Future is green for schools

From the school run to school trips, from the welfare of pupils to the welfare of the planet - welcome to "sustainable development in education", the Scottish Executive's latest "big idea".

A 10-year action plan, which will be reviewed at the halfway stage, was unveiled on Monday to place sustainable development activities at the heart of learning. The initiative is intended to progress in a way that is not "onerous" - but not "tokenistic" either.

"We recognise it is not sustainable to load yet more responsibilities on to teachers," one executive official quipped.

The plan covers schools, colleges, universities and informal learning, as well as all of the executive's work, in support of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

In an interview with The TES Scotland, Ross Finnie, Environment and Rural Development Minister, who leads the programme, acknowledged that there would be little new "in terms of process". But, Mr Finnie added, "the thinking will be different".

The ground had already been prepared in the way the new curriculum is shaping up, Mr Finnie said, particularly in its aim of turning out pupils who are "responsible citizens". He added: "The message for all our citizens now is 'think sustainable'. We have been living unsustainably for a very long time."

The executive therefore envisages that many of the activities to educate people on husbanding the world's resources will be built into existing initiatives such as schools of ambition, the curricular reforms, health-promoting schools and enterprise projects.

Mr Finnie said that ministers were anxious to avoid "bolting on" an added extra. "It would be a great travesty if people were to think there is everything we do, on the one hand - and then there's sustainable development, on the other. It must became part and parcel of the whole educational experience," he said.

There is likely to be a new lease of life for outdoor education and for the eco-school movement. Environmental awareness, developed through the outdoors, is to be aided by a web-based directory of places for schools to visit, prepared by Scottish Natural Heritage. Learning and Teaching Scotland is embarking on a new programme called Outdoor Connections and has appointed a national development officer.

Those that see themselves as "eco-schools" will also be given a higher profile, with the programme set to be allocated another pound;350,000 a year until 2008-09. Scotland is already said to have more eco-schools than anywhere else in Europe: more than 70 per cent are registered as such and a target of 80 per cent has been set for January 2008.

Mr Finnie said ministers were also keen that schools and other institutions should start measuring their impact on the environment to reduce what is known as their "ecological footprint". Materials to help them do this, developed in 19 schools in the north-east, will be made available this session, through the Global Footprint Education Project.

Even the humble school run will have to play its part to aid "sustainable travel", on foot or by cycle. The importance of sustainable design in the building of schools is also emphasised. Mr Finnie said that in five years'

time he hoped to see evidence of young people emerging from school and developing as citizens "with a changed attitude to the planet's finite resource".

Leader 18 The action plan, Learning for our Future, is available on our website at www.tes.co.ukscotland.

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