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GIS in Scottish Schools

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society convened a meeting in Perth on 31st October to discuss issues relating to the uptake of GIS in Scottish Schools.  The meeting was chaired by Dr. Vanessa Lawrence, Secretary General of Ordnance Survey International. Central to the discussion were the following issues:

1. There was clear commitment to further promote the significant value of studying Geography in Scottish schools and universities at a time when the subject is under pressure.

2. There was awareness of the contribution that the Geographical Information (GI) industry can make to Scotland’s future economic prosperity. However, there was also recognition that there remains a significant skills gap amongst our young people at a time when there are many jobs available globally in the buoyant GI industry.

3. There was a concerted desire amongst delegates to reduce existing barriers, including cost, to geographical information use in schools and to work together to develop a long-term strategy to develop teachers’ confidence in delivering GI skills training in schools across Scotland to make our young people competitive in the job market.

Bruce Gittings attended as RSGS Vice Chair, but also wearing his hats as Vice Chair of AGI Scotland and Director of GIS Programmes at the University of Edinburgh. RSGS was also represented by Erica Caldwell (Education Convenor), Chief Executive Mike Robinson and Education Officer, Rachel Hay. Other attendees included Lynne Roberston from Education Scotland, Peter Burnhill and Anne Robertson from EDINA, Elaine Owen and Darren Bailey from Ordnance Survey and Liz Crisp, President of the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers (SAGT).

perth meet

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 13, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Glad to see that there are some developments in this area – especially with the availability of open source data & software..

  2. November 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Shame there was no private sector involvement. The Scottish-based School Travel Health Check (STHC) service from Knowledge Mappers shows what can be done by undertaking basic spatial analysis of a schools own School Census data and putting the results back into the school in the form of a map-enabled online data portal (eg. http://www.sthc.co.uk/portals/dorset/). By making the portal accessible to all stakeholders interested in how far and by what means pupils travel to a given school – pupils, parents, teachers, school managers, local authority officers etc. – schools will run with it and come back for more with no mention of “GIS Eduction” required!
    Even though pupil usual mode of travel was suddenly dropped from the English National School Census in 2011 (and sadly never collected in Scotland at the individual pupil level necessary to undertake origin-destination spatial analysis), many schools in England do still collect it and by splitting the analysis down by mode of travel the analysis data is that much richer and more useful. That said even the basic census analysis can still return data that is useful to both the individual school as well as to local authority officers (especially transport planners) who can compare the school with others. For example contrast the School Map & Charts page on the Dorset portal for Bovington Primary School (http://www.sthc.co.uk/portals/dorset/gmaps/School_Pupil_Markers.html?school_id=835_2001), which has a 100% mode of travel records, with the neighbouring Bere Regis Primary School (http://www.sthc.co.uk/portals/dorset/gmaps/School_Pupil_Markers.html?school_id=835_2042), which has 100% Unknown mode of travel. At least Bere Regis can still see where their pupils are coming from on the map and get some basic travel distance info. Certainly enough data to get them to engage with the portal in future.
    Once schools are presented with their own spatial data in an interactive map format they run with it no problem, but only if it is couched in a way that addresses specific issues. Thus the origin of the STHC lies in the past requirement for local authorities in England to cut the number of children being driven to school rather than walking or cycling, hence the main emphasis of the portal is still about pupils being driven from within a reasonable walking distance and carbon & calorie footprints of journeys etc. However now that it’s out there and schools are using it we are introducing other data into the portal that adds to the ‘spatial knowledge’ of the school:-

    1. Road Traffic Accident (STATS 19) Data Analysis – Quantifies as well as visualises the officially reported road traffic accidents within 4.8 km or less of schools. By providing already nationally available data on a filterable Google map users can “do” GIS querying in a by-now familiar and intutive to use environment to answer questions that are locally specific to their school (eg. see http://www.sthc.co.uk/portals/dorset/School_Accident_Markers.html). For the client local authority it ties in with the existing local authority service area of delivering “safe routes to school” as well as general road safety awareness, but also opens up the ability of school by school comparison – exactly which school has the most number of accidents involving child casualties during school hours within a reasonable walking distance of the school?

    2. Proximity & Pupil Choice Analysis – Currently piloting this in a few schools. This module provides more complex analysis of the basic pupil home postcode data in conjunction with school locations. It quantifies as well as visualises the proximity of schools to their pupils, pupils to their nearest schools, and schools to each other. From this are derived current pupil choice by distance ranking, “doorstep leakage” of pupils to schools that are not the nearest one (& the extra “child miles” this involves) and the numerical and geodemographic impact on roles if all pupils attended their nearest school (eg. see http://www.sthc.co.uk/demo/portal/gmaps/School_Pupil_Choice_Markers.html). An immediate applications of this analysis is in quantifying the “leakage” of potential pupils away from a schools own doorstep, which represents a considerable loss of revenue for them (currently ranging from around £3,950 to as much as £8,595 per pupil per year, with up to £1,900 in additional funding if they are in receipt of FSM). By couching the results data in terms of loss of potential revenue to the school rather than as a sustainable school travel issue (all those extra child miles of pupils travelling to a school that is further away), then the usefulness of the spatial analysis is immediately apparent to school management teams. For the client local authority it again opens up the ability of school by school comparison – exactly which school is the most popular in terms of the number of other schools pupils pass in order to get there? Conversely which school is the least popular (the leakiest” if you will) in terms of pupils choosing to go elsewhere even though they live on it’s doorstep?

    Other analysis modules will be added with time, some adding completely new publicly available data like the Accidents, whilst others will re-analyze basic pupil and location data for a defined purpose (sucas the “doorstep leakage”). However as they are all within the same back-end environment it is a straightforward process to “mix-and-match” data as required (eg. on the accident map above the user can also display the pupil distribution as a ‘heatmap’).

    The fundamental lesson from the STHC is that if you go to the small effort of giving schools their own data back in spatial form along with other data geographically specific to them in a by-now familiar web-mapping environment, and couch it for a particular purpose with likely “GIS querying” functionality built in, schools will run with it and come back for more! At the same time local authorities can use the same data portal to answer spatial queries and undertake spatial planning tasks on a wider geographical basis. It’s a win-win-win situation all round with no mention of “GIS Eduction” required!!

    About The School Travel Health Check – Since the STHC service began in 2005 it has been purchased by nearly 30 local authorities and has processed over 3.3 million pupil school census records from over 4,700 separate UK schools – some 22% of the LEA controlled schools in England! With the price determined by a transparent pricing formula and at an average cost of just £0.16 per pupil for Standard Processing and Map Packs to all schools, we think the STHC Service represents outstanding value for money. See http://www.sthc.co.uk.

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