education

Recent Opinion Pieces for TES on education.

I’ve recently been writing opinion pieces for tes.co.uk.  Here they are:

11th June: On the need for a government focus on teaching rather than schools.

19th June: About the trendy issue of the Growth Mindset in education.

26th June: the potential of pupil voice – if we listen

3rd July: the power of CPD to change – teacher led

11th July: on education innovation

17th July: a proposal for digital education

27th July: are personal devices in school too distracting?

6th August: we need a learning pattern to match the new working pattern

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digital

This is for Dot Everyone

This evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the Science Museum to hear Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby Lecture. It was engaging, interesting and beautifully delivered, as I would expect. More significantly Martha used the occasion to launch the vision for a new national institution she has christened Dot Everyone.

Martha and I share a passion for digital inclusion. We regularly meet to ensure the organisations we each chair – Go On UK and the Tinder Foundation – are complementing each other in our shared aim of ending the digital divide in Britain. I am also a huge admirer of the work she did as the UK Digital Champion, and subsequently, in influencing long overdue change in the way government embraces digital technology.

It is therefore no surprise that she has used the honour of delivering the Dimbleby Lecture to re-focus on the next challenge so that:

Britain can “leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.”

Martha’s analysis starts with the proposition that the power of the Internet is defined by the balance between private companies and public bodies. The dynamism and dazzling pace comes from the private sector but they must operated in an environment regulated for the public good.

And she is right to say that the civic side of the equation needs a boost.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonyThe digital revolution could and should be “for everyone” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee defined it in the opening ceremony of London 2012. But the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over the net, risks civic society becoming powerless as a very few in California get richer and richer. Governments are then left as bystanders whose role is only to cheer when those that run them are generous enough to turn to philanthropy.

I want a digital society that is defined by the cultures of sharing and co-creation, not increasing control through decreasing privacy.

In her lecture Martha wants her new institution to initially focus on three things:

  • First, how we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society
  • Secondly, how we get more women involved in technology, and
  • Thirdly, how we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created

The first and third go hand in glove.

There are huge security issues around the asymmetric threats caused by cyber terrorism. There are opportunities to impose surveillance on our online activity, for example to guard against grooming by both paedophiles and terrorist groups. But few senior civil servants, ministers or Parliamentarians have sufficient understanding of the infrastructure of the net to know how best to do this.

And few also see the downsides of invading our online privacy.

These are really difficult judgements and need an informed Parliamentary debate that is informed by the public. Right now it is hard to see much public debate. This is a huge failing by politicians and their friends in the media.

Dot Everyone is a bold idea to keep that debate at the forefront.

And should we worry about the paucity of women in tech? Of course we should – if we want the internet to be more collaborative, more inclusive and to grow the culture of sharing online.

I work with some brilliant women in technology – Helen Milner at Tinder Foundation, Rachel Neaman at Go On UK, Louise Rogers at TES Global, Annika Small at the Nominet Trust, Debbie Forster and Iris Lapinski at Apps For Good and Emma Mulqueeny at Young Rewired State. But I also see how imbalanced the sector is as a whole and know that Martha is right to want this fixed as a priority.

There are plenty more questions to ask about Dot Everyone. Are these the only priorities? What about inclusion? Should it be global or national? How should we find it and safeguard its independence?

But by finding myself asking these questions I know I have already accepted the need for it to exist. Which leads to the question I hope many of us will be asking:

Well done Martha – now how can I help?

PS. Visit Martha’s Doteveryone site doteveryone.org.uk and sign up to her change.org perition

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Politics

Change the political paradigm

Six months ago I stood down from the Labour frontbench after nine years, to take up an exciting full time job in education. I still attend the Lords to vote and speak, but I have enjoyed having some distance to reflect on politics in this country.

Outside of Westminster and the media, most people say the same thing: “I’m not really interested in politics…they’re all the same.” I’ve heard that on doorsteps for over twenty years, accompanied by declining turnouts at elections, but I’ve rarely stopped to really drill into what people are saying.

A yes supporter decorates his home - http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/08/scotland-future-referendum-excitement
That changed last month when 85% of voters in Scotland showed they were deeply interested in politics. When politics became relevant to them. Whilst the Yes campaign lost, there was a strong sense that voters on both sides wanted politics to change significantly. I don’t believe Scottish voters are unusual.

At one level “they’re all the same” could be about people in politics. Too many private school and Oxbridge educated white males – like me. Too many who’ve never achieved anything outside politics, and too much over-promotion of intellect and under-promotion of empathy.

But reflect longer and there are perhaps two other aspects where it may look like “they’re all the same”.

they’re all the same

First, is the appearance that they care more about winning power than using it. I know the vast majority of politicians are in it for the right reasons but the entire political culture is geared around Westminster elections and the positioning needed to win them.

The middle ground is where elections are won and so parties disproportionately focus on how to win votes and craft policies to appeal to the same few electors – leaving everyone else feeling irrelevant. It exposes politicians as being inauthentic; because what they feel is hidden behind what the middle ground tells them they want to hear.

