Category Archives: Banging on about… Education

Tips for teachers: It depends how you count ’em.

“It depends how you count ’em…” has been a constant refrain through the cultural education exchange visit in Finland this week. Whether it’s golf courses in Espoo (7 or 8), municipalities in Helsinki (4 or 14) or lakes in Finland (187,888 plus or minus), it all depends on how you count them. For phenomena you might think are pretty unequivocal (when is a golf course not a golf course?), it turns out that there is a lot more to a thing than meets the eye.

Walking along the coast line of the Tooivo Kuulas park this morning you can see why. One moment the lake looks like an impressively large pond; the next it stretches way off into the distance and it conjures up memories of Balaton Lake in Hungary; and soon enough you find out that it’s not a lake at all but just another link in the supply chain to the Baltic Sea.

It struck me that the same case could be said for student attainment. How can a country’s education system said to be performing well? Through its ratings on the PISA scale? Numbers of students who graduate into work on completion of their undergraduate study? Aggregated ratings on a mental health scale of well being? Like the lakes in Finland, it depends on how you count them. My top PISA rating may be nothing more than a drop in your Baltic Sea when it comes to evaluating the relevance those ratings have on students lives.

Whilst it’s temporarily startling that Espoo has a disputed number of golf courses in its territory, it is comforting to think that if we can’t count golf courses with confidence, we can confidently be a little less confident about the value of numbers when it comes to understanding the effects of cultural education on our children.

Portraits of a Careers Advisor.

The world of work looms large for children these days. They may think they’re safely ensconced in the heaving bosom of their primary school; they may feel immune in the cut and thrust of the corridors of their secondary school; but the truth is the World of Work is always beckoning to them from an ever decreasingly young age. Before too long, infants at nursery will be incalculated with the rights and responsibilities of being a corporate citizen.

This is of course very good news for those of us who have chosen the career path of Careers Advisor. Once upon a time we were locked up in the staff room of the average secondary school and only let out to play once the youth had turned 15, but these days we are called upon to enthuse the youth about the World of Work the moment they set foot in a primary school.

This is an excellent state of affairs for us Careers Advisors as it means our careers have a longevity only dreamt of by our forefathers. The professional Careers Advisor now has a genuine careers path with opportunities of progression, professional development and foreign travel. Now, instead of suggesting that the youth tread gingerly in the footsteps of doctors, soldiers, and engineers, we can advise our youth to follow in our footsteps and become Careers Advisors in their own right when the time to consider their careers is up.

There are some that look askance at such a piece of professional advice although I can’t think why. Not everyone can become professional doctors, footballers or celebrities so it is right and proper that we lay out all the options to the sweaty youth who are perched on their seats in front of us.

Just this morning I was faced with an oik called Gerald who had no idea about the World of Work. He knew nothing of being the best he could be, fulfilling his potential or making a positive contribution to society. He clearly had no desire to become a doctor. All he could do was stare at his mobile phone and mutter incomprehensible monosyllables out loud.

So, what better option for him than to become a fully paid up member of the professional Career Advisor class? I quickly suggested this to him and immediately his eyes lit up. He stood up tall, looked out of the window, and flushed with the vocational call of telling other people how to live their lives, strode purposefully out of our meeting cupboard and into the playground. Later on I hear that he has run his first after school seminar on employability and the needs of the modern employer.

Another good day at the office? I would say so.

Tracks of the Ironmasters Day 8: let there be dark

It’s the last day on the tracks (or down the line as local Frizington people say) and we’ve been reviewing participants comments on how the visitors experience could be improved.

The comments are many and varied. Suggestions such as installing Cats Eyes down the middle, offering free public wifi the length of the tracks and setting up a franchise to run track side cafes particularly catch our eyes.

They are all very well and in some cases very entertaining (strapping bags over horses bottoms to collect their poo) but these improvements have one thing in common: they’re all about how to make the tracks more like a town high street experience which prioritises customer needs, rather than a rural experience where the ecological needs come first.

The trouble with asking people about how they might improve something is that we tend to ask for more of what we already know – cats eyes down the middle of the road- rather than accept that darkness is something to welcome and face up to, rather than abhor and be scared of.

Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 6: you say immigrant, I say potato.

