A new breed of classroom environmentalist

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Mark Wells owes his interest in the environment to an "astute teacher" who sowed the seeds in his early teens. Now, as chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Education Council, he aims to take his environmental mission to schools. "Values, attitudes and behaviour are key both to the problems and the solutions," he says.

A Hertfordshire man whose early teens were shaped at Woodhouse Grammar in London, Mr Wells has particularly high hopes of primary schools. "There are lots more resources and it is much easier to get them used because there is an interdisciplinary approach to education in primary schools. The minute pupils get into secondary school, it becomes much more difficult and we then run into the problems of where environmental education will sit." As the father of two young daughters, he will be able to monitor the situation.

The SEEC, which was set up in 1977 and now has a staff of five based in Stirling, takes a broad view of education from pre-school to informal learning. The council is considering launching a "pre-school topic box" and, just last week, held an ambitious national symposium which brought together movers and shakers from 21 organisations in the public, private, voluntary and academic sectors.

Mr Wells, who was appointed last year, is anxious to invest environmental education with the widest possible meaning. He defines it as "any learning opportunity that will influence people's attitudes, values and actions in relation to the environment".

That was underlined at last week's symposium which heard that 30 professional bodies, including those serving engineers, lawyers, foresters, grocers, builders and administrators, have agreed to incorporate its principles into their training courses. A postgraduate summer school based on the findings from the symposium will be piloted this summer.

Despite being an indecently youthful 34, Mr Wells is said by one close colleague to have "a mature appreciation of the variety of vested interests in the environmental field and to operate well between them".

Bart McGettrick, principal of St Andrew's College, who chairs the Secretary of State's group on education for sustainable development of which Mr Wells is the secretary, comments: "He is one of the new breed in environmental education who understands the subtle balance between economic well-being and environmental sensitivity and the importance of bringing them into a kind of harmony. "

Mr Wells's MSc thesis, entitled "Environmental education: a business opportunity?" was perhaps an indication of how his mind was working.

The environmental field, no doubt because it is the victim of the vested interests in whose turbulent waters Mr Wells is said to be an expert paddler, is not renowned for quick decision-making. Mr Wells is used to that by now: he came to his present post via Scottish Natural Heritage and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The frustratingly slow pace of change was amply illustrated in the Secretary of State's strategy for environmental education published last June, in response to the report of a working group set up by the Scottish Office in 1990. Mr Wells concedes there was a great deal of disappointment at what emerged. But the strategy did give Scotland a national programme for environmental education which puts it ahead of the rest of the UK and most of the rest of the world.

A balanced view from someone who is clearly not education's "Mr Greenpeace".

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