Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: June 2014

Estyn's deafening silence on the effects of ESDGC

📥  Comment, New Publications

As I noted when I wrote about on Estyn's new ESDGC report, the headlines were mostly very positive.  When you look at the detail of the report, and at the recommendations, however, things look less rosy:

Estyn’s recommendations are that

Schools should:

  1. improve pupils’ understanding of the more complex ESDGC concepts identified in this report, including those relating to identity and culture;
  2. plan for the progressive development of pupils’ understanding of the seven ESDGC themes across the curriculum, and assess and track pupils’ development;
  3. plan for ESDGC to make a positive contribution to developing pupils’ literacy and numeracy;
  4. provide a variety of extra-curricular opportunities to support ESDGC;
  5. identify members of staff to have responsibility for co-ordinating and developing ESDGC across the school;
  6. provide appropriate training for teachers and other staff to help them to deliver ESDGC more effectively, including its more complex concepts; and
  7. ensure that governors receive training to enable them to support and challenge the school in delivering ESDGC.

Local authorities / regional consortia should:

  1. establish a directory of providers with good practice in ESDGC, which can be shared with schools; and
  2. provide training for governors to enable them to support and challenge schools appropriately in respect of ESDGC.

That is quite an agenda – significant room for improvement, you might say.

There's another thing that struck me about the whole report: how little it says about an emphasis on ESDGC coinciding with a school's being successful.  This is odd as it is received wisdom (at least amongst those who want it to be true) that a strong focus on things such as ESD[GC] will help a school be successful, not just in terms that ESTYN and OFSTED would understand, but also more generally.  In point of fact, this linkage is used to persuade schools to take up ESD[GC] in the first place and to become 'sustainable'.

ESTYN's silence on this is quite deafening.


Welsh school inspectors report on ESDGC

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

This report is published in response to a request for advice from the Welsh Government.  It reports on the progress that primary, secondary and special schools have made in education for sustainable development and global citizenship (ESDGC) since 2006 when Estyn published its baseline report: Establishing a position statement for Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship in Wales.

This report is based on evidence gathered from inspections using Estyn’s Supplementary guidance for inspectors on Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship in schools which is structured around the seven suggested themes identified by UNESCO as part of the  ESD Decade and the Welsh Government’s Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship – A Common Understanding for Schools (2008).

This report's main findings are:

Pupils’ understanding of sustainable development and global citizenship

1  In the majority of the schools visited for this survey, pupils’ understanding of the key concepts of sustainable development and global citizenship develops appropriately as pupils progress through school and is generally secure for each of the seven themes for ESDGC.  There is now no significant difference between pupils’ understanding of sustainable development and their understanding of global citizenship.  This is an improvement since 2006 when understanding of global citizenship was not as well developed.

Sustainable development

2  Pupils are often very interested in the natural environment and their understanding of it is generally good.  Almost all pupils understand that they depend on the environment for energy, food and other resources.  Many pupils understand the need to conserve energy, but often in terms of saving money rather than resources.

3  In the best schools, pupils’ understanding of consumption and waste develops well.  They understand where the things they consume come from and where waste goes, although only a minority understand the interdependence of producers and consumers.  Few understand the difference between ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life.’

4  Few Foundation Phase or key stage 2 pupils understand the difference between climate and weather, but almost all pupils in the secondary schools visited understand the concept of climate change and global warming and many can explain the implications for the way we live.

Global citizenship

5  Pupils in all key stages generally have an appropriate understanding of the concepts of wealth and poverty and some of their implications. Almost all pupils have an understanding of the effects of inequality on people’s lives and understand the types of support charities can provide for people in need.  Almost all pupils in the secondary schools visited have a good understanding of the inequalities that exist between people in different countries, and between people within countries.

6  Pupils in schools with a high proportion of ethnic minority pupils generally have a better understanding of the effect of discrimination and prejudice on individuals than pupils in other schools.  Few pupils at key stages 3 and 4 have a good understanding of identity and culture, including complex concepts such as the link between culture, faith and individual value systems and beliefs.

