Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: New Publications

Scotland did it yesterday

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading, rather belatedly, the concluding report (March 2016) of Scotland's  Learning for Sustainability National Implementation Group.  This is packed with flag-waving claims.  Given Scotland's reputation for claiming that it does things differently, better and yesterday, I was not surprised to find this:

Leading the world to a more sustainable future

Scotland is a renowned nation of innovation, science and great thinkers.  We take pride in listing the many Scottish discoveries and inventions such as the television, telephone, pneumatic tyres and even the overdraft!  Less well-known perhaps is Scotland’s contribution to the creation of a more sustainable world.

  • 1827 – Scottish essayist and writer Thomas Carlyle introduces the word ‘environment’ to the world.
  • 1890 – The conservation work of Scottish-born John Muir in Yosemite in California leads him to be known as the ‘Father of National Parks’.
  • 1915 – Prominent Scottish thinker, town planner and environmentalist, Patrick Geddes, introduces the concepts of ‘environmental sustainability’ and ‘thinking global, acting local’.
  • 1992 – Professor John Smyth co-writes the education chapter of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit).
  • 1999 – Opening of new Scottish Parliament. Emergence of a policy agenda building on the work of many of the great thinkers above leading to Land Reform and Naional Parks Acts, etc.
  • 2005 – The Governments of Scotland and Malawi sign a Cooperation Agreement, leading to a decade of reciprocal exchange and partnership working on education, health, agriculture and renewable energy.
  • 2009 – Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 becomes the most ambitious legislation of its kind in the world setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
  • 2013 – Scotland becomes the first nation to join the Circular Economy 100 Group. It also becomes one of the world’s first Fair Trade Nations – second only to Wales.
  • 2014 – Scotland becomes the first nation to embed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and learning for sustainability in its professional standards for education practitioners.
  • 2014 – Voting is extended to sixteen year-olds to allow them to participate in the Referendum on Scottish Independence.
  • 2015 – Scotland is the first nation to commit to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • 2016 – The Foundation for Environmental Education recognises the success of the Eco-Schools Scotland programme by awarding Scotland the status of the best country in the world for sustainable development education and environmental education.

This is, of course, a record to shout about, but you cannot help but note the shift over time from the achievements of Scots (as individuals) to those of the Scottish government (as an institution).  Are there no great (in a sustainability sense) individual Scots any more?  Or are the sort of people who draw up such lists just likely to promote what government does?


More on those SDG learning objectives

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote back in January about the zillions (actually 255) of learning objectives that UNESCO has dreamed up to go with the SDGs, and so it's good to see Ben Ballin commenting on them on an NAEE blog the other day: A catechism for sustainability? The UNESCO Learning Objectives.

Ben comments:

 "It is no doubt a laudable achievement to create fifteen learning objectives for each of the seventeen goals: that’s a very productive 255 learning objectives in total.  ... On top of the learning objectives for each goal, there are extensive lists of suggested topics, learning approaches and methods.  At this point, I start to lose count (and quite possibly the will to live).  Categorising all those objectives in such a tidy manner must have taken a vast amount of work, involving many embattled hours around the international conference table, a forest of post-its and many carefully-considered words in many languages. The process probably had great value for those involved and such a learning processes is not to be sniffed at.   But what about the rest of us?  How useful is it to us?"

What indeed.  Ben's post ends on a qualified positive note:

"...  this is a flawed report that overlays the existing demands on teachers and schools with many further demands.  It is perhaps symptomatic of what happens when committees and conferences decide what is best for the rest of us.  It is not, however, without its uses: not least of these is to serve as a reminder of where our time and energy might more productively spent if we are to really build on the excellent work that already exists."

It seems clear, however, that whatever innovation actually takes place on the ground with real children will be as a result of teacher enterprise and not this dirigiste stuff that UNESCO so likes which is an admission that it doesn't much trust teachers to think for themselves.


More on the World We'll Leave Behind

📥  New Publications

As you know, The World We'll Leave Behind is the new book that Paul Vare and I have written for Routledge / Greenleaf which they will publish in February.

There are 55 self-contained chapters, typically around 1000 words.  Each one focuses on a key idea setting out its essence and showing its connections to other ideas.  These are presented in three sections: issues concepts, and strategies.  Inevitably, however, the distinction between these is not always clear-cut because one thing is inevitably connected to another; usually to many others.

[i] Issues – These are the real challenges we now face because of our own past and present activities. 

