EE – perspectives from policy 2

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Here's a further comment on the new research on EE in secondary schools from King's College: Understanding Environmental Education in Secondary Schools – Report 1: The Policy Perspective


In their Introduction, the authors write:

"In seeking to analyse the state of environmental education in secondary schools, it is first necessary to state our own understanding of the discipline: we regard environmental education to be an opportunity that ‘seeks to develop an understanding of the relationships between human culture and our life support system, and emphasises environmental responsibility through social action and personal behaviour'."

This is a quote from The World We'll Leave Behind, and I'm grateful for the reference.  In the book, this passage comes after a reference to the seminal IUCN text, and the full quote is:

"The World Conservation Union described [EE] like this: “A process of recognising values and classifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture and his biophysical surroundings.”  It is clear from this that environmental education is not just about raising awareness of issues. It seeks to develop ... ."

The text quoted was our rewriting of the IUCN text in slightly less blousey language.  I still think this text has power, but there is a phrase in it which is important and which does not feature in the recommendations.  It is: "social action".  Unless that phrase (or some such) is partnered with "personal behaviour", it makes it seem as if the individual has to share most of this burden – a load no one can carry.


The authors then write (still on p.3) with helpful clarity:

"Environmental education has since been left to schools and subject teachers, primarily within geography and science, to decide how, when and if it should be taught.  With no formal requirement and accountability involved, environmental education in England has received little attention from curriculum developers, or academics concerned with formal schooling.  Whilst environmental education is no longer formally recognised, we assert that policy texts still play a part in shaping the quality and the quantity of current practice in schools.  However, what these documents communicate is fuzzy.  This ambiguous state leaves institutions and practitioners uncertain about the amount and type of emphasis to place on environmental education within teaching and learning."

This is spot on.

Immediately following on from this, they quote Hodson (2011) who writes:

"... environmental education is arguably essential for national, social and cultural well-being, equipping future generations with the skills to participate in debates concerning environmental risks and challenges."

I would have written: an environmental education ..." if only to avoid the charge of seeking uniformity.  Indeed, the authors do just that a few lines farther on.



I thought the Analysis / Findings sections of the report (pps 4 –12) to be particularly well done.  I even scribbled "excellent" a number of times which is a rare event these days.  The subject differences (science / geography mostly) were well brought out as were the differences between key stages and some surprising (worrying, even) differences in the approach of the exam boards at GCSE.  It was also good to see a critique of Defra and natural England who seem to have agreed together to forget the environment.  There is much in this to re-read and use.

I have one quibble, though, and that's about the farming used to analyse the data.  This is Bob Stephenson's 2007 typology of ideological visions for environmental improvement.  The authors write:

"Stevenson suggests that based on the common and critical dimension of political scenarios, the ideologies underlying the different visions of, and means to, environmental reform fall into two broad categories, with each category having two variations on the type of approach adopted.  First, conservative reform (within the current  system) approaches are either technical or political.  Second, radical reform (of the current system) approaches are either socially critical or alternative, whereby an alternative approach is situated outside the established norms.  Stevenson posits that conservative reformers support the priority of economic growth with a view to maintain status quo, whereas radical reformers believe that economic growth should be secondary to environmental quality."

Firstly, I don't like the conservative / radical descriptors as these are often chosen to label matters as bad / good.  And conservative is further bad-mouthed by associating it with economic growth which we're all supposed to disapprove of whilst living (some of us very well) off its benefits.  This division only serves the interests of those who wish to paint schools and teachers into the 'can't do anything' corner which further makes the social-critical case for radical reform.  It's a neat trick to make unrealistic demands on schools and teachers and then to berate them for their uselessness.  Neat, but long discredited.

More tomorrow on the the final discussion section of the report.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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