Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ofsted, universities, and the baseball umpire story

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

A recent THE carried a story about Ofsted and university ITT courses.  It runs, ...

Universities have suffered under Ofsted teacher training inspections since Michael Gove unveiled plans to increase school-based training, in what some claim is a politicised inspection regime that will cost institutions places.  Ofsted, led by chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw, began inspections under a new framework for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) last autumn, after the education secretary had announced a major expansion of School Direct, the school-led training path, in July 2012.

Under the new system, providers are rated 1 (outstanding), 2 (good), 3 (requires improvement) or 4 (inadequate).  Only providers classed as outstanding are guaranteed to keep their core allocation of student numbers for 2013-14 and 2014-15.  Figures supplied to Times Higher Education by Ofsted show that the proportion of inspections at higher education institutions gaining an “outstanding” rating has fallen from 30 per cent under the old framework to 13 per cent under the new one.  However, the number of school-centred and employment-based providers rated “outstanding” has risen from 24 per cent under the old framework to 32 per cent under the new.

One vice-chancellor, who did not wish to be named, said there were “concerns in many HEIs about the politicisation of Ofsted and whether its historic independence as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is being sustained”.  An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We entirely refute any suggestion that our inspection judgements are driven by the government’s School Direct policy or any other hidden agenda.  We report on what we find.”

The last six words (my emphasis) are complete bollocks, of course; an insult to the intelligence.  It brings to mind a story as told by the great Denis Lawton to (Baroness to be) Pauline Perry, then chief HMI for teacher training, as she explained to a UCET committee around 1981/2 how HMI were going to intervene in university courses for the first time [Note 1].  I was priviledged to be there.  It was one of the moments of my university life: when the stiletto of truth was skilfully slipped into the ribs of the avatar of power – although to no lasting effect, it has to be said.

Lawton told the story about three baseball umpires in a Brooklyn bar, discussing how they make calls, and the perennial problem of deciding whether something is a 'Ball' or a 'Strike'.

The rookie  of the three said, "It’s really a question of what happens. I calls ‘em as they are."

The second, an umpire of some considerable experience, said, "Nah!  You don’t understand; it’s a question of perception: "I calls ‘em as I sees 'em."

The third, a long-in-the tooth character on the point of retirement, who had seen most things, many times, said.  "None of you’s understands.  Some of 'em is balls, some of 'em is strikes, but they ain't nothin' 'till I calls 'em."

Just so.


1.  HMI had long had the power to inspect teacher training courses, but there was also a long-standing Concordat with universities that this would never apply to them.  Perry (whom I liked and respected enormously), encouraged by Oliver Letwin, and her notional boss, Education Secretary, Keith Joseph (worth a blog or three just to himself) drove a tank through all that, and we are where we are today as a result.


My week

📥  Comment

The undoubted highlight was eating wild raspberries in Savernake Forest and then avoiding numerous black beetles as we walked its paths – Oh, and watching young children running about, hiding and seeking, climbing trees, riding bikes, chasing butterflies, and making dens.  Happily, there was not a learning outcome in sight – just what looked suspiciously like fun.  Good job Ofsted's writ doesn't run to forests.

The best decision of the week was to decide not to respond (yet again) to another round of National Curriculum consultations emanating from Mr Gove's cultural conservatism.  I think he plays games with us all.  Meanwhile, others are more optimistic and respond away.

Tuesday saw me in the new NUS building in London.  Impressive, with its rainwater toilets, heat pumps, solar cells, green walls, sedum roofs, quiet pods, Phillips lighting system, and ivy frameworks.  We had a Food Cycle lunch whilst there which I was less impressed with because of the bland, unappetising food.  Despite being hungry, I left it.  It reminded me of a lunch long ago in an Australian vegan restaurant where everybody was as deathly pale as the steaming piles of veggies they were tucking into.  I'm more of a Pret a Manger person, I've decided.

More stories emerged from weec7, this time about one of the 57 keynote addresses they squeezed in which was given by one of ESD's international panjandrums.  Full of  "vacuous platitudes" my informant thought.  It would give ESD a bad name were anyone beyond its insular community listening.