Many of these are problems we have created in the biosphere by how we have acted.  These include: warming the atmosphere and ocean, depleting the ozone in the stratosphere, making the seas more acidic, polluting the air and sources of fresh water, destroying habitats and eco-systems, reducing biodiversity and driving species to near extinction, and, of course, rapid climate change.  They also include the consequences of these actions, such as food scarcity and famine, and the plight of refugees.  But some of the challenges are different.  These are the problems that we have created by how we think about other people, for example, inequality, gender disparity, discrimination, and the lack of environmental justice which are, in turn, related to issues of economic growth and the global human population.

[ii] Concepts – These are the ideas and mental frameworks that we use us to think about and understand these challenges. 

Some of these are about understanding nature and the biosphere, ideas such as biodiversity and phenomena such as the greenhouse effect, and the idea of the Earth as a living organism: Gaia.  Some are concerned with how we think about the relationships between humanity and the biosphere, for example, the Anthropocene, systems thinking, harmony, complexity and resilience.  Others are about the ideas we have developed to explain what has gone wrong, and what we might do to improve matters, such as sustainable development and its 17 global goals, and how such ideas are framed.  Some are about notions such as globalisation and neoliberalism that concern the politics of global commerce.

[iii] Strategies – These are the means through which such challenges might be addressed and possibly resolved or overcome.

Some of these are things that governments can do, through policies, legislation, and formal education programmes.  Some are social, such as the transition movement, and are led by ordinary people, and some arise from international agencies and global charities, for example, the sustainable development goals and the Earth Charter, the protection of endangered species, and the identification of protected areas for wildlife.  Some are what business can initiate, for example, the circular economy and carbon capture and storage.  Alongside these practical strategies, there are also particular ways of thinking and approaching problems, for example, through biomimicry and rewilding.

We have written the book for anyone who has an interest in the environmental and social challenges facing humanity today.  For anyone who would like to have a brief introduction to these challenges, the ideas that help explain them and some of the possible strategies for addressing them.  We don't set out to provide an in-depth account of the problems facing us, or a deep historical perspective on their development.  Neither is this a toolkit, self-help book or a set of instructions for good living.  Books about environmental and social sustainability with these purposes already exist.  Rather, we set out to summarise ideas in a way that will help people join in the public and political debate, and think about the state of the world that we shall all leave behind.


The World We'll Leave Behind

📥  New Publications

The World We'll Leave Behind: Grasping the Sustainability Challenge is a new book that Paul Vare and I have written for Routledge / Greenleaf.

Here's the synopsis:

It is now clear that human activity has influenced how the biosphere supports life on Earth, and given rise to a set of connected environmental and social problems. In response to the challenge that these problems present, a series of international conferences and summits led to discussions of sustainable development and the core dilemma of our time: How can we all live well, now and in the future, without compromising the ability of the planet to enable us all to live well?

This book identifies the main issues and challenges we now face; it explains the ideas that underpin them and their inter-connection, and discusses a range of strategies through which they might be addressed and possibly resolved. These cover things that governments might do, what businesses and large organizations can contribute, and the scope for individuals, families and communities to get involved. This book is for everyone who cares about such challenges, and wants to know more about them.

Publication is in February 2018, but you can pre-order now!


Al's new movie

📥  Comment, New Publications

I hope Al G's new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: truth to power is better than the original.  I certainly trust that it doesn't contain as many errors as the first – errors that led a UK judge to force the DfE to issue guidance to schools which was very inconvenient for all concerned.  You'll recall (maybe – it was a long time ago in 2007) that the various UK governments had sent the film to all secondary schools in the country so that students could see it.

There seems little danger of that happening this time around, so maybe the high court won't be troubled.  I see, however, that reviews are beginning to circulate with some of Al's interpretation of data being challenged yet again.

I saw the first film and was underwhelmed, but it was before the Blog and I can't find what I wrote, although I remember finding it hectoring and too apocalyptic for my delicate tastes.  I've watched the new film's trailer and it does look like more of the same – with Al still jetting round the planet, giving stirring speeches and doling out moral instruction.  Where have all the flowers gone? came to mind.


Mentioned in despatches by UNESCO

📥  Comment, New Publications

I see that Paul Vare and I have been mentioned “in despatches” [*] by UNESCO in its SDG Learning Objectives.  It is, of course, always nice to have your work noticed.

The report begins:

"Education is UNESCO’s top priority because it is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development. UNESCO is the United Nations’ specialized agency for education and the Education Sector provides global and regional leadership in education, strengthens national education systems and responds to contemporary global challenges through education with a special focus on gender equality and Africa.

