News on the Sustainable Schools Alliance – and those doorways

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The latest edition of SEEd news contained a link to the Sustainable Schools Alliance [ SSA ] which is co-ordinated by SEEd.  Its membership is here, though I'm told this is out of date.

Much of its work is focused around the Sustainable Schools Framework which, you will recall, was something the previous government set up.  It had 8 'doorways'.  The framework was formally abandoned by the Coalition Government in 2010 – along with the rainbow motifs – but the SSA is keeping it alive, despite its being an inadequate way of framing sustainability in schools [ Note 1 ].

The SSA has added a 9th doorway – Biodiversity and Nature, and a recent SEEd blog gives more detail of this.  It includes this passage:

"When this government, through Michael Gove, dropped the [sustainable schools] initiative and support for it – we, as a sector were left to our own devices. Such was the interest that 300 organisations attended 4 stakeholder meetings in 2011 and 100 attended the launch.  It took another 2 years but we finally have found a model to make this work – the Sustainable Schools Alliance Board of 25 members ( a few places are left if you want to join this merry band!). The Board covers all aspects of sustainability, all approaches, all sizes of organisations and areas of England.  How do I know it is working?  People want longer meetings to network and work up other side collaborations, commit to actions, volunteer and make decisions decisively.  Do you know many networks like that?  And persistence and necessity has won the day.  Although I am also a great believer that you have to sow seeds ( sorry!) and then allow them to mature.  You also have to try to model collaboration and win trust – and that all takes time.  Especially since it is against the zeitgeist.  So do keep following the progress of the SSA – anyone can join, if you are a member of SEEd, we assume you are interested in the SSA. See what improvements based on the practice of the last 10 years are being introduced and what it can do for you."

Note 1

Here's a comment I made 6 years ago about the Sustainable Schools Framework and its troublesome doorways metaphor:

The DCSF's use of the doorway metaphor has meant that the language of its sustainable schools framework was already familiar to school leaders because it mapped squarely onto many recent policy foci; for example, healthy eating / citizenship / well-being / transport / energy / and social inclusion.  DCSF hoped that schools would see in the framework something of what they were already doing, and be encouraged to develop it further.  And the evidence (anecdotal at least) seems to be that this strategy has been effective in enabling schools to enter into thinking about sustainability and learning, sometimes for the first time.

That's what good doorways do, of course: they allow you to enter, but that's all they do.  Once you're inside, you don't usually then spend time looking back at the doorway.  So why do so many schools seem to be doing just that: reifying these 8 areas and building work around them?  This is not to argue that the doorway themes don’t matter, they do, but If you get the point about sustainability then the doorways have done their job. This is not something that DCSF seems fully to appreciate, given how much advice and guidance is couched in doorway terms.  For example:

  • "The Sustainable Schools strategy is made up of eight sustainability ‘doorways’.  Each plays a role in the curriculum and campus, but can also have a big impact on the whole community.  ... Each doorway may be approached individually, though schools will find that many of the doorways are actually interconnected."

Well, indeed they are.  They all are connected, and are merely access points into the life of the school as a whole.  They are convenient (and familiar) entrances onto the same space: the work and life of the school as a community – in its community.  This is a space that is both physical and cultural – and increasingly global.

The huge risk, however, is that too great a focus on the doorway metaphor can encourage a fragmented approach, and the presentation of a series of seemingly unrelated ideas.  Whilst it might encourage a coverage from a range of perspectives, this focus on doorways can militate against seeing connections, relationships, and consequences, and limit creativity.  All these are plausibly highlighted as essential qualities in ESD in Chris Gayford’s ... 3-year study of 15 schools for DCSF and WWF: learning-for-sustainability-from-the-pupils-perspective.

And once you've entered this space, and want to develop practice and understanding, you need the sort of help that the doorways (mere entrances, afterall) simply cannot provide: you need a way of thinking about sustainability in relation to education, schools, learning, and young people's lives, which means you need a way of thinking about sustainability itself; that is, you need a conceptual framework that is fit for purpose.

Has anyone seen a conceptual framework recently?


Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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