Global mission starts up

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Assembly takes steps to make sustainable development ethos a reality for all schools. Felicity Waters reports

Sustainable development and global citizenship need to become part of every school's ethos, according to the Assembly government, which this week started consulting with heads about how to change the way they work.

Wales is believed to be one of only three countries in the world with a legal duty to integrate sustainable development into everything that it does.

"Current behaviour is unsustainable at all levels from nations to individuals," according to the government. And it wants schools to play a major role in issues from energy conservation and healthy living, to understanding global poverty and human rights.

But it is not just about a pen-pal scheme or recycling, schools have been told. Heads, governors and local education authorities are being asked to review their transport, fair trade and food procurement policies.

The government also wants sustainability requirements to be included in grants for school buildings, and to extend a health-promoting schools scheme to 75 per cent of Welsh schools by 2007.

Rhod Griffiths, education adviser at Oxfam Cymru, said: "We need to educate the next generation about global issues that we are accountable for and can play a part in changing. Promoting sustainable development and global citizenship go hand in hand, and it is important that these issues are not seen as extra subjects, but messages to get across."

Oxfam Cymru has teamed up with ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment agency, to produce Welsh-language resources to complement their English packs. From next week all Welsh-medium schools will be sent free copies to help more children learn about global issues, from the life of Caribbean banana producers to dealing with disasters.

Garem Jackson, deputy head at Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn, in Bethesda, Gwynedd, which piloted the resources, said he believed schools had a responsibility to educate children about such issues.

"Sustainable development and personal education have come to the forefront of the curriculum and this is a chance to get across some very important messages," he said.

Gwynedd and Anglesey councils have been praised for their "green schools" initiative, which has put environmental issues at the centre of the work of 82 participating schools.

But awareness of the issues is patchy across Wales, according to the Welsh Assembly. Action is often reliant on "enthusiastic individual teachers or visionary headteachers", and in some areas little or nothing is happening.

Teaching unions warn that schools need adequate funding to further the government's agenda.

Gruff Hughes, general secretary of Welsh-medium teachers' union UCAC, said:

"This is a worthwhile project, but heads already have a huge amount on their plate and consideration must be given to the extra workload involved and funding needed."

Clare Williams, sustainable development co-ordinator at Pembrokeshire council, agrees funding is essential. The authority spends pound;45,000 a year on its highly-acclaimed sustainable schools award scheme. The county has been praised for getting more than half of schools registered for the awards, and for incorporating sustainable development issues across the curriculum.

Schools are encouraged to attain bronze, silver and gold awards in areas such as energy efficiency, healthy living, sustainable transport and biodiversity. Promoting links with developing countries is also a major element and one project in the county has involved a successful exchange with schools in Botswana.

"The aim is that once schools get to the gold award, sustainable development is so integrated into the life of the school that is difficult to see it as a separate entity," said Ms Williams.

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