Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: November 2013

What characterises a good [esd] indicator?

📥  Comment, New Publications, Talks and Presentations

This question ran through a 2012 conference in Berne at which I spoke.  The conference marked the conclusion of the project "Development of Indicators to Evaluate Offerings and Performance in the Area of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)", which ran from 2008 to 2011 with partners from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  The goal of this project was to present indicators that reveal the extent to which sustainability as an idea has been integrated into the education system on all levels of formal education, not only nationally but also in an international comparison.  Tricky stuff, of course.

The papers and other background studies are now on-line here.


The Manifesto we all want – esd's just the thing for a fair economy

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is the third post focused on the "Enabling the future we want: education for sustainable development in the UK – a manifesto for dialogue, collaboration and action post Rio+20". It looks at the connection between ESD and the economy.  It begins like this:

Emphasise the connection between ESD and the economy both the need for a thriving Green and Fair Economy, and the reassessment of the effectiveness of GDP as a global tool to measure progress, moving towards a GDP+ framework, highlight the need for ESD.  We are calling for:

Increased collaboration between governments, NGOs, business and education sectors to ensure young people are sufficiently prepared for the opportunities and challenges of a Green and Fair Economy.

Recommended actions

  • Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies to continue to recognise the importance of sustainability in their guidelines
  • Business Schools to take an active role in the realignment of the economy with planetary boundaries and poverty eradication

Of course, we need greater connections and collaborations – but some specifics would have helped.  What is it about "ESD and the economy" that the authors had in mind?  As drafted, this is mostly motherhood and apple pie stuff: after all, who's going to be agin more collaboration for useful social ends?  In terms of what's being called for, however, adding the notion of a 'fair economy' to the already problematic idea of a 'green' one will cause some confusion, particularly as 'fair' is never explained.  'Fair' to whom?  To everyone, I suppose?   But can we really all be winners, or even break even, in the process of moving to a more sustainable society?  Discuss ...

As to the actions, it's hard to know what the second one means.  There will be much scratching of business school heads over this – if they have bothered to read it, of course.  I wonder how many business schools were consulted over this.  I suspect I know the answer.

As to the first action: "to continue to recognise …", well, the implication of this call for 'continuation' suggests that all's quite ok, thanks; that all these bodies are doing fine, are on track, making all the right demands, etc.  It's just a question of 'continuing'. But this is complacent nonsense.   Or is it just poor drafting?   My money's on the latter as the authors have form.  This section has a hurried look, as if there was never quite time to get it right.  Such a pity.


The Manifesto we all want – the call to governments

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is the second post focused on the "Enabling the future we want: education for sustainable development in the UK – a manifesto for dialogue, collaboration and action post Rio+20". It looks at who the manifesto is trying to influence.

The document itemises a range of "supporting mechanisms" that governments and civil society should put in place to enable and strengthen UK delivery of the educational commitments agreed in The Future We Want.  There are 4 headings:

  • Governmental responsibilities
  • Formal learning (in education and training sectors)
  • Informal learning
  • Emphasise the connection between ESD and the economy
For each of these, the manifesto sets out a number of outcomes that are being called for, and identifies a set of recommended actions.  Some of these are clear, and do-able; others are just as opaque as the above list suggests they would be.  The manifesto begins with government. It says:

Governmental Responsibilities the UK government and the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have a responsibility to articulate and support the important role that education plays in achieving poverty eradication in the context of sustainable development, and in meeting the United Kingdom’s targets for the reduction of greenhouse gasses.  We acknowledge that some parts of the UK have made more progress than others in advancing policy for ESD.

The manifesto calls for three outcomes:

Outcome 1. Better coordination of efforts and collaboration between governments and across government departments on formal and informal learning for sustainable development

Here, the recommended actions are ...

  • The Environmental Audit Committee to regularly put ESD related issues on its agenda and facilitate dialogue
  • UK government departments (BIS, DEFRA, DECC, DFT, DoE, and DfID) and devolved government agencies to identify how they will support ESD in formal and informal learning settings to meet their own targets for SD

Outcome 2. Improvement of dialogue between the education sector, civil society and government departments

Here, the recommended actions are ...

  • Offer incentives and opportunities for collaboration and partnership building across education sectors, business, and environmental, developmental, educational and faith-based NGOs
  • Funding to focus on the long term
  • Ensure youth and student voices play an active role in this dialogue

Outcome 3. Enabling education sectors to develop an appropriate curriculum to meet current and future sustainability challenges through a realignment of funding with The Future We Want in mind

Here, the recommended actions are ...

  • Inclusion of ESD in education ministers’ portfolios
  • Endorsement and support for those institutions and organisations that lead the way with good practice


So; a comment or two ...