I finally caught up with last week's Bagehot column in the Economist.  It was about the Greenwich Free School in London and was glowingly positive.  It's here.  Anyone who knows that Free Schools cannot (or must not be allowed) to work, should not read this; cognitive dissonance and spirals of despair loom.  Meanwhile, I – as a keen supported of the idea of these schools – was pleased, even as I noted the caveats, especially around the problems of scaling up excellence.

The most ignored story of the week must be that from UCAS on the rise in applications to universities in the UK.  Bad news, of course, for all those who saw the increase in charges to graduates as the end of civilisation, or those who thought it was somehow a game-changer.  Hence the cynical silence.  A pity, as I'd have thought that a 70% increase in applications from black families (since 2006) might have been worth a cheer.

And now the blessed rains have finally come ...


More goodies from QAAHEA

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) are working "with experts" (that excludes me) on the development of a new guidance document for higher education providers on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).  An initial draft looms, it seems, with a sector-wide consultation in the autumn, including a national event on November 5th.

Those who keep up with such matters may wonder why QAAHEA is producing further 'guidance' for institutions, when Hefce (that is, the hard-pressed tax-payer) has already spent over £200,000 on a 'Guide' to such matters (which also involved QAAHEA, and "experts").  I guess it’s because the first 'Guide' doesn’t actually offer all that much guidance.  Either way, I hope that the new 'guidance' will manage to guide confused readers as to how it differs from the old 'Guide'.  I am not travelling optimistically, however.

In a recent mailing about all this, the HEA says:

This work will form an important contribution to the advancement of ESD in HE as it will be published by QAA and HEA.  The intention is to produce practical guidance that can be used by higher education providers wishing to work with students to foster their skills in this area.  The emphasis is on an outcomes-based framework, which will inform rather than constrain curricula.  Colleagues should note that this new guidance will not form an explicit part of the Quality Code but rather will sit alongside it, serving an enhancement function.

Well, we shall see, though the first sentence is not promising: wishful-thinking of a high order, I'd say, and  hubristic.

I understand that "outcomes-based framework" is code for graduate attributes and work-related skills.  However, because such things are highly contextual and contingent, they have largely to be developed in / through employment, and they are, in a real sense achieved through the length of a career, not before it begins.  Thus, what gets done in HE can but be a preparation for this; a foundation which makes sense within the exigencies of the degree and associated experience.  This is not to belittle what's proposed, just to set some limits.

The issue, then, is what does such an outcomes-based frame look like when it has to be equally applicable across the disciplines and diverse future jobs, for example:

Degree – Company

  • Maths  –  RBS
  • Fine Art  –  Sotherbys
  • History  –  the Foreign Office
  • Chem Eng  –  BP
  • English  –  Mills & Boon
  • Sociology  –  Barnardos
  • Psychology  –  JWT
  • German  –  European Commissiom
  • Economics  –  Gazprom
  • etc., etc.

This is quite a challenge, and the outcome surely cannot be generic.

In relation to graduate attributes, I still like the ones embodied in the Melbourne Experience as they seem realistic about only being a preparation, and are sufficiently broad to apply across the piece and be relevant to all students whatever they are studying.  If I were taking the QAAHEA shilling, I'd start with Melbourne and wonder what needed to be added / changed.  And my test of the merits of what is generated here is whether it's as good as Melbourne.

A possible cause for concern in all this is whether what's produced turns out to be an attempt to foreclose debate by being overly-definitive about what's important.  I say this because some of those involved have form in this regard.  Thus, is all this to be presented as a ready-meal to be digested by the reader, or will readers be able to negotiate a menu from the perspective of their dietary (ie, curriculum) needs.

As this is meant for HE – a transit camp for the terminally bloody minded – it had better be the second, as the first is no way to win hearts and minds.


The Commission catches up – well, nearly – and a little late

📥  Comment, New Publications

Thanks to Steve Martin for pointing me to the European Commission report on the Modernisation of Higher Education: improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s Higher Education Institutes.  This was published in June.

The report sets out "a 21st Century context for HE" that focuses on quality.  Here are three paragraphs from the Introduction:

“The core mission of higher education remains the same whatever the era, whatever the institution, that is, to enable people to learn. However, pedagogical models designed for small institutions catering to an elite few are having to adapt, often under pressure, to the much more varied needs of the many, to greater diversification and specialisation within higher education, to new technology-enabled forms of delivery of education programmes, as well as to massive changes in science, technology, medicine, social and political sciences, the world of work, and to the onward march of democracy and human and civil rights discourses.