UNESCO, as the United Nations’ specialised agency for education, is entrusted to lead and coordinate the Education 2030 Agenda, which is part of a global movement to eradicate poverty through 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Education, essential to achieve all of these goals, has its own dedicated Goal 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The Education 2030 Framework for Action provides guidance for the implementation of this ambitious goal and commitments."

In this, I particularly noted: "Education, [is] essential to achieve all of these goals, ...".  This is obviously the case, particularly in the sense of "inclusive and equitable quality education [to] promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" (see above).  However, as this sort of education has been complicit in getting us into the mess we're in (as others have argued many times before), this isn't enough.  Perhaps the Foreword would acknowledge this, I wondered.  Here it is, written by Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education:

UNESCO has been promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) since 1992.  It led the UN Decade for ESD from 2005 to 2014 and is now spearheading its follow-up, the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD.

The momentum for ESD has never been stronger.  Global issues – such as climate change – urgently require a shift in our lifestyles and a transformation of the way we think and act.  To achieve this change, we need new skills, values and attitudes that lead to more sustainable societies.

Education systems must respond to this pressing need by defining relevant learning objectives and learning contents, introducing pedagogies that empower learners, and urging their institutions to include sustainability principles in their management structures.

The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly reflects this vision of the importance of an appropriate educational response.   Education is explicitly formulated as a stand-alone goal – Sustainable Development Goal 4.  Numerous education related targets and indicators are also contained within other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Education is both a goal in itself and a means for attaining all the other SDGs. It is not only an integral part of sustainable development, but also a key enabler for it.  That is why education represents an essential strategy in the pursuit of the SDGs.

This publication is designed as a guide for education professionals on the use of ESD in learning for the SDGs, and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.  The guide identifies indicative learning objectives and suggests topics and learning activities for each SDG.  It also presents implementation methods at different levels, from course design to national strategies.

The guide does not aim to be prescriptive in any way, but to provide guidance and suggestions that educators can select and adapt to fit concrete learning contexts.

I am confident that this guide will help to develop sustainability competencies for all learners and empower everyone to contribute to achieving our ambitious and crucial global agenda.

Well, up to a point.  The first thing to note is that this is all about ESD which wasn't mentioned in what went before.  There, it was 'education' which was stressed.  But then, the report is all about ESD, and the title perhaps ought (more honestly) to have been ESD learning objectives.  It's understandable, of course, that UNESCO has hitched its broken-down ESD wagon to the more resilient and sprightly SDG horse.  However, whether anyone will take any notice as it trundles its way through the streets is a moot point.

UNESCO did at least resist writing "The momentum of ESD has never been stronger".  In that, it knows the truth of the matter.  How bitterly it must regret all the waste of time and effort over 15 years when it could have been focusing, from 2003, on reforming education itself as a part of Education For All [EFA].  Whatever happened to that idea?

More later, no doubt, on those tedious learning objectives themselves.


[*]   Vare, P. and Scott, W., 2007. Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship between Education and Sustainable Development.  Journal of Education for Sustainable Development. 1(2), 191– 198.


A mini blast from the past

📥  Comment, New Publications

An email from Routledge the other day telling me that one of my papers (Scott, Reid and Gough) from 2002 had suddenly been published on-line in Planet.

This is the Abstract:

This paper derives from a contribution we made to the Council for Environmental Education’s submission to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2002), and reviews educational activities in response to Agenda 21 (Chapter 36 on Promoting Education, Public Awareness and Training).  Exemplars relating to policy, programmes and strategy are illustrated, alongside a commentary on their effectiveness and strategic value. We conclude that there is now a priority need for integrated and integrative leadership, both within and across sectors, which synthesises existing knowledge and good practice, and makes them available to ongoing initiatives. 

Agenda 21; CEE; ... Happy days.


You can see the contents of Planet Vol 1 here.


Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education

📥  Comment, New Publications

Palgrave MacMillan has announced a new edited book by Jickling and Sterling.  Its title is:

Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education Remaking Education for the Future (although I think there should be a colon somewhere here).

The publishers say:

This book provides a critique of over two decades of sustained effort to infuse educational systems with education for sustainable development. Taking to heart the idea that deconstruction is a prelude to reconstruction, this critique leads to discussions about how education can be remade, and respond to the educational imperatives of our time, particularly as they relate to ecological crises and human-nature relationships. The book might, thus, serve as an introductory reader for remaking 21st Century education. It will be of great interest to students and researchers of sociology, education, philosophy and environmental issues.

