Environmental education in England 1960 to 1979 – a pen picture

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In the book Learning, Environment and Sustainable Development: a history of ideas – written by myself and Paul Vare, and published by Routledge/Greenleaf on the 12th of November 2020 – we present a number of time-line sketches of some of the significant events and influences on the development of environmental education (viewed broadly), illustrating that learning focused on the environment has a long history.

The twenty years starting in 1960 were significant in this respect, and this edited extract from our England timeline (that follows) takes us up to 1979.  Viewed from a backdrop of long-term socio-economic change, we argue in the book that these developments were influenced by ...

– [i] a range of political and other initiatives that are, in most part, a reaction to social and other problems caused by the economic development of the country through the industrial revolution in particular, and urban growth more generally,

– [ii] a broad social movement to protect the countryside from over-development, and

– [iii] a growth of scientific interest in a systematic study of the natural world.

Broadly speaking, these represent a combination of public health and human wellbeing concerns with conservation and ecological interests.  Further, we argue, there were over time two significant developments:

– [i] a change of focus of interest in the countryside from its amenity value to the conservation of nature, and

– [ii] a move from seeing the study of nature as the key focus to the more political orientation and associated activism that environmental education offered.


Here's an edited version of the timeline for 1960 – 1979:

The National Rural Studies Association was formed in 1960 to promote rural studies and natural history in schools.  It brought together a number of local groups.

The Observer Wildlife Exhibition illustrated the lack of leadership in relation to promoting effective policy about conservation.  This led (in 1963) to a series of study conferences (The Countryside in 1970) that were designed to encourage conservation and countryside amenity organisations to work together.

The 1965 Keele conference focused on education with a conscious use of the term environmental education.  The recommendation was that this ought to become an essential part of education programmes to ensure that everyone had an understanding of the environment and to promote a scientifically literate society.

The Woodcraft Folk was established as a national charity in 1965.

The Plowden Report in 1967 re-confirmed the value of the environment in the education of young children.

Degree Courses in Environmental Studies and Environmental Science began in the late 1960s.

The Council for Environmental Education began in 1968.  Emerging out of the Keele conference, this brought the education and environmental sectors into one body.

The Society of Environmental Education was a teachers’ organisation formed in 1968 to encourage the use of the environment in education, and education for the environment.

The 1969 Reith Lecture given by Frank Fraser Darling focused on Wilderness and Plenty and is given the credit for moving ‘the environment’ into the public discourse.

The Skeffington Report People and Planning was published in 1969.  It proposed that ordinary people be engaged in planning decision-making rather than simply voting for representatives to make decisions on their behalves.  That principle continues.

The Department of the Environment is set up in 1970 so that for the first time environmental issues can be considered by one ministry.

The Schools Council Project Environment began in 1970 and explored the relevance of rural studies to environmental education.

The National Association for Outdoor Education was set up in 1970.

School examination syllabuses at age 16 and 18 were created through the 1970s to give students the opportunity to study environmental issues. Teacher education programmes were also set up.

The Ecologist magazine was launched in 1970.  Its Spring 1971 edition put forward a socially-radical Blueprint for Survival.  At this time, the term eco came into popular usage.

The Town and Country Planning Act was passed in 1971 as a result of the 1969 Skeffington Report.

The National Association for Environmental Education, emerged from the National Rural and Environmental Studies Association in 1971.  It, and its journal, Environmental Education still exist.

The Town and Country Planning Association Education Unit was set up in 1973, and its Bulletin of Environmental Education [BEE] promoted urban environmental studies programmes.  Colin Ward was its founder-editor.

The National Association for Urban Studies was formed in 1972 with the aim of promoting urban studies and facilitating participation in planning decisions.  It promoted green urban areas as healthy places to live.

The Council for Urban Studies Centres was formed in 1974 to encourage the setting up of field studies centres in urban areas.

The Society of Environmental Education and the National Association for Environmental Education merged in 1976.

The Tbilisi intergovernment conference resulted in the 1977 Tbilisi Declaration which proved a strong influence on international environmental education.  The UK government’s input to the conference painted a positive picture of what the UK was doing.

Colin Ward publishes The Child in the City in 1979This explores the myriad ways in which children explore the urban landscape.  This was a sequel to Streetwork: the exploding school by Ward and Fyson.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate published Curriculum 11-16: supplementary working papers in 1979.  This said that environmental education “is to be regarded as a function of the whole curriculum, formal and informal … furthered through established subjects and by courses in environmental science and environmental studies which in varying degree are interdisciplinary.


A History of Environmental Education: 20/10/1

This is the first of a series of articles about early environmental education in the UK.  Others will appear here on a monthly basis.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • Very useful lead in to the emergence of the UK's public awareness of EE. Next episodes eagerly anticipated! I wonder if later, you will add as a broader 'significant development' the growing awareness of the finite planetary scale of humanity's ecosystem dependence post-1968's iconic Earthrise image and the metaphor of Spaceship Earth? In the mid-70s before the constraints of the National Curriculum, we developed at Priory School, WsM an interdisciplinary, team taught module withing the Integrated Humanities programme entitled "Spaceship Earth" that tried to encourage a global perspective on human-nature interdependence. Another example of voices crying in the wilderness?

  • I found this posting quite interesting, especially the wealth of EE or PseudoEE sources that were apparently available. I was in British school during the 1960s and my recollection is of no EE or anything that might be mistaken as EE. We did have Geography in which we learned much of what might today be construed as having some EE content. I do recall that in the 1970s, after I had left school, that EE was becoming more notable, especially in connection to information coming out of the USA. While I now am highly familiar (having taught it in the USA) with the history of conservation, preservation, and environmental issues in the USA, it is good to see an accounting of EE in the UK since my experience with it as a student was vague if I recall it being covered as such, at all.