Here's my initial comment on the new research on EE in secondary schools from King's College: Understanding Environmental Education in Secondary Schools. Where is it, what is it and what should the future be? In this, I focus on Report 2: The Practitioners’ Perspective whose recommendations were:
- Environmental education should be recognised in future Ofsted’s school inspection framework.
- Effective environmental education needs to encompass equal opportunities for environmental activism, subject acquisition, and skill development.
- Environmental education should be recognised in the Teachers’ Standards.
- Examination boards need to be encouraged to development and promote assessment procedures that capture equally environmental education’s three underpinning values: social responsibility/activism in the environment, knowledge about the environment and skills for the environment.
- Senior leaders need to be encouraged to include environmental responsibility and activism in their mission statement/school aim and school operations policies and practices.
So: my first thoughts:
Environmental education should be recognised in future Ofsted’s school inspection framework
Whilst you can understand why this recommendation has been made, it is a clear statement of the desperate policy position we are in England (something Report 1 dwells on). However, whilst it is one thing to require Ofsted to inspect and report on an issue that has the force of legislation and/or government deliberation (itself subject to parliamentary scrutiny), it is quite another to tell Ofsted to take on that role in the absence of any higher-level guidance and authority. This is, in essence, to tell Ofsted to have a curriculum determining function which in other circumstances we would all likely deplore. It also would also open the floodgates to anyone with a bee in their bonnets and/or an axe to grind. Anyway, despite a long and distinguished (pre-2014) history of interest in environmental matters [See, for example this], the Inspectorate is unlikely to do anything except where a school flags it up for inspection.
Effective environmental education needs to encompass equal opportunities for environmental activism, subject acquisition, and skill development
If the word "equal" were removed, I'd say that this might well be reasonably uncontentious. I say this because it seems that equal would be hard to enforce and needless anyway. However, just how reasonable it is depends on what activism means, what is to be acquired, and what skills developed. There is, of course, a strong tradition within EE which sees activism as a means to the acquisition of skills. I'm thinking here of action competence where the skills are those associated with being an engaged and effective citizen with the activism focused locally and student-influenced (if not actually determined). It would be well if more people knew the action competence literature.
Perhaps we need to begin at the end: that is, with a set of minimal outcomes (skills / competencies / knowledge / values / whatever) that all this EE is to lead to. Just to write this down is to illustrate the difficulties.
Environmental education should be recognised in the Teachers’ Standards
Well, good luck with this. I have already spent too many years toiling in that storm-lashed vineyard to want to comment any further. I just think that the issues raised in the Ofsted section (above) apply here as well, apart from giving any credit to those controlling the standards about having any interest in EE.
Examination boards need to be encouraged to development and promote assessment procedures that capture equally environmental education’s three underpinning values: social responsibility/activism in the environment, knowledge about the environment and skills for the environment
Are these really EE values? I doubt it. Then again, the activism / knowledge / skills framework is not unique to EE. All social activism includes these. Therefore, saying all this is meaningless unless there's a specification (or at least an indication) of the skills / knowledge / responsibility involved. At heart, this is a restatement of the IN / ABOUT / FOR mantra that follows EE around wherever it goes, and is widely misunderstood.
Of course exam boards should be encouraged to feature environmental and sustainability issues in a meaningful, non-trivial fashion. The question is how. NB, "encouraged to" is much more realistic language that the "should be" terminology used above.
Senior leaders need to be encouraged to include environmental responsibility and activism in their mission statement/school aim and school operations policies and practices.
Of course they do, and leaders here include governors. But why should they do this? And why haven't they done it already and do it all the time? Some do so, of course, but these days are more likely to do it in the context of the SDGs, not EE. I note, in passing, that the report only contained one reference to the SDGs, and that was a negative one:
"Perhaps notable in its absence given concurrent press coverage was any discussion related to air pollution and its role in respiratory and other diseases. The role of politics, the economy, and any reference to the international Sustainable Development Goals were also missing [from interviews with educators]."
There are push and pull factors here: we can argue that schools need to take EE / the goals /etc seriously because the world is in a bit of a state, and/or we can argue this because it's good for the school's image locally, and/or because it's good for student learning. The last of these is likely to be the most persuasive if the evidence is there. Is it? If it is, where is it?
If you had 15 minutes with the secretary of state for education to argue the case for EE, what would you say?