This is what pre-publication reviewers have had to say:

  • 'Raises necessary radical answers to questions emerging from the Community of Life: How can we correct the suicidal path of the neoliberal cultural ethos?'
  • 'Pushes us to consider the future of education.'
  • 'An essential book for those seeking to transgress and disrupt the structures and forces pushing us all towards extinction.'
  • 'Reaffirms what can be gained when we reconnect our educational practices to our deepest purposes and principles.'
  • 'Encourages us to develop education models that awaken a more sensitive and caring human spirit, and guide us to look back at the essence of life.'

I think some scepticism is due.



The value of fieldwork

📥  Comment, New Publications

I was pleased to see Alan Kinder's blog for NAEE the other day: The contribution of fieldwork to geography education.  As the Chief Executive of The Geographical Association, Alan knows a lot about this subject.  He was arguing against the popular view that  fieldwork is ‘only about skills’.  Unfortunately, as he noted, that view is held by Ofqual, the qualifications regulator.  As such, it has consequences.

I'm going to quote his main argument:

"Rather, I suggest that fieldwork involves and develops the act of observing and asking questions of and in the real world and that this provides a unique and essential learning experience for young people.  It develops investigative skills, careful observation and primary (first-hand) data collection in distinctive and important ways.  But this experience isn’t simply a skill, or a technical procedure.  Fieldwork investigation gives young people experience of the complexity of a real world location and invites them to both appreciate and begin to make sense of its complexity, or ‘messiness’.  Doing so helps them to appreciate that the ‘theoretical’ world of the textbook and their own investigative research is partial and limited.  This seems to me to be a critical insight into the nature of geography, of geographical knowledge and the process of becoming a geographer: we do geography fieldwork because direct observation is an essential, rewarding but challenging part of creating valid knowledge about the world.  I am drawing on a very long tradition of thinking here: in the 13th Century the English philosopher Roger Bacon asserted that both ‘Experimentum’ and ‘Argumentum’ were necessary ingredients to understanding phenomena fully; the 18th Century writer Goethe concluded that understanding also affects observation (‘we only see what we know’) and more recently, Alex Standish of the UCL Institute of Education has suggested that fieldwork helps pupils to understand that their agency is involved in gaining knowledge – that it doesn’t just ‘drop out of a textbook’."

Well said, and the very best fieldwork that I have seen over the years has illustrated this.  I still remember being on Dartmoor with my PGCE students and a school group in the 1980s – we were all in the excellent hands of FSC tutors.  The only quibble I have with Alan Kinder's argument is that it could well have been titled: 'The contribution of fieldwork to a young person's education'.  The contribution of geography is undeniable, but other subjects have a role as well.  It would be good to see these distinctive (and overlapping) contributions laid out.

As a postscript, I should say how very good it was to see these arguments set out without recourse to the increasingly meaningless phrase 'outdoor learning'.


Work on the Wild Side – a review

📥  Comment, New Publications

Work on the Wild Side: Outdoor Learning and Schools is a notdeadfish report by Tash Niman and Anita Kerwin-Nye, in partnership with the English Outdoor Learning Council, the Institute for Outdoor Learning, the Association of Heads of Outdoor Learning Centres, Learning Away, and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.  Notdeadfish is a social change consultancy and you can download the report here.

The report aims to demonstrate that those schools (that by any measure are leaders in the education system) place a high value on learning beyond the classroom.  It sets out to be a contribution to the debate about the best approaches to ensuring all children and young people have high quality outdoor learning and residential experiences.  This is what notdeadfish say about the report on their website:

"Work on the Wild Side attempts to debunk the myth that outdoor learning and residentials are not viable teaching mechanisms.  As accountability within schools increases and budgets decrease, it is easy to see how outdoor learning can slip down the agenda.  This notdeadfish report compiles the evidence demonstrating how schools across the country are using outdoor learning to improve children’s academic attainment and emotional well-being.  ...  We found that outdoor learning is valued amongst teachers, pupils, parents and inspectors and that the skills learnt outdoors are transferable to the classroom and across the academic spectrum."

The report begins with four assertions which are probably reasonably widely accepted by those who know about such things, although the 3rd one is obviously not shared by all "teachers, school leaders, parents", as the report clearly demonstrates.  The assertions are:

  1. that children and young people benefit from being outside has almost universal agreement.
  2. that not all children and young people are spending as much time outside as they should is also well evidenced.
  3. teachers, school leaders, parents and others with an interest in education generally support the principle that schools have a key role in ensuring that all children and young people benefit from being outdoors – from outdoor learning, to residentials away from home, to more time outside the classroom.
  4. at a time of restricted curricula, reduced school budget, high accountability frameworks and a context in which school leaders are hyper aware of ‘risk’, in every sense of the word, there is a justified fear that schools might deprioritise outdoor learning.