7  Almost all pupils in the schools visited can give examples of ways in which they make choices and decisions that affect school life.  They influence the work of the school through groups such as the school council, eco-committee or healthy living group.  They realise that actions have consequences and generally know how to minimise personal conflicts.

8  Almost all pupils in the schools visited understand the principles of how to care for their own health and that of others.  They have a secure understanding of the importance of eating healthily and taking regular exercise.  Almost all key stage 2 pupils understand about the negative effects of pollution, tobacco and alcohol on their health and most pupils at key stages 3 and 4 understand that there are ways in which health and quality of life can be improved in countries around the world.

Vision, policy, planning and promoting ESDGC

9  In most of the schools visited, leaders have a clear vision for promoting ESDGC.  The schools with the most effective policies for developing ESDGC have a clear definition and understanding of ESDGC and what it means for their staff and pupils in the context of their school and beyond. This clarity in understanding ESDGC has improved since 2006.

10  The majority of the schools visited have effective plans for developing and delivering ESDGC.  Almost all schools teach aspects of ESDGC effectively through a variety of subjects.  In a minority of the schools, planning is not systematic and relies too much on discrete and uncoordinated projects for coverage.  This results in pupils having a limited understanding of the impact of their actions in respect of ESDGC. Where planning in secondary schools is most effective, teachers who specialise in specific subjects plan the coverage of ESDGC together.  This strengthens the provision and ensures that teachers who have a stronger understanding of the more complex aspects of ESDGC teach them. This results in pupils having a deeper understanding of these aspects.

11  Schools with the most effective planning include opportunities for pupils to develop their numeracy, literacy and thinking skills within cross-curricular thematic projects that focus on ESDGC.  However, in many of the schools visited, teachers do not incorporate good enough opportunities for pupils to use their literacy and numeracy skills in ESDGC work. This has not improved since 2006.

12  All the schools visited provide a wide range of extra-curricular and other activities to promote ESDGC and extend pupils’ knowledge and experience. All the schools visited follow at least one accredited scheme in areas related to ESDGC.  However, few schools collect evidence to assess the impact that following these schemes has had on pupils’ understanding of ESDGC concepts.

Leadership, management and support for ESDGC

13  Where schools have identified members of staff with clear responsibility for leading and developing ESDGC, the provision is generally effective and pupils’ understanding of key concepts is at least good.  Where responsibilities are not clear enough, this is not the case.

14  The confidence of teachers in delivering ESDGC is high in many of the schools visited. Where training has not been a priority, members of staff lack confidence in teaching the more complex concepts related to ESDGC.  Most schools visited would benefit from further training in specific aspects of ESDGC.  A directory of good practice contacts would be helpful.

15  Most of the schools visited include aspects of ESDGC within their self-evaluation procedures.  Leaders generally evaluate the planning and delivery, but very few schools evaluate the impact of provision on pupils’ understanding of ESDGC.

16  Many of the schools visited have a member of the governing body with particular responsibility for ESDGC.  Very few governors have received training other than from the school or feel confident enough to challenge the schools in relation to ESDGC.


This is encouraging stuff, especially compared to the 2006 report, but it's far from wholly positive as a closer reading of the whole report reveals.  More on that anon, no doubt.

Estyn note

"The findings and recommendations are based on an analysis of Estyn inspection findings from primary, secondary and special schools from 2010 to 2013 and visits to a representative sample of 10 primary schools, 10 secondary schools and two special schools.  The sample includes examples of schools exemplifying good practice in ESDGC.  During the visits to schools, inspectors interviewed members of the senior management team, teachers with responsibility for developing ESDGC, a sample of pupils and pupil members of relevant committees.  They also scrutinised pupils’ work and relevant displays around the schools."


Global learning is about the economy after all

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Sadly, I missed Think Global’s Breakfast Debate last week: Skills for Global Work, Skills for Global Life.  It was about whether our young people are developing the skills they need to thrive in a globalised world.

Here’s what GL said about it:

Think Global is a national education charity and the hub of a community of educators working to create a more just and sustainable world. We know that the world today faces many problems, but we believe that they can be overcome.  To do this, we work to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and capabilities they need to play their part.  At the same time, there is growing interest in the skills young people need to flourish in the globalised workplace of the future.  Indeed, the OECD’s PISA education league tables will include a measure on global competences in 2018.  This breakfast debate, will consider whether our young people are developing the skills they need to thrive in a globalised world – both for the world of work and for life.