Weeds for many of us are those plants which happen to find their way into the least desirable places on our front lawns, garden paths or back yards. There we are, sitting on our laurels feeling as pleased as punch with our manicured lawn or tidied up patch when out of the corner of our eye we spot a pesky little intruder which somehow managed to avoid our overzealous strimming and demonic poisoning and has survived against all the odds, cluttering up our neat and tidy view of what nature should be all about. We instantly name the intruder as a weed and set about trying to purge the landscape of it, its related cousins and anything else that could upset the ecological harmony we have established on our land.

Our efforts may be frequently in vain as the intruders tend to be hardy little plants who have experienced far more threats to their livelihood than the occasional misguided Black and Decker strimmer or undiluted paraquat. That weed, which you can’t help see out of the corner of your eye amidst the order you have created, has probably faced off predators, illegal chemicals, drunks out on the tiles looking for the nearest urination hotspot and far worse threats to its existence that you can conjure up in the safety of your potting shed. That solitary weed is here to stay and heaven help you if you think that you an dig it up, transplant it, snap it off at the prime of its life or dead head it. The weed will win every time.

Of course, if you decide that the fruit of that weed happens to make some rather tasteful jam which you can add to your tea time on the lawn, or its seeds happen to make that plastic white sliced loaf palatable, or its leaves when infused in boiling water for a few minutes provide you with a surprising pick you up tonic for the rest of the day, especially when combined with a drop of milk, a spoonful of sugar and a digestive biscuit, then you’ve not really got a weed on your hands at all. You’ve got the potential of a native crop.

So, next time you spot a weed or intruder out of your eye, just ask yourself whether its really as offensive as you think it is. It might just save your life in future.

Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 3. Who you looking at?

There’s no doubt the tracks are seriously under scrutinised. There’s nowhere near enough CCTV cameras to monitor any anti-social behaviour and for a country which prides itself on being one of the most scrutinised in the world, this is clearly a very poor state of affairs. Given every double decker bus in the UK has at least 11 CCTV cameras on board, it can’t be beyond anyone’s intelligence to install suitable technology along the Tracks of the Ironmasters.

Private enterprise is due to step in however and rectify the situation: and instead of employing the same tired apparatus that looks like it was invented in 1984, the firm which is thinking about tendering for the rights to scrutinise the tracks are being environmentally sensitive to the nature of the ecology.

Tree-cams; fern-cams, dead mouse cams, horse dung cams and bridge cams can all play their part in scrutinising the public to ensure that the iron masters tracks are kept untainted by errant humans, their dogs, horses and drinking habits.

Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 1: travelling with (and in) a tent.

I think we’ve got a storm brewing!” calls out the man on the electric wheelchair as he speeds by, pointing up to the gathering clouds, wind in his hair and thick west Cumbrian accent trailing behind him.

The winds been gathering pace all afternoon and what was earlier a brisk thoroughfare of dog walkers, bikes and parents pushing pushchairs, has turned into a vista of pointlessness. Roads are senseless when there is no traffic on them, and likewise, cycle routes are purposeless when there are no walkers or cyclists hurrying their way along them.

More often than not, people navigate these paths with purpose – shopping, work, to get from A to B, to visit family or to achieve a myriad of other tasks which preoccupy their lives. The paths encourage intent-ful travel: but there are no spaces at present which encourage purposeless travel, intent free cycling or walking, or just some space to amble around in without any sense of direction. There are few places to rest or recuperate or take the foot off the intent pedal and relax for a while, free from purpose and intentfulness.

Perhaps that may change in the months to come – it’s certainly something that has been an interesting finding from Day 1 of life on the Ironmasters tracks.

Tracks of the Iron Masters: Day Minus 2 and counting

It’s been months coming and now it’s just around the corner: an eight day residency on two stretches of the railway tracks which have been known for decades as the ‘Tracks of the Iron Masters, so called because their significance in the iron, steel and mining industries on the West Cumbria coastline.

So what’s going on and what do the residencies involve?

The aim of the residencies is to consult with local communities along the West Coast of Cumbria to find out how the heritage of the tracks can be better interpreted and communicated; and how everyone can be included in their future development and use. We’re especially interested to hear about the views of families and young people and what the tracks means to future generations of users of the tracks.

