Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Meanwhile, something in Parliament stirs ...

📥  News and Updates

The Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Joan Walley MP, has launched an inquiry into how sustainable development can be further embedded in Government policy decision-making and operations.  As part of its inquiry, the Committee will examine latest sustainable development performance data across government departments.

The Committee is interested in receiving written evidence that looks at the following themes of the inquiry:

  • How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?
  • How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?
  • Was the SDC successful in fulfilling its remit? Which aspects of its work have reached a natural end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of particular continuing importance?

  • In formulating a future architecture for sustainable development in Government, how can it take on board wider developments and initiatives (eg to develop ‘sustainability reporting’ in departments’ accounts) and the contributions that other bodies might make (eg Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement)?
  • How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is ‘the greenest government ever’?

This looks, in part at least, an evaluation of the effectiveness of the SDC.  No mention of education, but that's no reason why it should not be mentioned to them.

 

Mappiness, mappiness; the greatest gift ...

📥  News and Updates

When I saw this in the latest SDRN mailing, I thought researchers have discovered what many already know: happiness through looking at, and using, maps.  Not so.  Read on, especially you iPhoners:

Researchers at the London School of Economics have created a new iPhone application intended to map happiness across the UK.  Researchers will beep users once a day to ask how users are feeling, and a few basic things to control for: who they are with, where they are, what they're doing.  This data gets sent back - anonymously and securely - to their data store, along with the user's approximate location from the iPhone's GPS, and a noise-level measure.  The researchers are keen to understand how people's feelings are affected by features of their current environment, including factors such as air pollution, noise and green spaces.

Just how happy you'll be at being beeped every day remains to be seen (sounds a bit like voluntary stalking).  I'm waiting for the movie.  More at  http://www.mappiness.org.uk

 

Recognising Plants – and their Rights

📥  Comment

A good conversation with a colleague yesterday about evaluation and learning, especially about plants.  Is it really enough if young people can recognise a few plants – and colour in their copybooks correctly?  Shouldn't we be seeking something more sophisticated – something more connected to their lives and to the Earth?  I thought of Naming of Parts and this obsession with trivial knowledge and labling.

All this took my mind to Plants Rights, and wondered if life has caught up with satire yet.  It has, as the always interesting treehugger.com confirms.  It reports that

the Swiss Government's Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology concludes that plants have rights, and we have to treat them appropriately. A majority of the panel concluded that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive".

I'd say that it's only a matter of time before a more militant wing  of the argument emerges, probably about equal opportunities.  There will likely be much talk of speciesism, nativeism and a call for non-discrimination around bio-geography and time: so what that a species has been here for millenia?  Such grandfather rights are always rent-seeking special pleading of one sort or another – the argument will go.  It will then turn to disability and quotas.  They may find a natural ally in Ofscoff.

 

The Sustainable Schools Strategy is Dead: long live …

📥  Comment, New Publications

It is widely reported that the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has now abandoned the department’s sustainable schools strategy and, hence, any active government promotion of, and support for, the idea and reality of sustainable schools.  I say “widely reported” because, although I have not seen any formal announcement, and the new DfE website says nothing about sustainability or ESD, everyone seems to think it’s fait accompli.  Evidence of this is the recent email petition from People and Planet where (young) people are urged to personalise the following message:

Dear Secretary of State for Education

School students are our future, and if we want a sustainable, low-carbon future we need the government to support schools in teaching these issues.  A truly green government would put sustainability teaching at the heart of its education strategy.

I call on you to:

  • ensure that the government creates the opportunities for all students to learn about sustainability issues
  • provide all schools with access to resources and education which supports them in becoming truly sustainable schools.

Yours

Clicking SEND speeds the message to Mr Gove’s inbox.  This isn’t bad as messages go, and certainly points up the contrast between this decision and the government’s claim to be the greenest ever, and an enthusiastic promoter of sustainable development.  Thus, it’s hard to think that the withdrawal is ideological.  So, perhaps it was simply finance-driven, in the sense that the able people within the sustainable schools unit can now be released for more important work, as the government sees it.

The sustainable schools strategy is a powerful one, not only because it has good ideas and is meaningful for schools, but also (and in large part) because it came from the DCSF.  It is unusual to find this happening, as education ministries around the world do tend to leave it to others.  In a review essay on sustainable schools, to be published in Environmental Education Research, I ended with this thought:

… it is appropriate and salutary to return to Mary Clark’s distinction between the dominant processes of moulding society to fit the status quo and its received wisdoms, and the enabling of a critique of beliefs and assumptions which aids the creation of new ways of thinking.  Whilst a small unit within the UK’s DCSF has been doing the latter, and doing it well within large resource constraints, the DCSF mainstream has been focused on the former, and it is this, almost bi-polar, climate within which sustainable schools are struggling to evolve.

Thus, one way of reading what Mr Gove seems to have done is as a return to letting Defra, NAEE, SE-Ed, etc speak for an education focusing on environmental integrity and ecosystem quality, and DfID, DEA, TIDE~, etc speak for an education focusing on international development, global citizenship and social justice.  However, whatever Mr Gove now decides to do, he cannot undo the fact that, for five years, the DCSF has stimulated the creative bringing together of these ideas across all aspects of what a school does.  The challenge for all of us who think this work is vital for all our (and others’) futures is to continue this work together.  In doing so, I hope the Secretary of State’s now unfunded, but very public, blessing will be ringing in our ears.

