GEEP – 3 – a country needs survey

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As part of the preparations for the GEEP [Global Environmental Education Partnership] meeting in San Diego, I was asked to write two reports about the UK situation.  The first I published yesterday.  This is the second of them: a country needs survey.


The draft mission of the GEEP is to create a vibrant learning network designed to build capacity in countries around the world by strengthening, sustaining, and institutionalizing environmental education. Keeping this mission statement in mind, please ... use the remaining space to describe specific needs related to that topic area.

A. EE Policy (e.g. working on national environmental policy or legislation)

Describe how the GEEP could help your country to establish a national environmental policy or legislation.

The UK, at both national and (devolved) state levels has plenty of policies relating to sustainability and the environment; many of these come from the European Union, some are home grown.  The issue is not so much the lack of policies; rather it is the lack of coherence amongst these, and the difficulty in ensuring that policies are acted on and outcomes / impacts monitored.

NB, because of the UK's devolved political structure, there ought to be four separate responses to surveys such as this in order to represent the quite different political and educational contexts of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  In what follows, I have tried to show something of these differences.

B. Professional development (educator training, etc.)

Describe specific needs related to professional development.

School teacher pre-service professional development is different across the four constituent parts of the UK, and there is considerable variation as to what (and how much) attention is paid to EE / ESD / etc in all this.  This is most extensively developed in Scotland through the work of an independent General Teaching Council, although it would be going too far to say that this was affecting the work of all teachers and schools.  Across the UK, in-service professional development is haphazard and is mostly provided through NGOs working with schools.  That said, there are examples of schools where internal professional development is of a high standard, and some of this is supported by capacity-building and curriculum development organisations such as Eco-Schools.

It is hard to see how professional development in England (which has ~80% of the teachers) will take EE / ESD / etc seriously until it is more independent of government than it currently is.  It is hard to see when this is likely to happen.

Viewed more widely, colleges and the vocational curriculum seems to be a lost cause-in spite of political rhetoric about the importance of the green economy, but there are some hopeful signs from student led interventions in universities , although it is too soon to assess long term impact.  Universities are not the “thought leaders” on moving the education and learning agenda forward that the might be; whilst some businesses are.  Attempts to support the development of sustainability / ESD in UK universities has been a failure, although there are institutions that take it seriously.  None does so to the extent that, say, the University of British Columbia manages.

GEEP could help, albeit at the margins, by setting out indicative guidelines on effective professional development related to EE / ESD / etc with illustrative case studies from different jurisdictions across the world.

C. Environmental issues that EE can address (e.g. climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, etc.).

Describe the key environmental issues and how EE can best address them in your country? What are the key audiences you want to engage?

There is no shortage of issues, or resources that help teachers address these.  Some of these are of high quality and many are produced by experienced NGOs.  It is probably the case that more of these are aimed at UK primary schools (up to age 11) than at post-primary (secondary) schools or colleges / universities.

However, the support for EE / ESD / etc is characterised by action which is not necessarily coherent or focused on process and learning outcomes.

One recurrent issue in all such resources aimed at secondary schools is the problem of a school system that emphasises separate subjects.  It is a commonplace experience in such schools that students learn about different aspects of environmental / sustainability issues in different subjects, but that students are never helped to draw these together into a more coherent whole.  Thus schools mirror society in thinking about inter-connected issues in a segmented fashion.  Narrowly drawn and discipline-focused school-leaving and university-entrance examinations compound this problem.  The teaching professional bodies could do more to help all this transition, if they had a mind.

D. Establishing national standards or guidelines for EE

Describe how the GEEP could help your country.

Guidelines are one thing; national standards quite another.  Whilst there are detailed standards that apply to pre-service professional development, these do not relate to EE / ESD (or any other adjectival education) in England which is where the vast majority of teachers, and newly qualified teachers, are.  In Scotland and Wales, the picture is better.

As I noted above, GEEP could probably help here, by setting out indicative guidelines on effective professional development related to EE / ESD / etc with illustrative case studies from different jurisdictions across the world.

E. Research about EE

Describe specific needs around research.

Whilst there is always the need for more research, a greater problem is the that of helping research inform practice.  There has been great growth over the last two decades of journals devoted to reporting research germane to EE / ESD / etc.  What there has not been, however, is any commensurate growth in that research reaching practitioners and influencing practice in schools.  Perhaps the leading journals and their publishers have a responsibility here.

F. Evaluation of EE

Describe specific needs around evaluation.

There is no systematic national evaluation of any of this, and no likelihood of this being developed in the short to medium term.

G. What other topic areas are needed most as a way to strengthen EE In your country?

One of the most influential aspects of professional development / capacity building for EE / ESD / etc in the UK is the work of Eco-Schools which operates within an international franchise [FEE].  Eco-Schools in the UK says that the need for professional development on EE / ESD / etc is clear and it is looking to expand what it does, but it is stifled by capacity issues.  Could GEEP help lever resources to enable this expansion.

