As the charity SEEd (Sustainable and Environmental Education) met in London for its policy forum on 28 March it was in the context of increasing concern over proposed changes to the school curriculum in England announced by the Department for Education (DfE) in a consultation document on March 13. Of particular concern is that in the new curriculum proposals for England’s under 14s sustainability, environment and particularly climate change have been removed.
Climate and biodiversity are of course interrelated as a significant ecosystem service provided by the natural environment is in building environmental resilience. This is particularly so in the context of helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Policies such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) are predicated on the importance of living systems capturing atmospheric carbon and sequestering it to reduce the levels of the green house gas in the atmosphere. This is of course something every school child should know as they cover the Carbon Cycle in Key Stage 3 Science (age 11-14).
A significant context for DfE of the curriculum review is of course the downturn in the world economy and how the UK can most effectively respond in the coming years. Which makes the CBI survey The colour of growth (2012) of particular interest as it looked at sustainability and the potential of ‘green growth’ to the UK economy. The report from the most significant group lobbying for industry concluded that… ‘One only has to look at the statistics to see the size of the opportunity. In trying economic times, the UK’s green business has continued to grow in real terms, carving out a £122 billion share of a global market worth £3.3 trillion and employing close to a million people. And in 2014/15, it is expected to roughly halve the UK’s trade deficit.’
So it would seem strange for a Government to be pursuing policies which are perverse to building awareness to sustainability and which risk failing to develop the human capital to respond to the opportunity. Non-the-less the emphasis in schools on engaging with sustainability and specifically with climate change has been taking a battering for some time…
Among its early decisions the UK coalition government removed the ‘Sustainable schools’ framework which had been established by the previous government, along with the sustainability element of assessment by Ofsted (the official body in England for inspecting schools). This has led to reductions in funding for sustainable activities in schools from local authority and other environmental education programmes.
Responses north of the border could hardly be more different. Michael Russel Secretary of State for Education in the Scottish Parliament made the commitment that Scottish Schools would ‘integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning’ (this is the overarching goal of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and is what Scotland aspires to achieve).
There is an emerging backlash to the new proposals for England’s schools reported by the Guardian newspaper (18.03.13), Independent (19.03.13), and Huffington Post (21.03.13) including the petition to oppose the proposals by Secondary school student Esha which has already raised more than 25,000 signatures, and the campaign being developed by people&planet to oppose the proposals.