That which is known is no longer stable.  The shelf-life of knowledge can be very short.  In many disciplines what is taught and how it is taught are both stalked by the threat of obsolescence.  In a changing world, Europe’s graduates need the kind of education that enables them to engage articulately as committed, active, thinking, global citizens as well as economic actors in the ethical, sustainable development of our societies.

The European Union’s higher education institutions are the focal points for imparting what is known, interrogating what is not, producing new knowledge, shaping critical thinkers, problem solvers and doers so that we have the intellectual muscle needed to tackle societal challenges at every level necessary and advance European civilisation.  Europe’s graduates remain the most effective channels for transferring knowledge from universities and colleges into the broader society, enriching the individual, the family, the community, the workplace, the nation, the EU and the wider world.”

Good to see this, even though it's late in the day.  I say this because Stephen Gough and I made the same points in our book for Routledge on HE and sustainable development 6 years ago.  We wrote this:

Universities are open systems.  They are discrete entities, capable of planning their actions and coordinating their internal component parts.  At the same time, they have fluid and permeable boundaries, across which they interact with a wide range of external agencies and groups ... .

Most of these interactions can be classified as teaching, research or administration ... .  A particular tension exists across all three of these domains (in administration because it must service the other two).  We might think of this as a tension between stability and change, and between certainty and speculation.  It is fuelled by, on the one hand, the imperative to archive, protect, apply and bequeath existing knowledge; and, on the other hand, the imperative to challenge that knowledge, to break through into unexplored territory, to go beyond problem-solving into comprehensive problem-redefinition.  The ‘breakthrough’ has always been the gold standard of research.  It is breakthroughs that win Nobel Prizes and shift paradigms.  In the present, however, and as we have seen, there is an expectation that everyone will face new, presently unimaginable circumstances in their lifetimes with which, in one way or another and for better or worse, they will learn to deal.  This means that the tension between the known and the unknown is just as strong in teaching – particularly university teaching – as it is in research.  We have sought to capture this tension with our rough-and-ready distinction between the Real World and Ivory Tower views of what a university is for ... .  Particular people, at particular times and places, may want the answer to be one or the other: but it is inescapably both.

The word ‘inescapable’ is appropriate here because this tension is also characteristic of societies ... .  One might question whether this is necessarily true of all societies, but we would suggest that it is certainly true of societies that have universities.  In fact, it is to universities that societies delegate a large part of the responsibility for informing their management of the problem of, as Diamond (2005) puts it in the title of his book, ‘choosing to fail or survive’.  As his historical analysis well illustrates, this choice involves, crucially, knowing at any time which knowledge to revere and which to abandon.  However, we should note that the importance of ideas has been understood for a very long time, and was apparent even in the modern era long before anyone began a discussion about sustainable development.

There are, of course, points of difference in this comparison.  For example, the Commission seems to think that there is knowledge that need not be challenged, whereas we offered no such confidence.  And we thought other things were just as important as quality systems around pedagogy.  It's not clear the Commission agrees.

So, whilst it's really good to see the Commission catching up, least we get seduced into thinking that its report is about sustainability in any significant sense, we should note that there are only 5 references to "sustainable" / "sustainability" in the whole document, and at least 3 of these are in the quotidian sense of durable.  I say at least, as the other 2 references are ambiguous to say the least.  Meanwhile, I counted 116 instances of "quality" (not counting running headers).

Not surprising, of course, as the Commission / EU is as besotted as the UK by the bureaucratic funk-hole that quality thinking represents.  What is surprising, however, is that some of those who say that they understand the significance of sustainability to all our futures, seem to think that it doesn't apply to notions of quality.  They persist in thinking that it's quality that has to apply to sustainability.  Disappointingly, it seems it's far too late for them to acknowledge their error.  I guess they must think their reputations are at stake ...

Notes ...

