But, just what is "a sustainable school"

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

A while back, The Guardian carried a brief feature titled: "A sustainable school succeeds".  It was a rehearsing of opportunities for institutions wishing to be a 'sustainable school', and was an endorsement of Eco-schools, SEEd, and the Sustainable Schools Alliance.

The piece included this:

"You are probably already halfway to creating a sustainable school if you do any of these: save energy; recycle; have a school garden; teach about societies less fortunate than ours; teach about climate change; or are registered with EcoSchools ... as 17,000 schools in the UK already are.  If so, you are ready for the next steps.

First, run an audit.  Auditing helps you build on your strengths and identify where you can add new projects.  ...

Second, transform the curriculum by asking new questions.  You can turn any topic into one that leads to sustainability competencies.  Ask what is the difference between "needs" and "wants".  What is the energy consumption of our homes?  Why do we have waste?  Who doesn't have waste?  What will the homes of the future look like?  Where do the materials for our homes come from?  These questions provoke critical thinking and help students understand change and interrelationships.

Next, engage the students with your local school curriculum in advance of the new national curriculum rollout.  This is your opportunity to embed sustainability into the timetable.  Turning the students on to lessons from their locality will not only engage the community with the school, it will also improve behaviour, attendance, and learning outcomes.  ... "

All positive stuff, though the "halfway" there point is surely wishful rhetoric.  Further, whilst having a focus on sustainability issues in what a school does is desirable, being a 'sustainable school' through what the school is, is a different thing.

Clearly, doing sustainability things is good, but not enough.  Something else is needed; that is, a framing of the whole institution and its vision within a set of values and value-informed practices, which give meaning to what that institution does – and is.  With this in place, all the separate activities (recycling, charitable good works, organic gardening, energy conservation, farmers' markets, fair trade purchasing, etc, etc), and associated curriculum activities would amount to more than their sum because of the coherence of vision, values and practice embodied within the institution and in what it does.   Without this calculus, the separate activities remain just that – separate.

This is something that Eco-schools has not yet understood, but I have hopes for SEEd / SSA.  However, judging by the Guardian piece, this is still work in progress.  What is on offer cannot lead to an institution's becoming a 'suatainable school' because an appropriate framework is nowhere in sight.  I say 'an', of course, because there are many possible ones.  One such is set out in: Scott W (2013) Developing the Sustainable School: thinking the issues through; The Curriculum Journal 24(2) 181 – 205




Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • Interesting comment and worth knowing that the 'sustainable school' vocabulary is still in use.