Eco-school rules

15th September 2006 at 01:00
The recently published Scottish Executive document, Learning for Our Future: Scotland's First Action Plan for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, is a welcome step in raising awareness and promoting action (TESS, August 25).

In secondary schools, of course, implementing "another initiative" really can be a challenge with such an emphasis on a subject-based examination system.

Fortrose Academy is one of six schools that were involved in the Sustainable Secondary Schools Project which sought to face this challenge.

It is good to see many of the experiences and recommendations of the project permeate the executive's document.

I hope, however, that the bulk of the "experts" mentioned in the action plan will be educators, those who have real expertise on how we learn and not just what we have to learn. School education is where the audience is most "captive" and full advantage must be taken of this.

That does not mean using limited traditional learning and teaching methods.

Indeed, sustainable development education is an area that allows innovation and risk-taking, as encouraged by A Curriculum for Excellence and Ambitious, Excellent Schools. Add to this the fact that schools are often at the heart of communities and the benefits to be gained relatively quickly by focusing initially on schools are apparent.

The benefits of sustainable development education are listed in the document, but there is a need to be clear that these benefits must be real and not just paper exercises. Will class teachers see a change in their day-to-day activities? Will council planning departments, property and architectural services departments, and the local energy efficiency group play a part in supporting learning and teaching? Will these departments have the resources to do this?

Where the document looks at the formal education system, due credit has not been given as much as it could have been. There have been many innovative changes of young people being involved in debate and decision-making - pupil councils, eco-school committees and the Highland Youth Voice in my own area.

It is vital that the Scottish Executive is in direct touch with those educators expected to deliver sustainable development education. Looking to other countries for good practice will bring benefits as well.

There is also much happening in Scotland which can be shared more effectively. The sharing process is the real challenge. Websites, newsletters and the like have value, but not as much as face-to-face contact which allows discussion rather than simple information-giving. Do those who have registered for eco-schools all have the opportunity to share experiences, for example?

A challenge to many schools is the state of their buildings. There are still many that cannot claim to operate in an environmentally aware way, and the current programme of renewing and replacing schools does not cover them all. The key design issues outlined in the document reflect high ideals, but are they realistic? Will the money be provided to achieve these ideals for all?

Advice and support for schools is also of great importance. But teachers do not simply need materials, they need advice and support at a local level. I look forward to seeing this as standard practice. Teachers need help with the over-abundance of materials.

Current trends in creating a website and publicising access are not enough.

There is still the need for face-to-face and paper-based messages (how many of us print off documentspages which are online so that we can more comfortably read them?), as well as using TV and radio, be it documentaries or soaps, to get the message across.

John Tracey Depute head Fortrose Academy

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