The speakers included:

  • Caroline Waters OBE, BT’s former Director of People and Policy and Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Dame Julia Cleverdon DCVO, CBE, Co-Founder of Step Up To Serve Campaign
  • Dan Simpson, Head of Talent, Siemens UK
  • Tom Franklin, CEO, Think Global

How fascinating, I thought, that there is this coming together of global learning (with all its anti-capitalist / anti-neo-liberal baggage and baggage-handlers) with the economic imperatives of globalisation?  I sense Pearson's invisible hand in this.

Think Global’s view on the outcomes are here, and include these:

Experts were asked to vote from a menu of 10 challenges facing young people in the United Kingdom.  Of the 254 votes cast the chief threat identified was that

'Young people's horizons and aspirations are not broad enough to operate in a globalised and multicultural economy and society.'

Similarly, experts were asked to identify the top skills required by young people for the future.  The vote identified '

The ability to think critically, understand and analyse different perspectives and be open to other cultures globally' as a primary requirement for young people's futures.

The poll builds on ICM research with business leaders, who, it seems, are even more concerned.  93% say schools must help young people develop the ability to think globally and three-quarters say we risk being left behind by emerging economies.

So there we have it, like most of education, most of the time, in most places, global learning turns out to be about the economy.  Phew!





But, just what is "a sustainable school"

📥  Comment, New Publications

A while back, The Guardian carried a brief feature titled: "A sustainable school succeeds".  It was a rehearsing of opportunities for institutions wishing to be a 'sustainable school', and was an endorsement of Eco-schools, SEEd, and the Sustainable Schools Alliance.

The piece included this:

"You are probably already halfway to creating a sustainable school if you do any of these: save energy; recycle; have a school garden; teach about societies less fortunate than ours; teach about climate change; or are registered with EcoSchools ... as 17,000 schools in the UK already are.  If so, you are ready for the next steps.

First, run an audit.  Auditing helps you build on your strengths and identify where you can add new projects.  ...

Second, transform the curriculum by asking new questions.  You can turn any topic into one that leads to sustainability competencies.  Ask what is the difference between "needs" and "wants".  What is the energy consumption of our homes?  Why do we have waste?  Who doesn't have waste?  What will the homes of the future look like?  Where do the materials for our homes come from?  These questions provoke critical thinking and help students understand change and interrelationships.

Next, engage the students with your local school curriculum in advance of the new national curriculum rollout.  This is your opportunity to embed sustainability into the timetable.  Turning the students on to lessons from their locality will not only engage the community with the school, it will also improve behaviour, attendance, and learning outcomes.  ... "

All positive stuff, though the "halfway" there point is surely wishful rhetoric.  Further, whilst having a focus on sustainability issues in what a school does is desirable, being a 'sustainable school' through what the school is, is a different thing.

Clearly, doing sustainability things is good, but not enough.  Something else is needed; that is, a framing of the whole institution and its vision within a set of values and value-informed practices, which give meaning to what that institution does – and is.  With this in place, all the separate activities (recycling, charitable good works, organic gardening, energy conservation, farmers' markets, fair trade purchasing, etc, etc), and associated curriculum activities would amount to more than their sum because of the coherence of vision, values and practice embodied within the institution and in what it does.   Without this calculus, the separate activities remain just that – separate.

This is something that Eco-schools has not yet understood, but I have hopes for SEEd / SSA.  However, judging by the Guardian piece, this is still work in progress.  What is on offer cannot lead to an institution's becoming a 'suatainable school' because an appropriate framework is nowhere in sight.  I say 'an', of course, because there are many possible ones.  One such is set out in: Scott W (2013) Developing the Sustainable School: thinking the issues through; The Curriculum Journal 24(2) 181 – 205




Exploring a transformative orientation to sustainability in universities: a question of loose and tight framings

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

A week ago, I was at a poorly-attended, but rather stimulating, meeting of the Higher Education Academy's advisory group on ESD.  It benefitted from the presence of a senior HEA staffer who brought keen knowledge of the Academy's current problems to the table, along with a willingness to be open about them.