The approach was a novel one; it was [i] to take those UK primary and secondary schools with the highest Progress 8 scores, and the winners of the Pupil Premium Awards, and summarise what they said about residentials and outdoor learning in their external prospectuses and websites, and [ii] to look at what inspectors said about the same topic in their most recent Ofsted reports on schools they deemed to be outstanding.

The report is a useful summary of recent activity. For example:

"Recent research has found that outdoor learning has a positive impact both academically and personally. The GLA (2011) released findings stating that when children spent time in nature, there was an improvement in both mental health and scientific learning. These findings were replicated by Fuller, Powell and Fox (2016) who conducted a three-year project in which they found that visiting outdoor residential centres led to an increase in pupil’s confidence as well as academic improvement. The benefits are not restricted to individual development: research has found that outdoor learning impacts how pupils work and socialise with peers (Christie, Higgins & McLaughlin, 2014, Learning Away, 2015). Leaving the classroom not only benefits pupils, but teachers as well. Natural England (2016) found that outdoor learning had a positive impact on teaching delivery as well as their personal health and wellbeing.”

There are also extracts from York Consulting’s evaluation of Learning Away's #BrilliantResidentials campaign, recent Ofsted reports from schools it deems outstanding, and the final report from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project.  For example, their comments that Learning Away Residentials:

  •  improve students’ engagement with learning
  •  improve students’ knowledge, skills and understanding
  •  support students’ achievement
  •  foster deeper relationships
  •  improve students’ resilience, self-confidence and well-being
  •  boost cohesion and a sense of belonging
  • widen and develop teachers’ pedagogical skills

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residentials are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos.”

In a similar vein, Ofsted reports from schools deemed outstanding contain comments such as:

"An exceptional range of opportunities offered outside of the classroom are all well attended and highly valued by both pupils and parents."
"The curriculum includes numerous opportunities for pupils to learn beyond the school. Pupils participate in a broad range of trips which play a significant part in enriching the curriculum."

Examples of how 2016 premium funding award winners spent their funding on Outdoor Learning are also listed.  For example:

"The Pupil Premium funding has enabled year 5 and 6 pupils to attend an Outward Bound residential. It was noted that ‘The work of the (Outward Bound) Trust is well documented in a number of case-studies showing that for disadvantaged pupils, greater gains are made in academic learning when they are faced with new challenges in adventurous settings. The school applies such learning to the school environment e.g. developing growth mindsets which improves co-constructed learning and outcomes."

The bulk of the report consists of 4 tables showing: [i] the top 20 primary and high schools along with promotion of outdoor learning on school website; [ii] the top high (ie secondary) schools based on their progress 8 scores in 2016; [iii] extracts from 20 recent Ofsted reports on schools deemed outstanding; and [iv] the Pupil Premium Award Winners.

Of course, what all this really shows is that successful schools occasionally let their students escape from school; it does not show that this day-release into the community is why they are successful schools – nor does the report claim this.  It surely is the case, however, that good schools tend to be good for a range of reasons, and so it might be surprising if they didn't embrace outdoor learning, given what we know about its benefits.  It might also be the case that not-so-good schools also tend to be not-so-good for a range of reasons, and so it could be that they neglect outdoor learning, despite what they know about its benefits.  Or it could be that they embrace it just as much as good schools do – or that they embrace it not very successfully.  There are a lot of unknowns here, but this report sheds no light on them.

There are familiar claims in the report that outdoor learning experiences can have positive benefits on student learning and student enjoyment of school.  Well, who can doubt it?  However, as noted above, in a good school where there are so many sources of stimulus, it must be hard to pinpoint what experience is responsible for which bit of improvement.  This is probably why the report is number-free and you will no hard evidence to convince a hard-nosed, sceptical policy-maker who knows the value of statistics.  As such, there is much in here that we already knew about or suspected, but nothing really helpful.


Afterthought: The collaborators on this project included: the English Outdoor Learning Council, the Institute for Outdoor Learning, Learning Away, and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.  Isn't is absurd that all these outfits continue to exist as separate entities thereby diluting their effectiveness?  Time for mergers and acquisitions ...