Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

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.



A greener Gove?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Politics aside, as a blogger I'm very pleased to see Mr Gove back in government; it's been dull without his wit 'n' wisdom to entertain 'n' enlighten us.  That he's gone to Defra add spice to the mix.  I see that the first outcome of all this shuffling is a rebuttal of accusations about Mr G, climate change and the national curriculum.  This is what the Times said yesterday:

"Michael Gove’s first act as environment secretary was to issue a denial yesterday that he had ever intended to remove climate change from the national curriculum.  The Green Party had said he was “entirely unfit” for the brief because of his “attempt to wipe the subject from our children’s curriculum”.  This was a reference to claims in 2013 that Mr Gove, when education secretary, had removed climate change from a draft of the updated geography syllabus.  Mr Gove authorised officials to point yesterday to a strongly worded rebuttal issued by the Department for Education at the time."

And this is what the Guardian said 3 years ago:

"Climate change will stay on geography syllabus after lobbying from energy secretary Ed Davey.  Michael Gove, the education secretary, wanted to remove climate change as part of a drive to slim down the national curriculum.  Michael Gove has abandoned plans to drop climate change from the geography national curriculum.  The education secretary's decision represents a victory for Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, who has waged a sustained battle in Whitehall to ensure the topic's retention.  The move to omit it from the new curriculum took on a symbolic status.  Gove insisted it was part of his drive to slim an unwieldy curriculum down, to give teachers greater freedom to show their initiative.  It was claimed that climate change would appear under science.  But environmentalists and science teachers claimed the omission would downgrade the topic and make its existence a matter of greater dispute."

As I said: never a dull moment.


Coal and the Arctic

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There seems little doubt that, were there coal deposits in the Arctic, the bucaneering White House would be issuing executive orders allowing their exploitation.  This would be timely, of course, as the Arctic is increasingly ice-free.  And why is it becoming ice-free?  Would that have anything to do with burning coal do you suppose?   (and oil / gas / peat / wood / biomass / ...?).  Not if you're a climate change denier, of course.  For the record, offshore drilling in the USA's Arctic region was (more or less) totally banned in December 2016 to protect ecosystems, and western Oil companies have been withdrawing from exploration because of high costs and potentially low returns.

There's an article in a recent Economist which seems required reading for those of a denier mentality – as well as for educators looking for up-to-date info.  It here and its title is: "Skating on thin ice; the thawing Arctic threatens an environmental catastrophe".

There's a related article on how all this affects the weather.  This is of particular interest to those of us in the UK who're on the receiving end of the Atlantic's antics on a daily basis.





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'.


Nudge, Nudge

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Do you ever wonder what became of nudge theory; you know, the idea that we can be helped to make the right decisions.  It's alive and thriving, it seems according to a recent Economist article whose full title is:

Nudge comes to shove – Policymakers around the world are embracing behavioural science – An experimental, iterative, data-driven approach is gaining ground

This begins:

IN 2013 thousands of school pupils in England received a letter from a student named Ben at the University of Bristol. The recipients had just gained good marks in their GCSEs, exams normally taken at age 16. But they attended schools where few pupils progressed to university at age 18, and those that did were likely to go to their nearest one. That suggested the schools were poor at nurturing aspiration. In his letter Ben explained that employers cared about the reputation of the university a job applicant has attended. He pointed out that top universities can be a cheaper option for poorer pupils, because they give more financial aid. He added that he had not known these facts at the recipient’s age.

The letters had the effect that was hoped for. A study published in March found that after leaving school, the students who received both Ben’s letter and another, similar one some months later were more likely to be at a prestigious university than those who received just one of the letters, and more likely again than those who received none. For each extra student in a better university, the initiative cost just £45 ($58), much less than universities’ own attempts to broaden their intake. And the approach was less heavy-handed than imposing quotas for poorer pupils, an option previous governments had considered. The education department is considering rolling out the scheme.

It will be a surprise to many that nudging is happening across so many aspects of our lives, although it has to be said that there is still considerable dispute about just how effective some of it is.


OECD Education meeting in Lisbon

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Todays guest blog is by Quinn Runkle, the NUS Senior Project Officer for Communities and Curriculum.  Quinn writes:

The recent OECD Education meeting in Lisbon was both fascinating and impactful.  My initial reflections are:

The working group’s focus is Education 2030 and is split into two phases:

  • 2015-2018: developing a “learning and curriculum framework” around a metaphor of a compass
  • 2018-2020: putting this into practice

The NUS work on ESD aligns perfectly with the way the OECD is talking about knowledge, skills, attributes, and values.  The OECD is framing this all under the banner of “individual and collective wellbeing”.  I was really pleasantly surprised by the OECD’s move away from economic growth as a measure of success and they regularly talked about this as a core shift within how they think about education.