One of the issues we discussed was the evaluation report of how Green Academy cohort 1 institutions were now faring, some 2 years since they began.  The report is here.

I asked this question:

It seems possible, and perhaps even helpful, to make a distinction between universities that are setting out to do sustainability – maybe even right across everything the institution gets involved in – and those that are on a developmental and transformative journey towards being sustainable – as institutions.  We might suppose that, in the second of these, the work of the institution would embody a vision, values, and values-informed practices that have been shifted to be tightly framed around a particular conceptualisation of sustainability, and it is this framing that gives meaning, not just to what that institution does, but also to what it is trying to become.

By contrast, an institution that is more loosely framed around sustainability is one that clearly takes sustainability seriously in what it, and its various constituent parts do, without having in place capstone values, sustainability dispositions and orientations, and the appropriate conceptually-grounded vision necessary to commit to a transformative orientation.

It seems clear from this report, and the wider literature, that there is now much evidence of loose sustainability framings in universities across the globe.  Have you found any evidence in your Green Academy work of tight framings and transformative journeys?

The short answer to this overly-long question was "No".   Even though there is a considerable amount of innovation to be seen, the picture on the ground in this cohort of Green Academy institutions, two years in, is patchy at best and distinctly loosely-framed.

It's clear, however, that there are institutions in the UK that think that they are on such a journey.  I wonder if Bristol is one of them.  We may find out on Friday when its "ESD team" plays host to an ELSA meeting.  I'll report back.


The wider benefits of food growing

📥  Talks and Presentations

This is the talk I gave last Friday at the launch of Food Growing Schools: London, a Big Lottery-funded initiative by Garden Organic, supported by the Mayor.  I was asked to talk for 10 minutes about the wider benefits of food growing.  Here's what I said ...

We were once described, wrongly, as a nation of shopkeepers; more like, we’re a nation of gardeners.  90% of us have gardens.  And our gardens – and other people’s – are hugely important to us, and to who we are.  George Orwell called us a nation of flower lovers – which is true, but not quite the same thing.

ONS surveys confirm this interest in gardening, and that it increases with age.  More than 60% of the over 45s now garden.  According to Age UK, almost 40% of pensioners say that gardening is what gives them most pleasure in life.  And it’s the only form of exercise which more people do as they get older.  Gardening transcends culture, class, religeon, ethnicity and age.  It takes place in window boxes, back gardens, allotments, urban parks & country estates. It's benefits are wide-ranging and extensive

  • Good for physical health – if you’re careful
  • Good for mental health and a sense of proportion – except for worrying about pests

Gardens are not just about growing.  They are also places to be, to relax, to socialize and so employment is not just plant-related.  It’s about design and manufacture.  But, crucially, gardens are about good food.

In 2011, half of gardeners said they intended to grow their own fruit and vegetables with 12% of these were said to be ‘first timers’.  And allotments are important again.  There are now about 300,000 of them and they produce around 240,000 tons of food a year.  The waiting list is around 90,000.  There’s a huge economic value in all this.  The Horticultural Trades Association says garden spending exceeds £5 billion, with over 60% of adults buying things for their gardens.  The real economic and social value is much higher, however, and we have to think well beyond back gardens.

If we want to make the case for food growing we’d say that it:

  • improves health and well-being
  • is motivating and educative
  • is good for local jobs
  • brings people together, and that it
  • lessens the impact of climate change

These points emerge from the RHS’s Britain in Bloom and It’s Your Neighbourhood schemes where food growing features strongly.  In these, millions of volunteer hours transform communities and people’s lives.  This results, for example, in …

Stronger communities with better communication and increased neighbourliness

Reduced crime and anti-social behaviour because people feel better about where they live

Improved health and well-being where people get exercise, and have better diets with fresh food

Greater skills and confidence through teamwork and shared gardening

Stronger local economies because these are places where people want to be which brings investment

Improved physical surroundings which people take greater care of

Enhanced natural environments where biodiversity increases; natural capital is restored, and resource pressures lessen

