Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent "green speech" stressed the urgency of engaging with environmental issues and the idea of sustainable development. He recognises sustainable development is not just about the environment, but about poverty and debt. He might also have said it is about education.
In addition to the UK's Sustainable Development Strategy, White Papers on the environment have called for sustainable development. The idea is clearly part of Government policy. What the Prime Minister should stress is that it is also a statutory part of education policy.
In geography, science and citizenship (from 2002 for key stage 3 and 4), pupils have to be taught about sustainable development. It is also one of the values, aims and purposes of the school curriculum. This means it should be reflected in the ethos and practices of schools.
Schools will need support in this. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority guidance is due after Easter. It will be web-based with perhaps a brief document to back it up.
It will discuss school policies and practices, and make links to issues and processes such as Local Agenda 21, and to other initiatives, such as Healthy Schools. "Healthy" is a useful word. Try it as an adjective with society, economy and environment to get some idea of the objectives of sustainable development.
The guidance will refer to the requirements and opportunities within the curriculum and make links to other online resources, such as the Council for Environmental Education's website and its members'sites. The CEE has been involved in this kind of work for many years. When the national curriculum was first developed, it pressed for the recognition of environmental education as a cross curricular theme. In the latest curriculum review, it focused on influencing the subjects and the aims of the curriculum.
CEE seeks to influence government policy and was set up in 1968 by 40 national organisations that recognised the need for environmental education. Membership includes more than 80 national organisations, and hundreds of smaller ones.
Competition between subjects for valuable curriculum time can obscure important debates about the values, aims and purposes of education. Those who argue that the curriculum is already unsustainably crowded might consider the introductory sentence in the curriculum documents: "Education influences and reflects the values of society, and the kind of society we want to be".
Subject specialists must look at the big picture. This happened during the review of the curriculum, and CEE's members, including the Association for Science Education, the Geographical Association and the Design and Technology Association, came together to identify common interests.
But will it make any difference? Will sustainable development in the national curriculum reduce global warming? Will it drain away the floods or shorten the traffic jams? If it does not, we will have to think again, because there seem to be only three alternatives - learning, legislation, or laissez faire.
Nick Jones is education officer the CEE, 94 London Reading, RG1 4SJWeb: www.cee.org.uk