We’ll be ‘in residence’ on the tracks on the following dates:

Sunday 23 August – Seaton Hall
Monday 24 August – Burrow Walls Roman Fort
Tuesday 25 August – Uplands, Camerton – including a mass walk from 2pm: finishing with food, cooked under canvas

Wednesday 26 August – Mirehouse East
Thursday 27 -August Moor Row
Friday 28 August -Phoenix Bridge, Leconfield Industrial Estate –
Saturday 29 August – High Leys National Nature Reserve – including a mass walk from 2pm with food, cooked on site.
Sunday 30 August – Yeat House Quarry


10am – 1pm Come and introduce us to your local communities.
2pm – 5pm Come and join us explore the tracks.
6pm – 8pm Come and join us end the day relaxing at our mobile soup kitchen!

You don’t have to stay for a whole session –just drop by at any point for as long as you can!


You can come along by yourself, with friends or with a group. We’ll involve you in lots of different activities such as:

Sharing your knowledge of the histories of the tracks and and hopes for the future
Enjoying a conversation over a cuppa on the tracks,
Helping create a photographic survey with guidance from Art Gene artists
Exploring the ‘hidden assets’ of the tracks
Learning surprising things and share home cooked food with us all!
Preparing the food, cooking and providing refreshments for our visitors,
Managing the visitor experience and the mass walks,
Collecting stories, photos and other memorabilia,
Making the residencies a memorable experience for everyone…

If you’d like further information, or book a place, or book a group, please get in touch with me at the address below.
But for today it’s about packing up your old kit bags, watering the laundry and dry cleaning the garden.  Or something like that.

Now, where did I put those residential galoshes?


Tracks of the Iron Masters is being run by Art Gene and funded by sustrans.

Tips for Travellers: the first time I ever…

… walked along the new platform which connects the Nottingham tram to the railway station was the moment I realised that there are new things we could be doing and seeing every day. Not as a form of magnificent gesture, or in a transformative life changing impactful kind of way but in a small, momentary insignificant kind of way which might generate bigger changes somewhere up the butterfly cause and effect food chain of chaos and unpredictability.

The Walk along the platform opened up some small, momentary insights into how the trains entered and left the station, how St Mary’s Church is profiled against the broader sky scape and how impressive the new bridge is that supports the new tram tracks which point to a new future of travel down south, giving more passengers the opportunity for new views of the city and its byways and highways.

Are our days any better for the microscopic experience of new viewing and walking moments? I think they are if they mean we can see life from a marginally different position. We don’t have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – just a few steps in our own in a different direction to get a different view on how our lives might be different.

Tips for Travellers: Waverley Hotel, Workington

Hot spots, cold spots and soft spots.

What many hotel managements don’t get these days is that along with the 17 different types of eggs you can choose for your breakfast, what the travelling business person or giraffe needs from a hotel is a functioning, reliable, uncontested and free wifi as part of the package. It’s no longer good enough to pretend to have a network in your hotel if all you can see is the room next door and no access to the wider world, known these days dear hotelier, as The Internet.

For those hoteliers who are unaware of this amazing invention, the Internet is the phenomenon a lot of people rely on to get on with their daily jobs of earning a living, socialising, catching up with the news and pretty much everything else the lone traveller is inclined to need. These days, dear hotelier, a connection to the Internet is as vital as running water in the shower. And that means water running at the right temperature out of the right tap. We don’t mind too much those rooms whose mattresses have clearly supported heavier bodies in earlier days or whistling showers or those that rhythmically clunk their way into action, as long as there is finally action which you can rely on for the time it takes you to complete your ablutions. Much the same can be said of the need for the functioning wifi connection.

These days, dear hotelier, a functioning wifi is an essential, not a nice-to-have. The Waverley Hotel in Workington would be a sweet spot of restful accommodation and business functionality were it not for the constant searching for the hotspots of wifi connection, functioning bathroom taps and mattresses that don’t throw up their springs in horror every time you have to adjust your sleeping position.

The staff are cheery, friendly and helpful; the breakfast plentiful and fresh; the bedroom spacious enough and perfectly adequate for the odd night’s stay. But if, dear Hotelier, you want to welcome visitors for a second, third or fourth time, you need to invest in this hotel by stabilising its hot spots, doing away with its cold spots and radically overhauling its soft spots.