The EAC nudges Mr Gove on the UN and ESD

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Last month SEEd organised a letter to Michael Gove.  This is a response from Joan Walley, MP, Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) ...

To the Signatories of the ‘Keep Sustainability in the National Curriculum Objectives’ petition,

Thank you for expressing your support for the inclusion of sustainable development in the national curriculum.  I agree with you about the importance of sustainable development and I thought you might be interested to know that the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Select Committee, which I Chair, has recently published a report which touches on many of these issues. Our Committee’s report makes a number of recommendations for improving how sustainability is taught in schools.

For example, we urge the Government to encourage schools to become ‘sustainable schools’ that promote learning through practical activities and call on the Government to make it clear to schools how sustainable development can best be incorporated into learning plans.  Embedding sustainable development education in this way would greatly improve the UK’s ability to live sustainably in the future and help ensure pupils have the skills they need to compete in a new green economy.

These recommendations were included as part of a wider report into the Outcomes of the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit, and you can read the report here.

Whilst I will continue to work hard in Parliament to make the case for sustainable development, I urge you all to do everything you can to press for this too.  I would particularly encourage you to write to your local MP telling them why you think sustainable development is important and asking them to support sustainable policies in parliament. You can find out who you local MP is here by clicking here.  Thanks once again for your efforts on this issue and please do continue keep up the pressure, it is only by working together that we can achieve real change.

Yours sincerely,
Joan Walley MP Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee

The Rt Hon Joan Walley MP

It's very good to have this, though whether government is best placed to make it clear to schools how sustainable development can be incorporated into learning plans, is a moot point, as it's grip on pedagogy is tenuous at best.  Certainly, the current government isn't – though the last one made a reasonable fist of it, with few resources (although they did manage to ignore biodiversity as a key idea).

Personally, I think that teacher organisations (think GA, ASE. DATA, ...) need to do much more, and do it together.  Then there are the Exam Boards with their uniquely-placed influence on what schools take seriously.  Here, there already are stirrings there, but it's time for more of a breeze, perhaps.  I'm also expecting more from the Sustainable Schools Alliance, the Untidy Britain's newly-managed Eco-schools programme, SEEd, and NAEE.


What follows is the relevant part of the EAC report.  NB, the bold text is in the original; the italic text and the indentation I have added; bracketed para numbers and citation references are to the original.  Confusingly, perhaps, bold italic text is the EAC's original emphasis.  Sorry!


50.  The Rio+20 conclusions document included a clear commitment to build sustainable development into education:

We recognise that the younger generations are the custodians of the future, as well as the need for better quality and access to education beyond the primary level. We therefore resolve to improve the capacity of our education systems to prepare people to pursue sustainable development, including through enhanced teacher training, the development of curricula around sustainability, the development of training programmes that prepare students for careers in fields related to sustainability, and more effective use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning outcomes. We call for enhanced cooperation among schools, communities and authorities in efforts to promote access to quality education at all levels. [95] ...

We resolve to promote Education for Sustainable Development and to integrate sustainable development more actively into education beyond the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). [96]

51.  Our predecessor Committee examined this area in 2003 [97] and 2005, [98] focussing on the profile of sustainable development in the school curriculum. Their 2005 report criticised the fact that the then recent national curriculum review had not included education for sustainable development despite an earlier official working group having identified it as a key requirement. The Government is now in the process of setting a new national curriculum. It has received input from an expert panel which recommended that the school curriculum should contribute strongly to environmental stewardship, and that in addition to four existing 'Aims' of the school curriculum (around economic, cultural, social and personal education) a fifth should be added: "To promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally". [99] And the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) has discussed how sustainable development should be taken toward in those education sectors.

52.  A Government submission to an EAUC education conference in November 2012 suggested, however, that explicitly adding sustainability requirements would be contrary to its current approach to education reform:

The Government is fully committed to sustainable development and the importance of preparing young people for the future. Our approach to reform is based on the belief that schools perform better when they take responsibility for their own improvement. We want schools to make their own judgments on how sustainable development should be reflected in their ethos, day to day operations and through education for sustainable development. Those judgments should be based on sound knowledge and local needs… [100]

And when the Government published for consultation [101] its proposals for a draft framework for a new national curriculum for primary and secondary schools in February 2013, [102] it stated simply that the aim of the curriculum was to "provide pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement." [103]

53.  The draft curriculum framework applies only to mainstream schools, not to academies or free schools. The framework outlined programmes of study for the 'core subjects' of English, maths and science, as well for nine 'foundation subjects'. These include 'citizenship', which in "prepar[ing] pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens" could have provided a platform for study of sustainable development issues. Instead, however, it deals only with democracy, government structures, the rule of law, volunteering and "providing [pupils] with the skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions". [104]

54.  The curriculum leaves individual schools able to formulate their own learning programmes which could include sustainable development. Academies and free schools will have even greater latitude to make their own learning plans. On the other hand, all schools are able to set themselves up as 'sustainable schools' which, as the Department for Education notes, "engage young people in their learning, thereby improving motivation and behaviour and also promote healthy school environments and lifestyles". [105]

55.  Education for sustainable development is vital in developing countries faced with the effects of climate change and natural resource constraints.  But it is also important that here in the UK future generations, including future leaders, fully understand the necessity of sustainable development, to put us on a sustainable footing and to provide the skills needed for a green economy.  That requires a foundation of education and training that reflects an understanding of sustainable development at all stages, from primary schools through to apprentice colleges and universities.  The proposed new national curriculum allows schools to set their own priorities for study, and we hope that all schools will wish to develop sustainable development learning.

The Government should remind schools of the scope for addressing sustainable development in their learning plans and encourage them to set themselves up as 'sustainable schools' to promote such learning through the practical activities that that entails.  The Government should also encourage schools to impart an understanding of the UN and other international bodies that are charged with setting out a sustainable development path.

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