Diamond J (2005) Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Survive; London: Allen Lane

Gough SR & Scott WAH (2007) Sustainable Development and Higher Education: paradox and possibility; London: Routledge


Oxfam's barriers to understanding sustainable development

📥  Comment, New Publications

The latest Oxfam Discussion Paper, A Safe and Just Space for Humanity, by Kate Raworth, opens with this:

Humanity’s challenge in the 21st century is to eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity for all within the means of the planet’s limited natural resources.  In the run-up to Rio+20, this discussion paper presents a visual framework – shaped like a doughnut – which brings planetary boundaries together with social boundaries, creating a safe and just space between the two, in which humanity can thrive.  Moving into this space demands far greater equity – within and between countries – in the use of natural resources, and far greater efficiency in transforming those resources to meet human needs.

I quite like this model as it places "inclusive and sustainable economic development" firmly within environmental limits (Oxfam say: an environmental ceiling) which is where it's located today.


This visual framework is a model of sustainable development and is welcome for its attempt at realism, and as it stands it will give comfort to those who think it's the environment that gets all the attention in thinking about sustainable development, at the expense of social and inter-generational justice – a complaint that was apparent in the recent Guardian web discussions I commented on.  Indeed, it is a desire to bring some balance to all this that has surely inspired Oxfam’s thinking.

But the model seems flawed in a fundamental way.  In describing the doughnut, I shall say why I think this.

First, the good points: This model of sustainable development combines the concept of planetary boundaries with a complementary one of social boundaries.  Oxfam says: “

Achieving sustainable development means ensuring that all people have the resources needed – such as food, water, health care, and energy – to fulfil their human rights.  And it means ensuring that humanity’s use of natural resources does not stress critical Earth-system processes – by causing climate change or biodiversity loss, for example – to the point that Earth is pushed out of the stable state, known as the Holocene, which has been so beneficial to humankind over the past 10,000 years.”

Anyone who thinks about Sustainable Development acknowledges the conjoined objectives of poverty eradication and environmental sustainability in order to bring about widespread and sustained human well-being.

The Oxfam Doughnut brings these goals into a bounded framework where:

“The social foundation forms an inner boundary, below which are many dimensions of human deprivation.  The environmental ceiling forms an outer boundary, beyond which are many dimensions of environmental degradation.  Between the two boundaries lies an area – shaped like a doughnut – which represents an environmentally safe and socially just space for humanity to thrive in.  It is also the space in which inclusive and sustainable economic development takes place.”

It is, of course, a compelling image.  But it is also an odd one in that the terms used in it are not quite of the same order.  Oxfam says:

“The 11 dimensions of the social foundation are illustrative and are based on governments’ priorities for Rio+20.  The nine dimensions of the environmental ceiling are based on the planetary boundaries set out by Rockström et al. (2009b).”

Take the elements of the environmental ceiling; most of these are expressed as problems: climate change, chemical pollution, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, etc.  Others, however, are expressed more neutrally, as phenomena: freshwater use, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, land use change.  This is careless, but the problem may reside in Rockström, rather than Oxfam, thinking.

The problem is worse in relation to the social foundation as some of this is expressed in terms of social goals: social equity, gender equality, health, education; but most examples are just social phenomena of one sort or another: voice, jobs, energy, income, food, etc.  Again, there is a careless use of language.  For example, people want a good education, clean water, nutritious food, rewarding jobs, affordable, available energy (that doesn’t lead to climate change), etc.  Having said all this, I was also surprised that the actual "dimensions of human deprivation" were not exemplified: poverty, discrimination, racism, exploitation, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, etc., etc.

Getting all this right, would have been useful.  It is not the main problem, however.

More fundamentally, this concerns the way that paper uses the idea of boundaries.  It does this in two ways: first as socially-constructed desired minimum levels, and secondly as thresholds above which environmental problems are likely.  But these social and environmental dimensions are not equivalent.  It's uncomfortable, too much so for Oxfam perhaps, but one (the environmental one) is not amenable to social construction in the same way that the social one is, and it is likely to be more absolute than relative.

For example, were income poverty (currently defined as <$1.25 / day) ever to be eradicated, it would immediately be redefined as, say, <$1.5 or <$2 / day.  Indeed, this would happen long before everyone in the world reached the $1.25 level.  In this sense, poverty levels (and hence poverty itself) will be re-defined such that the poor will remain with us for a long time, just as they always have.  Similarly, acceptable levels of child mortality will likely be politically adjusted, should they ever fall significantly.

