Last November, the THE's Devil's Advocate column focused on Stanley Fish, the Milton scholar. I was reminded of the piece as I sat in the back of a primary school classroom the other day watching what was going on. In terms of what does go on in such places, Fish argues, "The line of virtue is very clear: are you asking academic questions or are you trying to nudge your students in some ideological partisan direction?" Actually, Fish was thinking of Higher Education when he wrote this, but when it comes to issues like sustainability and development, the arguments seems to apply with considerable force in schools as well. In this primary school, I watched as the teacher, following an exploration of people's lives in Ghana, coaxed her 8 & 9 year olds to agree with her that we should all pay more for chocolate in order to be fairer to them, and to make their lives a bit better. In the end, they all agreed. But I didn't, and thought of Stanley Fish and of how much there is still to do.
I see that the University has slipped (again) in the Green League table – 56th this time – only getting a 2:2. What's worse, we're not only behind the usual stalwarts at Gloucestershire and Plymouth, but also trailing in the wake of UWE, and well behind Exeter and Bristol who've both surged up the rankings. And then there's the LSE who've managed to do well in this and the RAE! Swots. Still, we're comfortably ahead of Bath Spa which is always a blessing. I note that we had a 0 for Carbon Emissions, but sadly that's our score, not how much we emit. We got top marks for Fair trade, though – and for the contribution of the Students' Union (which is good to see). So, "Could do better"; but will we? – next year, the classifications take account of car use and car parking.
Another engaging meeting with TIDE in Birmingham on Thursday: What on earth are we thinking? This drew a large audience from schools, local authorities, NGOs, government offices, community and religious groups, FE and HE, and museums from across the west midlands. Presentations and workshops included:
- Planning for whole school change
- Pupil voice and climate change
- Thinking about consumerism and quality of life
- Using art to think through issues
- Global learning through school gardens
- Exploring food and farming issues in a Special School [KS3/4]
- The challenge of sustainability, citizenship and climate change for ITE
- Using school partnerships to explore issues
- Creative approaches to Science and Technology
Monday 15th June; 1930 Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
The Idea of a Sustainable School: dreams, hopes and realities
Thursday 18th June TIDE conference, Millennium Point, Birmingham
What on Earth are we thinking? sustainable development and global learning
Monday 6th July National Sustainable Schools Conference 2009, Preston
Tuesday 14th July National Sustainable Schools Conference 2009, Bristol
The government has a hugely ambitious goal that every school will be a 'sustainable school' by 2020, and it encourages institutions to address sustainability across all aspects of school life through: [i] what (and how) students are taught; [ii] how the school campus is managed, and the school is led; and [iii] how the school can act as a model and catalyst for change within the wider community. In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair said:
“Sustainable development will not just be a subject in the classroom: it will be in its bricks and mortar and the way the school uses and even generates its own power. Our students won’t just be told about sustainable development, they will see and work within it: a living, learning place in which to explore what a sustainable lifestyle means.”
Drawing on recent research, the lecture critically examines the idea of the 'sustainable school', and raises questions about the role of the school in modeling and catalyzing change within the community.
A recording of the talk is available.
The University of Bath's Centre for Research in Education and the Environment [CREE] has now completed its external evaluation report of the GOSW-funded sustainable schools training programme which had been carried out by a consortium of local authorities and third sector organisations. Internal programme evaluations indicated broad, positive participant satisfaction. However, the external evaluation concluded that there could have been greater challenge provided to participants’ existing views and practice, and more critique offered to assumptions about the idea of a ‘sustainable school’. For example, the external evaluation felt that a pervading emphasis on the doorway metaphor encouraged a fragmented approach to the issues, and militated against schools’ looking at sustainability in the round. The evaluation report will be circulated in a few weeks, and will feature here.
The recent publication from WWF: Learning for Sustainability from the pupils’ perspective reports on Chris Gayford's 3-year research with 15 schools, and raises significant issues about the skills that young people might develop and sets out ideas on the progression of content and process which seem to cover new ground. The report is available as a pdf from WWF
This essay explores a central question for all those involved in ESD: What are you really most interested in, educational or social outcomes—what learners learn, or what they do? The paper argues that it is an issue that needs to be emphasised at a time when we see a tightening focus on modifying behaviours, and the conscription of educational institutions and programmes to these ends. The essay takes the promotion of Fairtrade, a contemporary conceptualision of ESD, and Ofsted’s most recent report, to explore where an appropriate balance might be struck between these, arguing that, although both educational and social outcomes are important, when it comes to making judgements about school effectiveness, this needs to be tightly focused on what young people are learning rather than on, say, the amount of energy they have saved or waste they have recycled.
Scott WAH (2009) Judging the Effectiveness of a Sustainable School: a brief exploration of issues; Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 3:1 35–41.
The South west Learning for Sustainability Coalition celebrated its first formal AGM (at the end of May) as a community interest company (6611726). The Coalition is an informal network of organisations and individuals who are concerned that all our learning supports and accelerates the development of a sustainable South West. The purpose of the Coalition is to facilitate and coordinate learning for sustainability in the South West Region within and across all social sectors and educational phases. Paul Vare was re-appointed as Executive Director, with Mairi Kershaw taking over from me as Chair for 2009 / 10. Paul can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org .