I was at the launch of the DfE's new sustainability and climate change strategy last night at London's NHM. I stood for 2 hours under the bones of the blue whale honing my canapé-attracting skills. It's a splendid venue as you know, illuminated by a ghostly blue light that eventually dimmed as the evening passed and it was time to be turfed out into Kensington.
There were speeches which ranged from the bizarre to the inconsequential. And there was the chance to catch up with old friends and newly discovered colleagues. That was the best of the evening, enlivened as it was by conversation with the splendid woman who runs the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme who seemed to know everyone including floating baronesses.
Judging by mumbled references to "skimming", not everyone had read the strategy with care; some had not read it at all. But who can blame them? Not everyone is like me with clearly more time than sense. I did wonder whether the secretary of state had read it judging by what he did and didn't say in his peroration. If there were themes to all the conversations they would convey a sense of the strategy's incoherence and inadequacy which I'm sure the Germans have a word for. Incoherence in that it was hard to make sense of it as a whole; inadequacy in its failure to address the core problem. After all, if the key element of the strategy is an optional GCSE examination that is likely to attract only a small minority of the cohort and won't even be taught for some years, then this is hard to square with the urgency of using education to address the climate crisis which is with us now, and which is what DfE says it is doing. This is not to criticise the GCSE and its supporters; rather it's a judgement on the DfE's approach which seems at times to be to do not very much whilst making a big song and dance.
To the speeches. There were 5 of them. The first was the bloke who runs the NHM who said how great the museum is. Then came a bloke from the DfE who thanked everyone and said how great they were. We had a cameo from Bear Grylls who went on for far too long about something or other, pausing only to mistake the blue whale bones for a T-Rex. The fact that all we could talk about after he finished was whether Bear was his real name illustrates the value of what he contributed. He was followed by the token woman and young person who, I thought, rather pulled her punches. Finally we had the secretary of state who also thanked everyone and talked about parts of the strategy without ever convincing us that it will add up to very much. I seem to remember he was hot for teachers being told about climate facts that they could pass on to young people who, as we know, stay up late every night pouring over encyclopaedia in a vain quest to discover these.
But then, hoping that it might add up to something maybe isn't worth it. Maybe it will be some of the individual elements that will bear fruit. Perhaps the climate leaders award will inspire zillions of young people. It might if it is integrated with existing successful schemes – back to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. Maybe the nature park scheme (still very vague in my mind) will result in a great increase in connected biodiversity across the school estate (and informed and motivated school leaders, teachers and youngsters). Maybe the model primary science curriculum (there was not a word from the S of S about this) will revolutionise the primary experience and lay the foundations for a revitalised secondary curriculum. Maybe it'll come to be seen as a preparation for the natural history GCSE (once key stage 3 is sorted out). Maybe that GCSE will surprise everyone and be immensely popular. Maybe universities will fall over themselves to recognise its worth. Maybe. There is a vision lurking in what I've just written. But there was no vision in what was on offer last night. It was a splendid occasion, however.