...............................

NB, This comment is to be published in the National Association for Environmental Education's journal: Environmental Education.

 

Sense & Sustainability revised

📥  New Publications

Ken Webster and Craig Johnson's challenging book (now revised) has been re-issued through the Ellen Macarthur Foundation as a free PDF.  Download it here.  Ken is now the Foundation's Head of Learning.

 

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

📥  News and Updates

Off to the launch of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation tonight.

The ambition of its education programme is striking:

Education at the Foundation revolves around sharing our enthusiasm for the bigger picture. It explores in particular the excitement around the circular economy, a rethinking and redesigning of production and consumption using insights from living systems.  Our work is focussed on the 14-19 curriculum, and informal education in the key areas of science, design, business / economics and careers.

I'm pleased to say that I have a bit part in this compelling and evolving drama.

To Sustainability and beyond: inspecting and reporting on progress in sustainable development

📥  Comment

This is the title of a new publication from Ofsted.   The document is commendably brief – and I note that its focus is on sustainability / sustainable development, not ESD, which probably explains some of the lack of emphasis on learning, and the lack of focus on the need to encourage and enable critical understanding.  Ofsted will, no doubt, say that this is implied in : "appropriate knowledge, skills, understanding and values to participate in decisions ... ", but it's only 'there' if you already know it should be.

Then there's "Sustainable development is the name given to the process of developing our society to move from where we are now to a state of sustainability"  as I don't know anyone who seriously believes in "a state of sustainability".  Just as golden ages never existed in the past, they cannot do so in the future.  In the same vein, we have: "Undertaking sustainable development and achieving sustainability".   Here "... and becoming more sustainable" would have been the better idea – or "... less unsustainable".  This conceptual misunderstanding is found throughout the document which is a pity as it may mislead (or confuse) some schools.  This sits oddly when compared to the Ofsted briefing for section 5 inspectors on sustainable development which has a more clearer understanding of  these ideas.

It is also a pity that the report isn't explicit about the opportunity for critical, open-minded / open-ended, student engagement  and learning that ALL the various school foci on sustainable development bring – with the need to integrate what happens across campus / community and curriculum, and the imperative of helping young people make sense of it all.  Again, I'm sure Ofsted will say that it's implied, but ... .   A missed opportunity.

Indicators Updated

📥  Comment

Defra has published a new update on how well we're doing in relation to sustainable development – as far as any indicators can tell us, that is.  The report, Measuring Progress: sustainable development indicators 2010, cover 68 indicators, one of which [ No. 47] is focused on education (actually, educational attainment).  Defra concludes that, compared with 1990 and 2004, things educational are looking up.  However, given that the main indicator is the proportion of 19 year olds with level 2 qualifications (at least 5 GCSE grades A* to C or NVQ level 2 or equivalent), this is hardly worth very much – save that, in a democracy,  it's always better to have an educated population than an ignorant one.  It would probably be worth more, of course, were more young people (and more often) able to engage critically with sustainability issues during their education than is currently the case.

There is another education indicator [No. 48].  This is Sustainable Development Education.   Under this, Defra notes:

It has not been possible to find a simple way of measuring progress on education for sustainable development.

Ongoing research by the UK National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural

Organisation), begun in 2008, indicates that evidence of sustainable development could be inferred from changes in three areas:  Policy – reviewing and re-orienting education policies, Programme and Practice – integration, leadership and building personal and social capacity, Personal and Social – developing understanding and skills.

Research evidence is increasing on what can be gained by improving education for sustainable development for children and

young people.

For each, evidence will continue to be sought by the UK National Commission throughout the UNESCO Decade of Education for

Sustainable Development.

That's it.  Maybe it's time to drop this indicator – or make it meaningful: the proportion of schools that have been awarded 2 green flags, perhaps.  Discuss ...

 

Dolly's Man says the Milk's ok

📥  Comment

Wednesday's Telegraph carried two short pieces on the cloned beef / milk debate from Lord Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director, and Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep.   Whilst both seem to agree that there are significant animal welfare issues inherent to cloning, they are wide apart on what research says about food safety issues.  Wilmut writes:

"... In order to make their assessment of the safety of food from cloned animals the U.S. regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, completed a detailed analysis of all of the cloned animals born in the USA before the time of their study in 2007.  Detailed independent analyses were made of the composition of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.  These measurements in clones were compared with measurement from genetically very similar animals raised on the same farms. They also took note of all of the relevant information available from other countries.  After extensive analyses, they concluded that they could find no difference between healthy cloned animals and genetically similar animals produced by normal reproduction.  ..."

He concludes:

"... This evidence, combined with our understanding about the basic biology of cloning, would support the conclusion that food from clones or their offspring is safe to eat.  ..."

Melchett, however, writes:

"... For human health, no evidence of danger is not the same as safe.  There’s been no long term safety testing of meat or milk from cloned cattle – if business interests get their way, there never will be.  ..."

This enthusiasm for research is to be welcomed.  But does it mean that the Soil Association will now be supporting (funding, even) independent studies into the safety of food from cloned animals?   I wonder.