To the disengaged this looks like a game. A game where negative campaigning wins. That dwells on image. That does so because political parties can’t risk setting out a vision that describes doing anything profoundly different, in case it loses the election.

This is the second problem. The way politics is done hasn’t changed much since the Empire. The debates for decades have been about the role of the state, and the balance of tax and spend. Now the main UK parties seem to agree on cuts and balancing the budget, but with a heated debate about which benefits to cut and how much tax to give away. But it all sounds very similar.

The old ways of doing things are now as useful as Stone Age tools in the Bronze Age

An ageing population, climate change, globalisation, technological change, indebtedness – all the great challenges facing us mean the current paradigm must change. The old ways of doing things are now as useful as Stone Age tools in the Bronze Age.

The case for wholesale change in the way representation, executive decision-making and law making is done has never been stronger. By happy coincidence the public are desperate for a new way of doing things too. Many politicians are starting to see it too but like music industry bosses waking up to Napster and iTunes a decade ago, they don’t know what to do. Meanwhile the destructive populism of UKIP is allowed to thrive in the vacuum.

There are no easy prescriptions to the sickness sweeping our politics. But I would start with looking at what is going on in the new economy.

In their 2010 book Macrowikinomics, Dan Tapscott and Anthony Williams offer some clues.

They start with the story of how Ushahidi was used in the 2010 Haiti earthquake to massively improve the effectiveness of disaster response. This crisis mapping site was developed over a weekend by a Kenyan lawyer in 2008, following disputed elections. When the Haiti earthquake struck it took an hour for the same platform to start recruiting the global Haitian diaspora, from a basement in Boston, to translate, categorise and geo-locate thousands of text messages in real time. They used Skype to then relay information to search and rescue teams in Port-au-Prince and respond to requests from the World Food Program and the US military. This bottom up technology proved way more effective than observation on the ground.

This is a social application of the disruptive technology that is the heart of the sharing economy.

The Linux free open source software, that is now in everything from BMW cars to Android phones, has spawned a $50,000,000,000 Linux economy. There are many other examples where co-production of services by consumers is creating massive value and disrupting whole industries, most recently Airbnb. Many of these “prosumer” products are highly resource efficient, empowering of the public and are growing really fast.

What if these forces were embraced by government? What if the sharing economy was accompanied by a sharing society? Could we design public services to cut out the middle layer, the agents, the managers, the bureaucrats, and directly connect consumers and professionals?

There are signs that some are starting to do this.

  • Fix my Street, here in the UK, is a long standing example of changing the relationship between local people and local government.
  • I met a group from China last week who told me about their system of national care credits, where the care you give can be exchanged in the future for care you receive.
  • The US Patent Office has moved to using the public to check patent applications – the volumes became unmanageable and so they had to crowd source it to keep up with innovation (if patents can be effectively regulated by the public, why not replace the House of Lords with mechanisms for the public to improve legislation instead?).
  • TES Global operates a platform for teachers to share their teaching resources. The network has over 6.5 million members downloading over ten items per second.

digital mutualism

Truly designing digital mutualism for public services ought to be a no-brainer for progressive politicians. It is putting power wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few. It is the co-operative movement re-born in a post-industrial age. But is does mean those with power and influence choosing to give it up – including at the top of the Labour movement.

Embracing a new political paradigm is a big ask. Are we ready for strong government but less active government? For public sector innovation, ending the cult of the policy expert, and being open, transparent and collaborative?

The prize is better services, more personal and at less cost. It depends on rebuilding trust out of the trust we have to share our homes on Airbnb, rather than out of the ashes of the expenses scandal.

This sharing socialism may not be the new paradigm. But I am convinced that the old paradigm is over. If we don’t find a new one fast we will be left behind, and people will find a new politics.

Jim Knight is a member of the House of Lords and Managing Director of Online Learning at TES Global.

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Data, digital, Politics, Security

Your Privacy at Risk – Your Security Enhanced?

This is the text of my speech today in the Lords on the controversial Data Retention & Investigatory Powers Bill

My Lords, I have to start—like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who made such an excellent contribution—by saying that the Government’s handling of this Bill has been a disgrace. I cannot repeat any better why it is a disgrace, and it would be ridiculous of me to try to compete with the noble Lord’s analysis. To have given Parliament three days when they have had three months to consider their response is a disgrace. Although my ministerial experience, at just five years, is much more limited than that of the previous speaker, whom I equally respect, particularly his experience as Home Secretary, I know that when there was the threat of a case in the European Court, Ministers would receive a risk analysis. I find it difficult to believe that no one in the Home Office had a plan B. If they were to lose that case, the thinking was not going on within government as to how they were going to handle losing the case and the uncertainty with which they would then have to deal with the RIPA powers. So I am afraid that that is my starting point.

I would also strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon and others when they say that there is a need for Parliament to be seen to address the very real public concerns over the balance of privacy and security and the desire for personalisation of digital services. Some of us use digital services very heavily and are only just becoming aware of how much our desire for all those personal services that come through on our phones and tablets generate metadata that are now the subject of this legislation. Given the need for Parliament to be seen to address and debate, and lead a debate in the wider public, on those concerns, it is an affront to see the legislation railroaded using the fast-track mechanism. The basis of my comments is to analyse whether some of that is justified.