The three big themes of discussion were: values in the curriculum, the issue of curriculum overload, and student agency

1. Values

We discussed the difference between attributes/attitudes/values at length – particularly highlighting:

  • Values are perhaps something which is “caught not taught” – e.g. the things you pick up on through the hidden/subliminal curriculum vs being explicitly taught a lesson in X
  • Attitudes can (and should) change with the presentation of compelling facts/life experiences whereas values are deeper set and are more likely to remain unchanged and so education can focus on strengthening/bringing out/fostering those values and strengthening students’ abilities to articulate their own values and why they hold them
  • Around values in the curriculum generally: it is naïve to say that any curriculum is free from values or is neutral so being purposeful about the values we embed in the curriculum is simply good practice
  • Another speaker presented what they called the “Four C's for 21st century education”: Critical thinking   Communication Creativity Collaboration
  • Some examples of values in the curriculum: – Singapore: respect, resilience, responsibility, and harmony.  Scotland: wisdom, justice, compassion, and integrity

I loved this quote from a student from Korea: "Embedding values in the curriculum is easy: just stop lecturing and give us real-world problems to solve, that will make values come true."

2. Curriculum overload

On “curriculum overload” there was a strong consensus that if educators move away from content-heavy, knowledge-focused, and discipline-focused education towards equipping students with the skills, attributes, and values to understand, critique, access, and strive out new knowledge in the future then you are able to tighten the curriculum, rather than pressure educators to include more.  This linked to a wider discussion on the purpose of education – is it to prepare young people to be good citizens of the world, to be employable in an age of AI, or to become a holistic, well-rounded person (all of these at once?).

The OECD line is to “create the future we want” which I find remarkably vague – what does that future look like? I fed this into the discussions.

3. Student Agency

The third big theme was around student agency – specifically looking at how we not only create the structures and spaces for student voice to flourish but also (critically) equipping students with the ability to act with agency (esp. relevant in some cultural/socioeconomic contexts where students/young people speaking up is not the norm nor encouraged).   Great example of this pedagogy in practice coming from School21 – a secondary school in East London which focuses on oracy as a core skills for the 21st century.  The presenter has a great line about students needing to learn the ability to express their views and opinions in the same way that we would teach numeracy or literacy – it’s a non-negotiable skill to learn in education.

Linked to this was an idea of “intelligent disobedience” – teaching students that it’s good to disobey when the impact of being agreeable is immoral/unethical/etc. (especially important for equipping students with the ability to stand up against unethical practices in their future professional roles).  There’s a real commitment to seeing students as co-creators and co-owners of their learning experience and the need for our pedagogy and practices to reflect this.  Interestingly, a theme of educator agency also came through strongly – the need for educators to feel able to take ownership of their classrooms and facilitate learning in new and dynamic ways.

Finally, lots around the importance of experiential, project-based, team-based, problem-solving focused learning as a means of increasing agency of students within the classroom but also enabling the development of the desired knowledge, skills, attributes, and values.


Quinn can be contacted at:



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 ...

Infinite growth, a finite environment, and the hereafter

📥  Comment, New Publications

Here's a link to a recent Ronald Rovers blog – The Growth Syndrome: a pyramid game.  In this he addresses issues of economic growth and the planet's ability to cope with that growth (and much more).  This is how it begins:

Richard Attenborough summarized it as follows: ”Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”  The addiction to profit and money making by economists has simularities with religion fanatics.  They are both afraid of the here and now, to live the life.  With one difference: the one tries to escape reality by exorbitant money making, and neglect the physical borders of the system, and the other, usually less wealthy, by adoring a life after, this way also neglecting the here and now.  The one supporting the other: the less wealthy, the underclass, accepts faith, that reward comes after life, the other forgets about life, while busy exploiting that belief.

However, its the planet that is the given reality, nothing else. In the triple bottom line, known as ‘people planet profit‘, people and profit are only added since both, people and profiteers are afraid to be confronted with the limits of the other, the planet.  They are looking for escapes, to avoid living up to the planets potential, and add profit (-economy) to feel they have the idea that there is something to decide, that there are several ways out.  But there ain’t.  The economy has no relation whatsoever with the physical process in time: Everything depletes, increases entropy, and the only influence/option man has, is to speed it up or to slow it down.  But in the belief that reward is only after life. And economy so far has proved to speed it up. I am sorry but there is no other conclusion.  The ‘holey trinity ‘, is a trinity of PPP , or ‘triple bottom line’, is one in which people are caught between two ‘fires’: Planet and Profit. Burned by the climate or roasted by the profiteers.  As such it can be seen as creating hell on earth, which makes the wish for heaven afterwards more understandable. ...

There's much here to provoke in every sense, particularly in the current dark days.


The Paris Discord and Lignite Angst

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was never much enthused by the Paris Agreement; too much hype and hope as opposed to proper targets and legal enforcement.  It was, of course, the best deal on offer at the time.