It’s a similar story from the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens which says the contribution of growing to the well-being of individuals and communities include:

reconnecting people with nature

promoting local action on global environmental issues

using less carbon

providing routes back into education and employment

networking that strengthen communities, and promotes inclusion

positive impacts on the local economy through spending and employment

These are tremendous stories although a survey of 2000 people in April cast doubt on all this good news.  There was the usual gloomy stuff –

  • three quarters couldn’t pick out a geranium from a pansy.
  • 60% didn’t recognise a tulip
  • 40% reported that looking at their gardens made them depressed

There may well be something in this, but scepticism is due as the poll was paid for by Karcher who were launching a new product range to make gardening easier.  One good thing about the survey was that it didn't blame schools.  This was clearly a missed opportunity as schools usually get the blame at times of moral decline or national crisis.

But all of what I’ve said shows the value of food growing in schools.  The research carried out for the FGIS task force found strong evidence that food growing leads to improved student nutrition, attainment and knowledge, and so it was good to see 40% of parents saying their child’s school had communicated with them about school gardening over the last year.  If curriculum is a selection from culture, then food growing deserves inclusion.  But we’ve had to learn this again, although we knew it a hundred years ago.


I ended with a short extract from this book: Educational School Gardening and Handwork which was written in 1913 by GWS Brewer who was the Inspector of Educational School Gardening in Somerset.  Sadly, there are no more Mr Brewers.  In 1913, school gardening was gendered.  It was just for boys.  The girls were in the cookery classroom – though mysteriously they were allowed to grow herbs.  So, we have learned something in the past 100 years.  This remarkable book advocates a pedagogy that's up to date.  I thought of sending it to Mr Gove.


Put out more litter

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Keep Britain [Un]tidy was 60 years old on the 4th June.  You can read its self-satisfied story of failure here.  Over the years, it has changed its name more times than the average nuclear re-processing plant.  I commented on its merger with Waste Watch back in 2011, suggesting that this would make no difference to the state of litter in the country.

It hasn't.



Are environmental science courses at GC(S)E worth it?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I had this request the other day:

I’m a journalist with Solar Media, we run a few news sites covering solar energy and renewables and energy efficiency more generally.  I was looking for some on the record reaction to the news that Environmental Science is one of the subjects that could be scrapped at GCSE and A-Level under a consultation announced today…would you be able to send some comments over ...?

Here's my response:

I am not sure that this is the news story that others seem to think it is.  On the face of it, it's an exam board looking to rationalise its programmes by identifying less popular ones.  I imagine this happens from time to time.

The important issue for me is what is to be lost by such a move.  Thinking of A level, first, I would be worried about, and want to resist, such closures if it were the case that these courses are an important preparation of students for particular university degrees and then jobs in the environmental sciences; that is, if they provided a route to higher education and employment that other A levels did not provide.  Another issue is the extent to which such courses provide a valuable broadening of students' A level studies away from the more traditional specialist A level sciences.  If they do, there's a strong case for retention.  A lot depends on the nature of the students who take these courses and what then happens to them.  I do not have these data, but I guess the Boards might.

In relation to GCSE, both these arguments for retention apply, but seem considerably weaker, and there has to be a strong case for saying that what would be really useful would be the mainstream science subjects absorbing the important aspects of those GCSE courses now under scrutiny.  If that were to happen, I'd say this might be a good move although it would likely be resisted by all sorts of subject specialists both within schools and the exam boards.



Is leadership for sustainability possible in a market economy?

📥  News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

This was the title of a debate at the University of Worcester last Friday.  I was on the panel.  I made notes beforehand but forgot to take them with me.  The panel was eclectic: a consultant oncologist; a social entrepreneur of national note, a director from Barclays, a knowledge transfer guru, two Worcester students who’d made names for themselves – and me.

My initial comments were:

1. I do hope so – otherwise we really are stuffed.

2. It rather depends on what you mean by 'leadership' – and by 'market economy'.

I did mean to mention the circular economy – but forgot!  Notes are useful, I told myself afterwards.  Peter Kropotkin, Mandy Rice Davies and Gro H Brundtland all got a mention, though sadly not by me.  Very enjoyable.  Edited highlights will soon be on line, I'm told …