Yesterday, as is my wont, I gave some friends and some of their family who are over from Canada a tour of the Palace of Westminster. Highlights of that tour are always things such as the Magna Carta; there is a copy in the Content Lobby, and we will enjoy celebrating its 800-year anniversary next year. Then there is the statue of Lord Falkland, where the sword was cut to allow a suffragette called Marjory Hume to be taken off to prison in 1909, and the plaque commemorating Nelson Mandela speaking in Westminster Hall. Best of all is the broom cupboard in the Crypt, where Emily Wilding Davison hid on the night of the 1911 census, and the phrase at the end that Tony Benn put there:

“By such means was democracy won for the people of Britain”.

That tour contains in its highlights all those moments where we recognise hard-won civil liberties for us as individuals, both here and around the world. It is incumbent on us as a Parliament and those who serve at any given time in this Parliament to protect those liberties as strongly as we protect the safety and security of the people in this country.

We also need to remember that we have a different tolerance of our own privacy, because we agree to become public figures when we agree to come here, than do most people who live in our country. The information in Who’s Who would probably allow anyone who wanted to steal some of my information to do so, because it has my mother’s maiden name as well as my date of birth, which are the sort of questions that you get asked online. We understand that when we fill out the entry in Who’s Who and we are aware of the risks that we take when we do so. I hope when we make up our security information online that we are also aware of it and are accordingly cautious.

We also need to be aware of the issue of metadata. When I sat in the audience in the Donmar Warehouse theatre a month or so ago, as a guest of my noble friend Lord Mitchell, watching the play “Privacy”, we heard gasps from the audience when they found out how the default settings on an iPhone mean that Apple knows exactly where we are and exactly when at any given time, unless we change those settings. They were some of the greatest moments of theatre that I have seen in some years—it was my first profession— when I heard the gasps of the audience who saw the pictures of their houses flashed up on the back of the screen, because the researcher had researched them using metadata to show where they all lived. That is metadata, the subject of the Bill—and that is something that we have to be cautious about.

There has been a breakdown of trust in recent years between the people of this country and the state, particularly those pursuing criminal investigations. This is because of Hillsborough and Savile; because of phone hacking, and plebgate. We must have an active debate on a regular basis because of PRISM and because of the powers that the private sector and, through it, the state and GCHQ have to access our data. As a Parliament we have been remiss in not debating Snowden as actively as we should have and as actively as they have done in the US. If we do not, I think we are failing the public

I am persuaded by the arguments that Clauses 1 to 3 are necessary. I believe that security and the ability to continue criminal investigations mean that we have no choice but to pass Clauses 1 to 3 of this Bill. This was well put by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We need the status quo for criminal investigations.

I welcome the concessions that my right honourable friend the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has won in getting the RIPA review and six-monthly reporting into the legislation. I worry that the thinking behind these reviews is through the prism—if that is not the wrong word—of security and law enforcement as the starting point, rather than the data privacy of individuals. I should also like to see a review of the operation of the Information Commissioner’s Office. According to its website, it is:

“The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals”.

That office needs to be the guardian of members of the public on these issues. I hope the Minister will be able to give an assurance from the Dispatch Box that the Information Commissioner’s Office will be included in some of that review work.

Clause 4 concerns what I will call the new powers overseas because I cannot pronounce extraterritoriality very well. I struggle to see the emergency for this to be included in a fast-track Bill. In the report of the Constitution Committee, published today, paragraph 11 says:

“It is not clear why these provisions need to be fast-tracked”.

It may not be fashionable to quote Liberty but it says that Clause 5 of DRIP, read together with Clause 4 (8), gives the Government “new, express powers” to go to foreign webmail providers and demand that they hand over or obtain communications data. The objectives of the snoopers’ charter are therefore met via another route. That is their charge. If the Minister were able to respond to that, I think that supporters of Liberty would be pleased to hear it.

As I am sure your Lordships will all have done, I have received a letter from a list of highly credible legal experts on internet law. These are professors from a whole range of our best universities. They say that this clause,

“introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally”

The letter continues,

“the proposed Bill arguably breaches EU law to the extent that it falls within the scope of EU law, since such mass surveillance would still fall foul of the criteria set out by the Court of Justice of the EU in the Digital Rights and Seitlinger judgment”.

They would say that the reassurance which the Minister gave, following my intervention, is not true. I am sure that everything the Minister is saying is on good advice and in good faith. I know him to be a completely honourable and truthful man and I do not question what he is saying. However, I would value it if he were able to publish or circulate to Members of your Lordships’ House the advice he has received that this legislation, particularly Clause 4, is not in further breach of EU law, and that it will not extend the legal rights—not the practice but the legal rights—of government in respect of these matters.

On balance, very reluctantly, I support the Second Reading of this Bill, but I question whether Clause 4 should continue to be in the Bill.

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