What ELSA said to Ofsted

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

This is the lengthy response to Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector from the English Learning for Sustainability Alliance [ELSA].  I'm posting it here as I cannot find it on-line and the authors asked for maximum publicity.


Dear Ms Spielman

(and copied to Secretary of State for Department of Education – Rt. Hon Damien Hinds)

Consultation on the Education Inspection Framework 2019 – letter from ELSA (English Learning for Sustainability Alliance)

We represent many members organisations whose members include teachers, schools, teacher training institutions and educators who support schools in their sustainability and global citizenship work. Many work in different areas such as Global Citizenship, Outdoor Learning, environmental education, science, climate change education and education for sustainability. Our main aim is to support education for a responsible and sustainable world whatever the area we focus on.

We welcome the new Ofsted Education for Inspection Framework and have some evidence and suggestions to offer in this letter that will, we think, support Ofsted in its move to putting curriculum at the heart of a ‘quality of education’ judgement. It could also help inspectors looking for broad and balanced curriculum approaches, progression and evidence of a ‘Whole School Approach’ as intent. We will show how this will link to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Voluntary National Review (VNR) and the guidance from UNESCO on the role of education in fulfilling the SDGs for each country.

ELSA has played a significant role in the national discussion on the UK’s progress of the SDGs as a key partner and co author of the UKSSD report Measuring up, published in 2018.

Intent and holistic approaches and Quality Education

Intent will reflect how the curriculum addresses social disadvantage, the sequence of learning identified by the school, how the curriculum addresses any gaps in knowledge and skills resulting from the local context.

Whole School Approaches (with the requisite leadership) and showing progression of knowledge, and long-term understandings require an ‘intent’.  It will be in the school evidence of activity, teaching and learning, modelling sustainability and authentic experiences and being relevant to the community the school is in. If done in a way that is participatory and works with student’s prior knowledge, experience and concerns, the impact on behaviour and attitudes and personal development will be clear. This fulfils the EIF criterion of ‘teaching is designed to help learners remember in the long term the content they have been taught and to integrate new knowledge into larger concepts.’

This can be achieved much more effectively, as research has shown, by linking to real life, authentic experiences and application of the knowledge rather than by repetition.

There is much evidence from the UK and around the world of how Whole School Approaches in sustainability improve attendance, attitudes, relationships and learning outcomes. We would be happy to discuss this further with you, but we also know this is a plank of the guidance that UNESCO is recommending to educational jurisdictions for the SDGs.

SEEd and the NUS (members of ELSA) are both key global partners with UNESCO, and SEEd has been leading on the Whole School Approach work.

Behaviour and attitudes and Personal development

As you have said in your Overview of Research pupil/teacher/school relationships are crucial. There is much evidence from the DfID Global Learning Programme, outdoor learning, education for sustainability and other programmes that this learning for sustainability approach engages both students and teachers and leads to the personal development goals of our education system.

“Children become passionate and engaged, and you, as a teacher, rediscover that spark that drove you to become a teacher in the first place.”   Sam Olubodun, Meadow Primary School, Cheshire (GLP promotional flyer 2018).

Keating and Janmaat (2015) found that “participation in school-based activities is also a more potent driver of political participation than formal citizenship education” and that “education through citizenship can be more effective in promoting expressive participation later in life than education about citizenship”.

We also know that many students have concerns about the state of the world and global issues. This from a NUS (2018) survey of approximately 3000 students:

  • 86% agree that all schools and colleges should be doing things to help the environment
  • 85% agree that all schools and colleges should be encouraging and helping pupils like me to do things to help the environment
  • 49% say they would like to be involved with projects or activities at their school or college that help the environment
  • 54% say they are very or fairly concerned about climate change

A current SEEd survey of young people (1050 and 2019, ongoing) show that:

  • Most learn from Geography (61%), social media (47%) or TV (53%)
  • 73% don’t feel they live in a sustainable society
  • 61% had not heard of the SDGs.

These statistics show the relevance of learning for sustainability for our young people and how they feel their schools should be enabling them to learn more. We feel that this should be taken into account when the inspectors meet with the students.

We also welcome the links to behaviour and attitudes and personal development. However, we have concerns that developing student’s responsible and sustainable world knowledge, skills and attitudes often occurs sporadically in schools and as an ‘add-on’. This was evidenced in previous Ofsted research projects on ESD and Sustainable Schools. As a result, it may be missed on the day of the inspection.

We would therefore ask Ofsted to encourage schools to not only include this work in their electronic evidence but also to show both progression and links to the National Curriculum.There is evidence from some of our schools that they believe this work is not of interest to Ofsted, but we feel this new focus of the inspections should allow it to be brought to the fore.


From the Global Learning Programme there is evidence of the impact of CPD in this area e.g.

There was also evidence of the impact of quality CPD for teachers (both in their learning networks and through external providers) and how global learning acts as a motivation for teachers:

I think it's given me another lease of life, at least as a teacher, definitely. It's made a huge...for me a huge difference. Because I realise how passionate I am about it and I don't mind how much time I put into it. I just love seeing the changes in the children. That's why I'm a teacher. That really has kind of...that's what it's about for me.                (Bentall and Hunt, 2018, UCL).