  1. A picky, if rather fundamental, point to start with: the Environmental Audit Committee is a body of parliament, not of government.  How constitutionally crass to make that mistake.
  2. It's not at all clear who is to "offer incentives and opportunities".  Is this 'governments'?  If so, do they know?  And whose job is it to "ensure youth and student voices play a role"?  Not governments', surely?  This sounds more like a job for the likes of the NUS.  These are not so much "recommended actions" as a vague wish list of things that someone else really ought to be doing if they are inclined or have a moment.  As such they will surely have little effect.
  3. It is also not clear who those "those institutions and organisations" are who are to receive "endorsement and support" (I guess this means tax-payer cash) – other than those supporting the manifesto.  This all looks very cosy and self-serving.  As Bob Geldorf so memorably said, "********************".

My guess is that there will be a considerable dollop of skepticism in government (and the EAC) as to whether ESD and its supporters can deliver the sustainability goods – or whether there is enough time for us to wait to see whether they can.  Government is likely to put its faith (and money) into more direct action.  After all, they will argue, when there's an inferno raging, your priority isn't funding more fire-safety training.  Sadly, this is the dilemma at the heart of EE / ESD / EfS / LSD / SDE / CCE / DTE / ***, and every other adjectival education ever known to humanity.


A Manifesto we all want, but where Business has no business

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

I got my invitation the other day to the House of Commons launch of "Enabling the future we want: education for sustainable development in the UK – a manifesto for dialogue, collaboration and action post Rio+20".

This is the first of a number of posts this week focused on the manifesto.  It looks at what the document is setting out to do – and who is to do it.

It begins ...

The intergovernmental agreements coming out of Rio +20 (‘The Future We Want’) included commitments to quality education, to improve quality of life, to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and to embark on a process toward Sustainable Development Goals.  One year on it appears that the Post 2015 Development Agenda is expected to incorporate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  How this unified Global Development programme, aimed at poverty alleviation in the context of sustainable development is realised, is yet to be decided, but timings are crucial and the role of education is recognised as being pivotal.  Principles like universality, listening to outcomes of stakeholder participation, a foundation in human rights and the need for prioritisation at the national level are emerging.  This consultation into the future of education for sustainability and the manifesto both act on our UK Rio+20 commitments and takes account of the global context.

When I saw the early drafts of the paper, I commented that it needed to be written more clearly if it was to communicate its ideas effectively, but even a quick glance at this opening paragraph shows that this opportunity was not taken.  My head shakes of its own accord whenever I look at it.

The document continues ...

This manifesto calls on governments, education sectors, NGOs and civil society in the United Kingdom to work closely together to strengthen the role of education as an enabler of sustainable development.

Well, that's just about everyone – apart from business, of course, the NHS and the military, the first of which (at least) you might have thought might have warranted a specific mention given its significance in the economy.  I wonder, has business (industry, commerce, etc) really have no part to play in the future we want?   I suspect that this says more about the authors' blind spots, than the future.

Ultimately, it is never actually quite clear whose manifesto this is.  It seems to be everybody's (apart, of course, from business, …) which will probably mean it is nobody's.  Funny things, manifestos; they are prominently (but, of course, not exclusively) associated with political parties and promises, often honoured in the breach, which is not a happy image for something which sets out such an ambitious agenda for everybody – apart from business.

Note: In the UN's listing of Civil Society Organisations, the vast majority are NGOs (22,711) with only 472 classified as 'private sector'.


A tale of three universities

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote the other day about how hard it had proved to find out anything about Bristol's ESD activities from their website.  Bristol's Chris Willmore kindly responded, pointing out that it's better to use Google, and she posted this to SHED-SHARE.

Where to put things depends on the way your University site is structured.  In my experience of trying to find things on web sites of many Universities, because we all organise things so differently, external search engines are often better than internal ones.  Our evidence is that younger people tend to use high quality search engines such as google to find things - so prioritising getting sustainability sites at the top of search engine responses is the most significant thing.

There is undoubtedly something in this.  However, I went via the Bristol website in order to see how straightforward / complex it was to find out about its ESD activities, as I tend to think that, if an institution's leadership is really committed to something, then the more likely it is to ensure that it is flagged up on the website, close to the front page.  Plymouth is an example of where this happens in relation to sustainability, and where a hover and a click opens up the breadth of their sustainability-focused activity.  Gloucestershire is even clearer than that as their "sustainability" window is clearly opened from their front page.

Of course, I do recognise that my thinking about this may not be worth all that much, given the multi-purpose nature of front pages – and because it seems to be generalising from two extreme (in the best possible sense) examples.


Milk insights from Henry Hobhouse

📥  Comment, New Publications

My admiration for the mind (and pen) of the economic historian Henry Hobhouse knows no bounds.  You can keep your Jaded Diamonds, it's HH for me.  I have just finished his 3rd book: Forces of Change, having read his first two, Seeds of Change and Seeds of Wealth, a while back.  Regular readers will remember references to HH before.  I particularly liked his insight that the sixteenth century dissolution of the monasteries led to the injection of much intellectual talent into secular society, thus hastening social changes which we all still benefit from today.  I feel the same about the QAA, though whether it will have the same effect is a moot point.