Conversely, we cannot define for ourselves what the critical natural thresholds are for ocean pH, atmospheric carbon, etc, though we may come to learn what these are in time.  These are not socially constructed, except in the narrow sense that we create limits for ourselves in the policy process in order to increase our chances of staying within those limits – whatever they turn out to be.  Think of blowing up a balloon. We may caution not to go beyond a 30cm diameter, but there will be a limit set by the material-air system (not our wishes or thinking) at which the material will fail and balloon burst.  The 30cm diameter is likely to be our best guess / estimate at staying well below the material failure limit.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that Oxfam has decided that its two boundaries are equivalent in some fashion.  They are obviously both important (and loosely coupled); it's just that one is much more fundamental than the other.  We do ourselves or anybody else no favours by pretending otherwise.


Raworth K (2013) A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut? Oxford: Oxfam

Rockström J et al. (2009) Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity, Ecology and Society 14(2): 32.  Available here.


Another league table, and something of a puzzle

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

I cast a jaundiced eye over the Guardian's university league table the other week, and not just to see how Bath was doing – rising majestically, since you ask (but keep your Kipling open at the right page).

Reading on, I was struck by how relatively badly some of those universities that stand up for (and go on about) ESD and sustainability do in student survey scores.  You can see this here.  How peculiar, I thought, given that HEA / NUS research tells us that these institutions are giving students what they want.  Exegesis on a postcard please ...

August Update

Apparently, the University of Bath has done well in the 2013 National Student Survey … Top of the NSS Class, it seems; doubleplusgood indeed!.  Hefce publishes the data, but you have to construct your own league tables as the funding council is sniffy about such matters – quite right too.  Of course, when good students meet good teachers, the encounter ought to be a satisfactory one, so Bath's outcome is rather to be expected.

What puzzles me, however, is how such high levels of satisfaction are possible when ESD has so little emphasis across the institution, and we do so miserably in the green league.  That's not really supposed to happen ... .  Mind you, if the HEA and NUS get their way, and ESD-type questions are inserted into the NSS, Bath may not do so well.  Will ESD then be embraced?  Another postcard ...


Straight Talk on Leadership

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It’s not widely known, but, when the UK's Vice Chancellors last marched on Whitehall, they did it to this chant:

What do we want?

More leadership development materials ...

When do we want it?

At the end of the next semester.

Oddly, this didn't make the press (I think Katie Price, Boris Johnson and Phillip Green were talking about a new NHS).  However, those who did hear about it must have included those organizations which, rumour has it, are now planning to put the squeeze on Hefce for additional tax-payer rhino to be tipped into the ESD / Quality subsidy trough for more materials which universities don't realise they need.  Hefce, having already spend $zillions on all this, and caught in a web of its own weaving, will surely find it hard to say 'No'.

So they will be stung for yet more cash they cannot spare, and the end product will likely just be more jargon-ridden, self-serving nonsense.  Much better were the Funding Council to buy a job lot of Bob Lutz's Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership, which is both witty and wise, and give one to every VC in the country.

Better still, give one to every Deputy VC and PVC who then might be in a position to fight back.  It's available from all good Amazons everywhere ... .


The EAC nudges Mr Gove on the UN and ESD

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Last month SEEd organised a letter to Michael Gove.  This is a response from Joan Walley, MP, Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) ...

To the Signatories of the ‘Keep Sustainability in the National Curriculum Objectives’ petition,

Thank you for expressing your support for the inclusion of sustainable development in the national curriculum.  I agree with you about the importance of sustainable development and I thought you might be interested to know that the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Select Committee, which I Chair, has recently published a report which touches on many of these issues. Our Committee’s report makes a number of recommendations for improving how sustainability is taught in schools.

For example, we urge the Government to encourage schools to become ‘sustainable schools’ that promote learning through practical activities and call on the Government to make it clear to schools how sustainable development can best be incorporated into learning plans.  Embedding sustainable development education in this way would greatly improve the UK’s ability to live sustainably in the future and help ensure pupils have the skills they need to compete in a new green economy.