We also know from the many years of TEESNet (Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network) conferences and its members that engaging trainee teachers sense of moral agency at an early stage of their career is an important factor in teacher retention.

It should be noted then that Ofsted and its inspectors should be cognisant of the fact that this holistic approach based on ‘intent’ and devising sequenced curricula based on this may need targeted training. It is our collective experience that this is the case. We welcome your comments that schools can be moving towards this, rather than be perfect immediately.

We would ask therefore that the evidence of this learning for sustainability approach to teaching and learning outcomes is made available to both Ofsted Inspectors and schools. We would be willing to help Ofsted with this.

Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the UN SDGs - 2030

UNESCO is the UN agency responsible for monitoring and assisting on SDG4 – Education. Currently, the UK Government has focussed on ‘quality’ of education, but this is not just about social mobility and every child in school. It is also about resilience, preparedness for a socially just and sustainable future both at a local level but also as part of a global community. They are also suggesting that education for sustainability is embedded in all the SDGs, and that the multi-faceted way we have to work together in the future is demonstrated to our students. Linking to the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and DfID’s Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning Programme is essential. Preparing our young people is key.

If the Ofsted inspections encourage and gave advice on:

  • whole school approaches that build on the National Curriculum,
  • pedagogies such as transformation (not just the acquiring knowledge, but also becoming aware of certain realities, understanding complexity, critical analysis, experiential exposure),
  • linking the local/community to the educational work,
  • building on the knowledge, attitudes and experiences and social contacts an individual student may have(e.g. through the UCL Science Capital Approach, or Cognitive Load Theory),

then we would indeed have evidence for the VNR and evidence of responsible, active citizens developing confidence and resilience, healthy relationshipsin line with students’ current concerns about the world they are to play a part in.

ELSA co authored the UKSSD Report ‘Measuring Up’ on SDG4 and concluded that:

“There remain many intractable (unresolved) disparity issues of gender, disabilities and ethnicity in terms of participation, access and outcomes in schools and further and higher education in the UK (Target 4.5).

…….it is still a patchy picture with a range of good practice in some schools (especially through DfID’s Global Learning Programme) and FE…….

However, in the absence of any national evaluation it is difficult to establish the scale and range of progress: and impossible to assess its impact on behaviour, attitudes and competences in civil society and in the work place.”

We would therefore ask that Ofsted begin taking this learning for sustainability work into account in inspections in order for such national reviews and evidence to be gathered.

We need to recognise this practice of learning for a responsible and sustainable world

There is a lot of engagement in this of type work and Ofsted need to show not only that it is valued, but effective and leads to motivation, quality education and the resilience we want for our young people.

  • In the five years of the GLP (2013-2018), 7,843 schools registered with the programme and developed about 350 active learning networks, the largest ever engagement with Development Education / Global Learning ever in England. 11,977 teachers attended GLP-approved CPD courses.
  • A recent evaluation of the Eco-School programme showed that all 12,144 participating schools that achieved at least the Bronze Award by 2015 have an Eco-Committee. This means that an estimated 120,000 children in England (about 12% of all the school children in England aged between five and eighteen) are members of someform of Eco-Committee.

Our Suggestions and asks:

  1. That Ofsted inspectors encourage reporting and look for evidence of learning for sustainability and suggest whole school approaches to it.
  2. That Ofsted Inspectors look for integrated approaches to curriculum, behaviour and attitudes and personal development
  3. That Inspectors use the interview time with students to see how their education matches with their concerns about the future and the world.
  4. That Ofsted suggests CPD for whole school approaches
  5. That Ofsted’s ‘quality of education’ judgements include educating for a socially responsible and sustainable world and link with Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan (and Bill) and DfID’s Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning and, so that SDG4 is reported on in a holistic way

In conclusion:

In essence the move away from an assessment driven system to a curriculum driven inspection framework offers a huge opportunity to update our school system and enable it to deliver an education fit for the next century. It would be welcomed by students and teachers alike. We know it is happening and so learning for sustainability and responsible citizens should be recognised for its contribution.

We also believe that instead of trying to address the different ‘educations’ or topic areas, we could help by showing how to address them all through a generic approach. I and my colleagues would be most happy to help in any way we can and I can be reached on ann.finlayson@se-ed.org.uk

ELSA is committed to ensuring that education for sustainable development figures highly in delivering a quality education for all our learners and we would be willing to discuss this further if needed. We would be willing to provide more evidence and case studies

Ann Finlayson

Executive Chair, SEEd

On behalf of ELSA including: Change Agents, Consortium of Development Education Centres Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, National Union of Students, SEEd - Sustainability and Environmental Education, South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition, Sustainable Schools Alliance (SSA), TEESNet (Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network).


The problem for all that send such messages to Ofsted is that it is not the body best placed to act on them, as it is not a curriculum authority.  All such messaging is a proxy for talking with the DfE which has little interest in doing any of this.  Whilst the Ofsted's responses to the ELSA (and other) messages will be informative, I shall be surprised if it wholly positive as it will surely defer to DfE – and anyway, it has problems enough already without all this.

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