'Critical' failures on green schools

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Saving the planet barely features on the list of educational priorities, according to a scathing report on education for sustainable development (ESD) produced for the WWF Scotland.

Everyone from Jack McConnell, the First Minister, down to teachers in schools could do far more to tackle key issues in what used to be called environmental education. Failures have been "critical and fundamental", Lynnette Borradaile, the researcher, says.

Work in schools is "patchy" and activity is generally confined to enthusiastic headteachers or class teachers. More is achieved in nursery and primary than secondary where the issue is buried under other priorities.

Ms Borradaile concludes: "Scotland, from being in the lead, is now lagging behind the rest of the UK in developing a strategic pathway for ESD, particularly within formal education."

She believes there has been "plenty of rhetoric but a lack of positive, strategic action promoting education for sustainable development by the former Scottish Office and, even more so, until very recently, by the Scottish Executive". The Scottish Parliament, too, is accused of overlooking advice.

In a report characterised by tough remarks, she states: "Leadership and a vision in the Scottish Parliament and Executive have been lacking and remain a top priority in addressing the role of learning in moving towards a sustainable Scotland - a more sustainable economy, society and environment."

There is said to be no "politically astute, effective champion" of the environment, which must come as a blow to the Greens and their chief spokesman, Robin Harper, a former secondary teacher.

Ms Borradaile believes that those active in education for sustainable development are often passionate advocates and suffer from being seen as overzealous. Meanwhile, education has been focused on issues such as teacher pay, raising standards, parent choice and anti-bullying.

Supporters may not have appreciated that they had to demonstrate "added value" if they were to get their message across through curriculum flexibility, the national priorities in education and citizenship.

The report, however, argues that despite the failures, conditions are better now than 10 years ago when recommendations were made in two reports, Learning for Life and Scotland the Sustainable?

Significant numbers of schools, colleges and universities had taken part in ESD-related projects. "This should be recognised, recorded and shared," she states.

The Executive had also promoted EcoSchools as part of national priority 4 on values and citizenship.

Confusion remains about education for sustainable development, Ms Borradaile admits. "Many people think they know what ESD is, but their views are probably different from the next person's, who may work in the same place. In a formal education context, that means steering people away from the idea that it is a new body of knowledge. Rather, it is an approach to learning and about everyone applying that learning to living and working in more sustainable ways."

She adds: "This will reassure curriculum and subject 'gatekeepers' that they have nothing to fear and hopefully encourage working with other subject areas as well."

Arrested Development: a review of Scottish OfficeScottish Executive commitment to education for sustainable development in Scotland is a report to WWF Scotland.

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