These recommendations were included as part of a wider report into the Outcomes of the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit, and you can read the report here.

Whilst I will continue to work hard in Parliament to make the case for sustainable development, I urge you all to do everything you can to press for this too.  I would particularly encourage you to write to your local MP telling them why you think sustainable development is important and asking them to support sustainable policies in parliament. You can find out who you local MP is here by clicking here.  Thanks once again for your efforts on this issue and please do continue keep up the pressure, it is only by working together that we can achieve real change.

Yours sincerely,
Joan Walley MP Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee

The Rt Hon Joan Walley MP

It's very good to have this, though whether government is best placed to make it clear to schools how sustainable development can be incorporated into learning plans, is a moot point, as it's grip on pedagogy is tenuous at best.  Certainly, the current government isn't – though the last one made a reasonable fist of it, with few resources (although they did manage to ignore biodiversity as a key idea).

Personally, I think that teacher organisations (think GA, ASE. DATA, ...) need to do much more, and do it together.  Then there are the Exam Boards with their uniquely-placed influence on what schools take seriously.  Here, there already are stirrings there, but it's time for more of a breeze, perhaps.  I'm also expecting more from the Sustainable Schools Alliance, the Untidy Britain's newly-managed Eco-schools programme, SEEd, and NAEE.


What follows is the relevant part of the EAC report.  NB, the bold text is in the original; the italic text and the indentation I have added; bracketed para numbers and citation references are to the original.  Confusingly, perhaps, bold italic text is the EAC's original emphasis.  Sorry!


50.  The Rio+20 conclusions document included a clear commitment to build sustainable development into education:

We recognise that the younger generations are the custodians of the future, as well as the need for better quality and access to education beyond the primary level. We therefore resolve to improve the capacity of our education systems to prepare people to pursue sustainable development, including through enhanced teacher training, the development of curricula around sustainability, the development of training programmes that prepare students for careers in fields related to sustainability, and more effective use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning outcomes. We call for enhanced cooperation among schools, communities and authorities in efforts to promote access to quality education at all levels. [95] ...

We resolve to promote Education for Sustainable Development and to integrate sustainable development more actively into education beyond the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). [96]

51.  Our predecessor Committee examined this area in 2003 [97] and 2005, [98] focussing on the profile of sustainable development in the school curriculum. Their 2005 report criticised the fact that the then recent national curriculum review had not included education for sustainable development despite an earlier official working group having identified it as a key requirement. The Government is now in the process of setting a new national curriculum. It has received input from an expert panel which recommended that the school curriculum should contribute strongly to environmental stewardship, and that in addition to four existing 'Aims' of the school curriculum (around economic, cultural, social and personal education) a fifth should be added: "To promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally". [99] And the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) has discussed how sustainable development should be taken toward in those education sectors.

52.  A Government submission to an EAUC education conference in November 2012 suggested, however, that explicitly adding sustainability requirements would be contrary to its current approach to education reform:

The Government is fully committed to sustainable development and the importance of preparing young people for the future. Our approach to reform is based on the belief that schools perform better when they take responsibility for their own improvement. We want schools to make their own judgments on how sustainable development should be reflected in their ethos, day to day operations and through education for sustainable development. Those judgments should be based on sound knowledge and local needs… [100]

And when the Government published for consultation [101] its proposals for a draft framework for a new national curriculum for primary and secondary schools in February 2013, [102] it stated simply that the aim of the curriculum was to "provide pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement." [103]

53.  The draft curriculum framework applies only to mainstream schools, not to academies or free schools. The framework outlined programmes of study for the 'core subjects' of English, maths and science, as well for nine 'foundation subjects'. These include 'citizenship', which in "prepar[ing] pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens" could have provided a platform for study of sustainable development issues. Instead, however, it deals only with democracy, government structures, the rule of law, volunteering and "providing [pupils] with the skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions". [104]

54.  The curriculum leaves individual schools able to formulate their own learning programmes which could include sustainable development. Academies and free schools will have even greater latitude to make their own learning plans. On the other hand, all schools are able to set themselves up as 'sustainable schools' which, as the Department for Education notes, "engage young people in their learning, thereby improving motivation and behaviour and also promote healthy school environments and lifestyles". [105]

55.  Education for sustainable development is vital in developing countries faced with the effects of climate change and natural resource constraints.  But it is also important that here in the UK future generations, including future leaders, fully understand the necessity of sustainable development, to put us on a sustainable footing and to provide the skills needed for a green economy.  That requires a foundation of education and training that reflects an understanding of sustainable development at all stages, from primary schools through to apprentice colleges and universities.  The proposed new national curriculum allows schools to set their own priorities for study, and we hope that all schools will wish to develop sustainable development learning.

