Standing at EASE

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

SEEd is holding a launch next week of EASE:  the Evidence Alliance for Sustainability Education

So what is this rather contrived acronym all about?  I've pasted, below, what SEEd says.  It's hard to disagree (and I don't want to) with the first part of all this – the diagnosis of the issues and problem, if you like.  It's when it gets onto the meta-review that things less clear.  Not only is there is a lack of clarity about the relationship between EASE (the Alliance) and the meta-review, but it's not clear either what the meta review is setting out to achieve.  I asked the SEEd CEO, about this:

"I’ve been reading about your meta-review but could not see what the proposition is that the review will set out to examine.  Do you have a clear statement of this purpose?"

... and got this response:

"The process is we are setting up an evidence alliance, gathering further evidence and organising along a framework I have created and the the alliance will decide what we need and the terms of the meta review.  I suspect a number of people might be interested in it both in the U.K. And internationally so we will probably do a tender process once we have raised the money to conduct such a review."

This is neither a statement of purpose nor clear, but all this will have to be sorted out if the meta-review is to have direction and coherence.  No doubt it will be.

What bothers me more is the nature of the 100 or so documents that are set to be meta reviewed.  They must be a pretty mixed bunch with different purposes, focuses, sample sizes, approaches, methodologies, etc, and the spread of what they are investigating will likely be huge.  Their quality is likely to vary too: from the distinctly ropey to the very well-executed.  How to put them all together is the question.

It's going to be instructive to see how all this works out.  No doubt it will be a great success.  But will anyone who matters take any notice?


EASE – The issues:

a) Sustainability and environmental education covers a wide range of approaches, content and settings from in-classroom, to outdoors, to formal or informal.  Different organisations have different foci – e.g. climate change, biodiversity, species, birds, poverty, equality, global citizenship.  In a challenging funding climate they are competing for funding and are often required to evaluate according to the rules of the funder, which can vary considerably.

b) It is hard to even estimate how many schools, for example, are actively and deliberatively focussing on environment or sustainability.  This is especially true since 2015 as it has been removed from the national curriculum and requires schools now to make linkages and look for opportunities that they struggle to find the time and legitimacy to do.

c) All education struggles to tell a story about impact if only SMART objectives are used.  The goal of ESD is to enable young people to develop skills, knowledge and values (i.e. competencies and dispositions to feel they can participate in a sustainable future).

d) Funders and UN agencies (e.g. UNESCO) are becoming more and more interested in embedding and scaling up and moving away from pilots and endless new programmes.

The result is there is no coherent story we can tell yet that shows the impact and effectiveness of environmental education and education for sustainability.  This is despite EE having been around since the 1960’s and ESD since the 1990’s.  The second impact is that as a sector we are not yet ready to understand how to use evidence, or scale up. This is especially true at the grassroots level where the turnover of young staff and lack of professional development means that lessons learned and best practice disappear from each generation involved.

This is where SEEd comes in!

There is evidence – SEEd has gathered 100 documents and there are plenty more!  A meta- review needs to be conducted and the capacity of the EE and ESD sector needs to be built.  Finally understanding how to use evidence to influence and persuade is required.  This project will be unique in that the focus is the grass roots but with academic and expert partners to ensure rigour.  The Output is not primarily academic papers but accessible and trusted evidence, policy documents and capacity building

A specific example:

SEEd has been at the forefront of promoting whole school approaches.  SEEd leads an alliance, the Sustainable Schools Alliance (SSA) to support the work currently and have enabled (through dissemination or workshops) other countries to adapt their own whole school frameworks e.g. Canada, Australia, Mexico, Columbia, Cyprus, Japan, Brazil, and Greece.  The evidence shows whole school approaches to sustainability deliver increased student engagement, better learning outcomes across all subjects, more motivated students, support for the school from the wider community, and a sustained programme.

EASE – Evidence Alliance for Sustainability Education

This Alliance will build on the success of the SSA and we will invite organisations to join SEEd and pay a premium to be part of EASE. We are looking for 60 EASEE [sic] members all at £100 each (this pays for coordination, meetings and newsletters at £6000/pa). The EASE members will be divided into interest groups based on age and approaches, with local networks for peer-to-peer learning (e.g. London Environmental Educators Forum – LEEF)

The cost:

In addition to the cost of running the alliance (£6K), which eventually will be self-sustaining through collaboration and membership fees, we will need to conduct an initial meta-review of evaluations conducted so far.  SEEd has begun this work through gathering reports and evidence documents and creating a framework to categorise. We have also run events (training and a policy forum) to test the need and framework.  Our estimation of the cost of a meta-review would be £50,000 as it will probably involve a university.  The goal would be to continue to add evidence as they are generated or found by the alliance and then every 5 years or so add to the meta-review.

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  • An enlightening summary Bill. I now have a better picture of what this 'meta review' means to SEEd with possible costings - and to all of us involved in some form of environmental education. To at last have a framework for evaluating the immense range of EE & ESD work would be fantastic. With a grass roots focus PLUS involvement of academic & experts it could be the start of an immensely useful source.
    I don't want to be cynical but your phrase 'will anyone who matters take any notice?' however sadly rings true, particularly with anything to do with the environment. At this moment I'm thinking in the light of the latest Conservative Party election pledge to remove free school meals for all Key Stage 1 pupils. Results from evidence based research, and anecdotal evidence from teachers who have seen changes in behaviour and attitudes clearly show the value of a balanced, free, lunch for concentration and learning skills. This is being ignored for political and economic point scoring. A review of the wide ranging values of EE/ESD wouldn't stand a chance unless there was a political motivation.
    Perhaps though you have to start with the mega-aim and then scale down?