Now that the US government has walked away, this should not mean the end of the US involvement.  This is a chance for American business — I'm calling it InstantSpottyFaceMcGoogleColaTube — to step forward and sign up for good of the planet (and their future revenues).  After all, as Bernie Sanders might have argued, why should the poor American taxpayer stump up when InstantSpottyFaceMcGoogleColaTube already has their money?

The only people to really enjoy the US withdrawal were the EU's 32 presidents.  Did you see them?  They could hardly contain their glee at the chance for another bit of grandstanding and sanctimonious Trump-bashing.  One of the benefits of a hard Brexit (maybe the only one) will be end of having to listen to smug Germans lecturing us about the evils of carbon while they burn mega-tonnes of dirty brown coal (lignite).  This, in 2015, contributed more than solar and wind combined to the country's electricity supply.  See for the current position.


A curriculum for equality?

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

Thinking of Ofsted this week, and the lack of a focus on curriculum in the current election, I remembered it was not always like this.  I can recall when discussions on the curriculum in England – in which HMI played a strong hand – were both (to coin a phrase) rich and deep.  And relatively recently, one of Blair's many governments had an interest in such matters.  This, however, did not always have positive outcomes, and HMI played no role, as they'd long been wrapped up in Ofsted's conformity blanket.

I was also reminded of this at the weekend when the BBC website ran a feature on the Finn's attempts to "drag" education into "the digital age" – and maybe also to boost their flagging PISA scores.  There, subjects it seems may be on the wane to be replaced, in part at least, by themes such as climate change,  immigration and the Romans.  The BBC notes:

"Now it is rethinking how it teaches in the digital age - seeking to place skills, as much as subjects, at the heart of what it does ... ."

Oh dear, I thought: skills!  The BBC continued:

"In August 2016 it became compulsory for every Finnish school to teach in a more collaborative way; to allow students to choose a topic relevant to them and base subjects around it.  Making innovative use of technology and sources outside the school, such as experts and museums, is a key part of it.  The aim of this way of teaching - known as project- or phenomenon-based learning (PBL) - is to equip children with skills necessary to flourish in the 21st Century, says Kirsti Lonka, a professor of educational psychology at Helsinki University.  Among the skills she singles out are critical thinking to identify fake news and avoid cyber-bullying, and the technical ability to install anti-virus software and link up to a printer."

As the BBC article makes clear, this isn't a wholesale abandoning of the idea of subjects (so far), and there are plenty of concerned voices saying, for example: [i] might not this disadvantage some students (and teachers)?  and [ii] what's the evidence that this sort of thing works?  The best responses to these questions seem to be: [i] 'of course' and [ii] 'no idea'.

I'll give the last word on this to Anneli Rautiainen of Finland's national agency for education who is quoted as saying:

"We are not too keen on metrics in this country overall so we are not planning to measure the success of it, at least not for now. We are hoping it will show in the learning outcomes of our children as well as in the international tables such as PISA."

This nonsense could have been said in Cardiff or Edinburgh whose similar reliance on wings and prayer is well documented.

All this then took my mind back to 2011, when I wrote the following after being at an event in Keele whose purpose was to address issues relating to effective teaching and learning, with particular reference to the curriculum.

The best talk by far was from Michael Young, whose input was based on a published paper.  His was a scholarly reflection on the idea of the school subject, and its importance from the point of view of equality.  Young argued that, although in a society such as ours, any curriculum is likely to be inequitable because of the nature of society, a curriculum based on concepts (ie, subjects), can be seen as a carrier of equality, as such a curriculum can treat everyone equally, unlike, say, a labour market.  In Young’s view subjects are the only basis we have as a curriculum for all.

Young said that the [then] forthcoming Gove curriculum is likely to be too dismissive of skills because it is, in part, a reaction to the last curriculum review (New Labour: 2008) which was dismissive of subjects and the formal conceptual knowledge they embody, and based too strongly on learner experience and knowledge which was seen as important as any other.  This was, said Young, more an instrument of politics, than of education.  Young stressed that a curriculum has to be about concepts that allow students to abstract from their own experience and personal knowledge and understandings, and argued that a curriculum that only emphasises experience and relevance lets down those who lack access to other knowledge at home; after all, he said, no one goes to schools to learn what they already know.  Young said that, whilst all knowledge is socially constructed, its truth is not dependent on its origins, and his view is that knowledge is best experienced through disciplines with boundary crossings (good teachers know how to do this).  Whilst the curriculum is not a given, and is open to change, an effective curriculum protects schools from passing and powerful social forces.  He reminded us that the subject-based curriculum was an enlightenment project.

I do hope Ofsted is aware of all this in its new curriculum review.  And is it too much to hope that the government after next Thursday will note that the effective consideration of issues such as sustainability depend on effective boundary crossings by teachers.