There's text on p. 215 of Forces of Change illustrates why I find HH's writing so illuminating as it shows his ability to find new angles and ideas.  He's writing about agriculture, in particular, the milk industry.  He says:

"Great play was made of milk in "health" terms.  ... In the United States milk became healthy in direct proportion to the number of dairy farmers and their influence on state legislatures.  Thus, milk was healthier in New York State or Wisconsin than in South Dakota or Louisiana.  In Europe, milk was much healthier in Switzerland than in any of the Latin countries.  In France milk was healthier in Normandy than in the Midi.  ...

"Liquid milk became identified with the care of children, nursing mothers, and the frail of all ages.  Milk ultimately became a symbol product of the Welfare State, a prop to agriculture in times of depression, wholesome, non-carnal.  ...  In some countries milk was already suspect.  It was accused of making children fat, liable to adult cholesterol problems, and even prone to acne.  As a fashionable commodity, milk peaked sometime in the 1970s."

Here, HH was, of course, writing before the fashion for semi-skimmed (i.e., only half the fat) milk emerged which enables the health-conscious middle classes to square the circle.  I am one such.  Supermarkets still seem full of the real stuff, however.  Updates on such concerns can be found here, and here.


Free school meals – a second (economically liberal) helping

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote a month or so ago about the new policy for free school meals for early primary children in England.  I am still wondering how Mr Gove went along with the universalist nature of this, but no matter.  The case for school meals free at the point of consumption was well put in the Telegraph a while back, alongside references to the other, more economically-liberal, points of view.  These are not hard to find.  Indeed, I have one myself which wonders whether this is just going to absolve many families from what little responsibility they feel for feeding their children properly.  It's certainly hard to see how the policy in practice will persuade those that need persuading that cooking decent food for their children is a good idea.

Of course, just because the food becomes free doesn't mean it will get eaten.  The pilot study where school meals became free, and which led to this policy shift, saw an increase in take up from 50 to 85% in Durham, and from 50% to 72% in London's Newham.  Thus, in Newham, where social depreciation is not unknown, over a quarter of families turned down the free meals.  Something like this will always be the case, and the many possible reasons are easy to identify.  My favourite was told to me by a Yorkshire hill farmer whose son took a packed lunch to a school with a fine reputation for its meals.  When I asked why, she said that he ate all-organic food at home, and as the school could not guarantee this, he took a lunch box – a happy co-incidence of parental responsibility and good food.


My week

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This week began with a walk with grandchildren in London's Highgate Woods where I was surprised how much damage the recent storm had caused.  Despite the debris (mostly oak), it was a great place to run around.

A Linkedin update the other day showed me all the skills that some of my contacts had newly developed.  These included: academia,  agriculture,  climate change,  training,  conservation issues,  environmental awareness … (it goes on).  In what sense are these “skills”?  Does Linkedin not keep an eye on what people are claiming?

I got an invitation recently (well, it was an email saying I should get an invitation ...) to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee launch of EAUC's Enabling The Future We Want: Education for Sustainable Development in the UK: a manifesto for dialogue, collaboration and action post Rio+20 – this is something that I had a vanishingly small part in developing (I commented on comma use policy, I recall).  I shall be accepting, even though I'm somewhat doubtful that the world needs another manifesto, as it will allow me to spend more time in Westminster Hall under its hammer beam roof – one of the world's great structures.

The survey on the future form and function of the National Student Survey [NSS] closed on Wednesday.  There has been a campaign from the "ESD Community" to have a question on sustainability inserted into this, and you can see why many would see this as a sound strategy as the NSS concentrates the minds of university leadership like nothing else.  My sense all along has been that QAA would be reluctant to see an explicit reference to sustainability within the survey as this is a significant act of commitment on their part.  Being part of a group that produces guidelines that no one needs to take any notice of is one thing, but sticking your head above the parapet is another.  In a similar sense, it's absolutely fine for them to say that ESD should embrace Quality, as that's not controversial (everything has to embrace their view of Quality), but they don't think it's ok to say (as I suggested they should) that Quality should embrace sustainability; that is, that thinking about Quality should come to terms with the world as it is now becoming.  More mainstream thinking on all this suggests that it's too soon for such a focus in the NSS in that the survey ought to reflect current reality, and not attempt to change it.  So much for dynamic social change.

A week ago, HEAQAA held a consultation on its draft guidelines for ESD learning outcomes.  There was considerable publicity (within the "ESD community") about this, and those lucky enough to go, got to see the draft text.  I was able to follow something of the event on Twitter – very intermittently.  The organisers felt it went well despite the fact that none of the very people the guidelines are meant for (that is, "the non-ESD community") actually turned up.  How these poor benighted folk are to be reached, let alone influenced, remains a mystery.

