mr Heston added. He said the man was not suspected of violent tendencies, nor was he known to possess weapons.
Police records show an arrest in 2006 for driving with a suspended licence. He was fined $105 and ordered to pay more than $200 court costs.
About 500 students were evacuated from the building early Monday and classes were cancelled for the morning. "It's a tragedy, but it's not an unspeakable tragedy," UCF president John Hitt told the press conference. "A life was lost, but it was the life of the perpetrator."
UCF police and officers from the Orange County sheriff's department, including its bomb squad, made the building safe and it reopened at noon. A team of FBI investigators and a hazmat team were also on site.
"University police responded immediately when we received a fire alarm call and a subsequent 911 call," Beary said. "The safety of our students in Tower 1 and our entire campus community is our top priority."
Students and staff were told to stay away while the university opened its sports arena as a gathering point for those evacuated from the residence tower, with food and counsellors available.
Some residents of the evacuated tower said there was no announcement other than the fire alarm sounding, although they said police were already on the scene when they left the building. About two hours after the discovery of the body, students said, they received a text message from the university informing them of "a suspicious death" and that there was "no threat to the campus community". The message made no mention of weapons or explosives.
"Usually if there's a bomb threat or anything we get a text, but there was nothing of the sort. Everyone in the apartment thought it was just a fire so we just grabbed whatever we could and ran downstairs," Hank Kleinberg, an English major, told campus newspaper the Central Florida Future.
"I am kind of glad they got me out of the building because I hear assault weapons, explosives … [I'm] a mix of relieved and frustrated."
With about 60,000 students, UCF is among the largest 10 universities in the US by enrolment numbers. Founded in 1963, its size has increased by almost half over the past decade.Richard Luscombe