It is felt that it would be helpful were GEEP able to ...

[i] review the international Eco-Schools framework and make recommendations to FEE to amend the seven Eco-Schools steps; and

[ii] make recommendations about re-structuring the international programme in a way that allows for better evaluation of the learning and environmental outcomes that emerge.

These steps would support the work of Eco-Schools, both in the UK and internationally.

H. The GEEP has developed a preliminary checklist as a way for countries to measure their success in using environmental education as a key strategy. As a leader who is helping to shape this initiative, we would like you to provide some preliminary feedback on the following draft attributes. Please rank the importance of each attribute on a 5 point scale (1 = not important; 5 = most important) in measuring the success of a EE in a given country.  

Policy: Has legislation or policies that advance environmental education (national mandate or legislation; graduation requirements; etc.).

Guidelines: Has standards or guidelines that promote high quality environmental education.

Training: Supports professional development for environmental education professionals, including formal and non-formal educators.

Evaluation: Has strategies for measuring impact and a way to roll up results of environmental education programming and national efforts.

Reaching all Audiences: Has a national EE strategy that’s inclusive to all sectors including the public (all ages, backgrounds) and all sectors (government, NGO, corporation, etc.)

Sustainability: Has a secure funding source for EE.

Comprehensive Programming: EE is integrated within the country at all levels—national, regional, and local.

Networks: Has a professional association for EE practitioners.

Certification: Has opportunities for educators to become certified in EE.

Formal: EE is integrated into formal education.

Curriculum: Has quality teaching materials that are accessible to educators in both formal and non-formal settings.

I. Please identify what attributes you think are missing from this list. We will use these ideas to generate discussion at the GEEP meeting.

Whilst there's nothing particularly wrong with this list (and it's hard not to tick boxes 4/5), it looks at everything from the inside out; that is, from the EE perspective, not the wider socio-educational one.

There is, for example, nothing about the purposes of EE / ESD / etc.  Or about how EE / ESD / etc contributes to wider national educational / training goals – particularly how EE / ESD / etc helps [i] build capacity to think critically and constructively about the existential problem we face; and [ii] helps society do something about them.

For me, it fails the 'dog training test'.  That is, if you replace EE with 'dog training', the document still makes perfect sense.    For example, "Has standards or guidelines that promote high-quality dog training".

This suggests that what is here is not getting to the heart of the matter.

What follows is a slightly edited extract from: Scott W (2013) Developing the Sustainable School: thinking the issues through; The Curriculum Journal  24(2) 181 – 205 which sets out to describe [i] a school context, and [ii] an educational focus for such a context:

[i] An organisation where issues around environment / sustainability. . .

·  have a high profile across the work of the institution, and in its community links

·  are fundamental to, and integral across, the institution’s work rather than being add-on or fragmented

·  are raised in different settings, as appropriate, and treated as holistically as possible

·  represent one of the institution’s key ethical stances

·  enable the curriculum to be taught more effectively, core priorities to be more readily accomplished, … through close connections with the community, and student achievement to be broadened and heightened

·  are not just focused on behaviour change in terms of known problems, but also on the building of students’ capability for critical and independent thinking for the future

[ii] A social learning community with a systemic view of the world and a heightened sense of place that …

· has a growing awareness of its environmental impact (footprint), has a strategy for steadily reducing it, and uses these as foci for learning

· values outdoor, environmental, experiential and exploratory learning as a means of effectively engaging with real-world issues in authentic settings

· is outward-looking, and whose work is embedded not only in its local context (socially, economically, environmentally, and culturally), but which has tangible links to real communities in other parts of the world

· recognises that place is now a global phenomenon that raises moral issues of inter-dependence and shared responsibility, in relation to social and environmental justice

· understands that it can, and should, contribute not just to maximizing learning and skills acquisition (its traditional role), but also to enhancing social cohesion, as well as lessening its need for natural resources and its creation of waste, and maximising the efficiency of its buildings.

J. What are three things you’re most proud of about EE in your country?

1. The energy, intelligence and dedication of those educators and institutional leaders (in the formal and informal sectors) who keep stressing the importance of, and need for, EE / ESD / etc, and who live out their educational values on a daily basis through what they do.

2. The very many organisations that come together to support [1]

3. The way that students (of all ages) act as convincing ambassadors for it all.


Postscript.  I did not dream all this up myself, but asked a number of commentators from across the UK's devolved administrations what they thought.  All the replies (from those who had time to respond) are incorporated here.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Many thanks for sharing these overviews that many outside the UK will find instructive. I have already placed a link to the two documents at on the Community Action for Spaceship Earth website in the hope that they will be circulated more widely. I am not sure that the whole planet (a.k.a. Spaceship Earth) perspective is as 'up front' as I would think necessary, but your proposal to link EE with 'global education' perhaps has this intention. But I will study further your concise outline which has so much to ponder. Your worthwhile contribution to GEEP seems ensured!