Thursday was Kindness Day UK, when we're asked to be kind to someone in order to make kindness a greater part of day to day life.  This seems a worthy goal, and it really is good for you, it seems.  By happy coincidence, Matthew Reisz in this week's THE asked, does bitchiness serve any useful scholarly purpose?  I'm in, typically-male (I'm told), two minds about this question: a one polite, and one not quite that.  These days, as far as individuals are concerned, I tend to try to season my scorn with pity (which is why I'm not mentioning the breathless email I got detailing what turned out to be trifling "ministerial backing for ESD".  Corporations and Quangos are quite another matter, and it was sad to see the nonsense about "new pedagogues" that emerged from the HEA a day later.

Then there was the new exhibition in Devizes of Wiltshire's gold from pre-history.  There's not much of it, but it is fine.


Bristol fashion but not very ship-shape

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is what the University of Bristol says about itself in EAUC’s 2013 Green Gown winners brochure:

University of Bristol

Embedding Education for Sustainable Development across the curriculum

The University of Bristol has delivered a student led ESD initiative, reflecting its commitment to ‘offering students opportunities to learn about issues of global importance such as environmental awareness and sustainability’.  The work to date has been delivered in a unique way using student interns to lead its development. This has delivered; a full course and module baseline review identifying 23% of courses containing ESD and has led to the inclusion of ESD with student record data; mapping tools which help define ESD and engage academics, one to one assistance for academics; training courses and an ESD teaching and learning guide.  All faculties have engaged in the process with a number of schools ranging from Religious Studies to Dentistry developing ESD activity.  A key outcome of the work has been the inclusion of ESD in all faculties’ Annual Programme Reviews which are reviewed by Faculty Quality Enhancement Team Chairs.

Hannah Tweddell, one of two student ESD interns, said"

“This is a great reward for all the hard work of the ESD interns and the institution; it also promotes the key role students can play in developing ESD, helping others see you can develop an effective ESD approach with limited resources and a joint approach of estates, academics and students.”

… and EAUC's judges commented:

"This entry was highly commended because it represented a truly integrated approach with large-scale buy-in across the University and wider sector.  The outcomes were very positive across a variety of courses and schools."

Now, I don’t want to knock this, because I know something of the work that Bristol does around all this, and would want to celebrate it.  However, when you look at the University’s outward-looking web pages, the story is muted.  Have a look, and see how long it takes you to find a reference to ESD.

There’s no point looking under E in the A–Z section – or under G (for Green Gown / Green Academy), or S, though you will find a “Sustainability” link which takes you here.  At the bottom of this page you find what looks like a piece of 3-year old text:

Teaching and Research

The University of Bristol not only aims to operate in a sustainable way, but looks to teach and research sustainability. In 2010 a new research institute called the Cabot Institute was set up to pull together interdisciplinary research in sustainability. In 2011 the University will be involved in a project with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on Education in Sustainable Development called Green Academy. The University includes sustainability in a number of subject areas and currently runs an open unit is sustainable development.

If you actively search for "ESD", you are taken to this page:  (which, very oddly, cannot be accessed from the sustainability page:

From here, if you persist, you can reach a very detailed Wiki page ESD Bristol.  This looks like an internal page which external browsers are not supposed to find.  With so much to shout about, you have to wonder why Bristol whispers.

A tale of two surveys

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've looked at two surveys this week.  The first was that distributed by QAAHEA about its new draft Guidelines to HE institutions about SD / ESD (it never quite decided which this was).  The second was about the National Student Survey (NSS).  Both, of course, had QAA's fingerprints on them.

But what a contrast.  The E(SD) Guidelines was a cheap-o affair from Survey Monkey (we're all increasingly familiar with these).  The NSS one was a sleek piece of design from Nat Cen, a social research outfit.  I warmed immediately to the Nat Cen approach as it allowed you to see all the questions in advance which is a simple way of treating the respondent with respect.  You can, for example, see whether there's any point in your starting the survey.

I further warmed to the NSS survey when I came to this:

18a. (If answer to Q17=yes) Why … ?

and then this:

19. (If answer to Q17=no) Why … ?

In the QAAHEA's E(SD) survey, you were not encouraged to give "Yes, and / but …" responses.  It was assumed that you'd only have something to say if you disagreed with the proposition.  This was very irritating as I was forced to give "No" responses (followed by a comment), when I really wanted to say, "Yes, but / and …".    That said, I did manage to squeeze in all the points I wanted to make, even if I did end up by seemingly over-filling the boxes.  All that said, the NSS survey wasn't flawless as there were boxes that didn't expand to let you say what you wanted to.  Inexplicable.  I can only trust that both were valuable.