SD Indicators – no room for Education

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

In 2012, Defra proposed a new set of sustainable development indicators, intended to measure national progress on key economic, social and environmental issues over time and complement the National well-being measures published by the Office for National Statistics.  There was a public consultation period and inquiry held by the Environmental Audit Committee, which I commented on.

The final set of indicators has now been decided.  This report outlines the government response to some of the common themes emerging from the consultation responses, grouped into

  • issues relating to the structure of the indicator set,
  • its presentation, and
  • specific issues raised regarding the scope and content of the indicators.

The final list of Headline Indicators is set out below, and further detail about them will be provided in a report to be published this week.


Economic prosperity – GDP, GDP per head, equivalised median income (before housing costs)

Long term unemployment – Percentage of people in unemployment for over 12 months by age group

Poverty – Proportion of children in relative poverty (before housing costs) & Proportion of children in absolute poverty (before housing costs)

Knowledge & skills – Human Capital (£) by age group


Life expectancy – Healthy life expectancy at birth

Social capital – [i] Civic participation: The proportion of people engaging in actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern at least once a year. [ii] Social networks/social support: The proportion of people who have a spouse, family member or friend to rely on if they have a serious problem.  [iii] Social participation: The proportion of people who volunteered more than once a year.  [iv] Trust: The proportion of people agreeing that many of the people in their neighbourhood can be trusted

Social mobility in adulthood – Proportion of working-age population employed in managerial or professional positions by social background

Housing provision – Net additional housing stock


Greenhouse gas emissions – Greenhouse gases generated within the UK and Greenhouse gases from UK consumption.

Natural resource use – Raw material consumption in non-construction and construction sectors

Wildlife & biodiversity – Bird population indices – a) farmland birds, (b) woodland birds, (c) seabirds and (d) water and wetland birds

Water availability and use – Abstractions from non-tidal surface waters and ground waters

There are also a set of supplementary indicators, but there is no mention of education or learning in all of this.  It does look as if Defra has given up on the unequal struggle to square the circle, despite all the advice it received.  So, here's my two suggestions for future consideration:

1. The proportion of educational institutions that have developed (and monitor) their own SD indicator  [ NB, this is really Paul Vare's suggestion ]

2. The proportion of completed PhD studies that have a sustainability / SD focus.

[i] would not be easy to measure, though it's not impossible; and [2] would need some agreement about what's to count as sustainability / SD, which many will resist.  But, hey!

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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