No Leap Second for the UK

The Guardian, the Times, the Mail and all the others have got it wrong: when most of the world experiences a leap second on the stroke of the New Year, and all their clocks need adjusting, the UK's clocks can carry on regardless.

Zapperz over in the US at the Physics and Physicists blog has the same story.

A Leap Second At The End of 2008

Don't celebrate too soon for 2009. 2008 is going to be 1 second longer than you expected due to a leap second.
"On New Year’s Eve, the international authorities charged with keeping precise time will add a single second to our lives. It will be the 24th “leap second” since 1972, and the first since 2005." (NY Times)
Or you can kiss someone one second longer at midnight. :)

To give Zapperz some dues, the USA bases its time standard on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), so our friends over the pond will benefit from the extra second.

Sadly, in the UK our kisses must be of the usual length. :(

The leap second applies to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, based on the atomic clock standard), and it is needed to bring UTC into line with Universal Time (specifically UT1), which is based on observed mean solar time at the Greenwich meridian (Greenwich Mean Time) and so the Earth's rotation.

Unfortunately, the UK's time standard is defined in law as GMT (a.k.a. UT1). Similarly, anyone else whose time standard is UT1, such as Ireland, Canada and Belgium - so no leap second for us.

However, even though GMT is the UKs legal time standard, the National Physical Laboratory has one of the world's most accurate clocks and contributes to the International Atomic Time standard. The long wave time signal, broadcast from Anthorn Radio Station in Cumbria, is a UTC signal, while the internet and GPS clocks all depend on the same atomic time standard.

GMT, then, (as an Earth based time) is not used in reality anymore, despite its official designation as the source of British time.

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Jim Knight wants more 'Flash and Bang'

The just released 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has seen England rise to fifth position after the four yearly study looked again at the quality of the science education of fourteen-year-olds around the world (BBC report: England's Pupils in Global Top 10).

English students are beaten only by those from Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, with all of Europe trailing in their wake. Jim Knight is clearly pleased at this validation of Labour policies on the world stage, but he can't bring himself to ease the political pressure off over-burdened schools, even if they have done all he asked of them.

Party Pooper

Knight has looked and looked, and he managed to find some bad news in the report. That's right — science teachers up and down the country can stop partying, under the impression that all was well in their subject and a pat on the back was due.

Children are enjoying science less than they used to! There has been a 21% drop in 'positive attitudes' reported by the pupils, and Jim is not happy.

Teachers, go and sit on the naughty step.

Must Do Better

Being the best in Europe and the industrialised West is not good enough if a few far-eastern nations with fantastically well drilled children are better.

Knight says in the press release:
This shows we are on the way to being world class but as we move towards this goal we need to make sure every child has fun in the classroom as well as achieving good results.

I am determined to make maths and science more exciting subjects to teach and learn, and I want every school to have access to the most innovative and effective teaching methods. I want more action in the classroom and more problem solving and ‘flash and bang’ to enthuse our pupils.
A new OFSTED target, perhaps? Inspectors could report:Your lesson on nuclear power was well taught and the children learned well, but there wasn't enough 'flash and bang' for the lesson to be rated any good.'

Squeezing the Pips

Other countries to suffer from reduced student positivity included Singapore and Hong Kong — both in the top ten alongside England. Jim Knight seems to think that league table rankings and pupil enjoyment are independent of each other, but teachers have complained for years about the curriculum and targets straitjacket that they have to operate in, and the effect on the enjoyment that classes are able to have.

The government has squeezed children hard so that they achieve their potential, but the pips are squeaking now. If he was serious about restoring awe and wonder to school science lessons, then Knight and Balls would be cutting the testing and accountability burden.

Freeing teachers to impart some of their love for their subjects, though, would risk a slip in the rankings. And that would never do, would it?

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