The Government should remind schools of the scope for addressing sustainable development in their learning plans and encourage them to set themselves up as 'sustainable schools' to promote such learning through the practical activities that that entails.  The Government should also encourage schools to impart an understanding of the UN and other international bodies that are charged with setting out a sustainable development path.


SD Indicators – no room for Education

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

In 2012, Defra proposed a new set of sustainable development indicators, intended to measure national progress on key economic, social and environmental issues over time and complement the National well-being measures published by the Office for National Statistics.  There was a public consultation period and inquiry held by the Environmental Audit Committee, which I commented on.

The final set of indicators has now been decided.  This report outlines the government response to some of the common themes emerging from the consultation responses, grouped into

  • issues relating to the structure of the indicator set,
  • its presentation, and
  • specific issues raised regarding the scope and content of the indicators.

The final list of Headline Indicators is set out below, and further detail about them will be provided in a report to be published this week.


Economic prosperity – GDP, GDP per head, equivalised median income (before housing costs)

Long term unemployment – Percentage of people in unemployment for over 12 months by age group

Poverty – Proportion of children in relative poverty (before housing costs) & Proportion of children in absolute poverty (before housing costs)

Knowledge & skills – Human Capital (£) by age group


Life expectancy – Healthy life expectancy at birth

Social capital – [i] Civic participation: The proportion of people engaging in actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern at least once a year. [ii] Social networks/social support: The proportion of people who have a spouse, family member or friend to rely on if they have a serious problem.  [iii] Social participation: The proportion of people who volunteered more than once a year.  [iv] Trust: The proportion of people agreeing that many of the people in their neighbourhood can be trusted

Social mobility in adulthood – Proportion of working-age population employed in managerial or professional positions by social background

Housing provision – Net additional housing stock


Greenhouse gas emissions – Greenhouse gases generated within the UK and Greenhouse gases from UK consumption.

Natural resource use – Raw material consumption in non-construction and construction sectors

Wildlife & biodiversity – Bird population indices – a) farmland birds, (b) woodland birds, (c) seabirds and (d) water and wetland birds

Water availability and use – Abstractions from non-tidal surface waters and ground waters

There are also a set of supplementary indicators, but there is no mention of education or learning in all of this.  It does look as if Defra has given up on the unequal struggle to square the circle, despite all the advice it received.  So, here's my two suggestions for future consideration:

1. The proportion of educational institutions that have developed (and monitor) their own SD indicator  [ NB, this is really Paul Vare's suggestion ]

2. The proportion of completed PhD studies that have a sustainability / SD focus.

[i] would not be easy to measure, though it's not impossible; and [2] would need some agreement about what's to count as sustainability / SD, which many will resist.  But, hey!


Brewing, Quality and ESD

📥  Comment, News and Updates

On a recent pilgrimage to Norfolk I was sidetracked by visiting a micro brewery near to Walsingham.  It was an inspiring place, sustainability speaking. The barley was grown in adjacent fields and malted locally, the water came from the brewery's own bore hole, the hops were East Anglian, and the brewery itself was a re-use of old farm buildings.

And, as if this were not enough, the beer was wonderfully well balanced with great depth of flavour and a long finish – especially the India Pale Ale; clearly, this was knot just another IPA.

I wondered how all this was possible, given that this was a novice brewer.  How so much had been achieved, sustainability-speaking.  Sadly, the brewer wasn't there, and so I wasn't able to ask her.  Had she been, I would, of course, have quizzed her about the ESD in her training, and about the help she'd received from external quality assurance agencies telling her what to do, and offering detailed guidance on how to do it, as surely none of this could have been possible without these.

Sadly, I remain ignorant of these matters – but at least I came away with some beer.