Environmental education is enjoying a purple patch, which means more options than ever for schools, says Bernard Adams
We are going green, at last. If the evidence of this year's Education Show is anything to go by, environmental resources are blooming. Since its inception, the number of environmental agencies exhibiting at the Education Show has risen sharply year on year. This year, there are more than 30 eco-friendly exhibitors showing environmentally-linked resources at more than 20 stands, from conservation to cultivation, from forest management to pond dipping. It is a chance for everyone to have a field day, on the grandest of scales.
So why this sudden spurt in growth? Christine Midgley of the Council for Environmental Education (CFEE) believes that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority document Teaching Environmental Matters Through the National Curriculum, which was published in June, must have had some galvanising effect.
"We're at an all-time high in terms of government interest in the subject, " she says. "We now have the governmental strategy for environmental education, and although we may have criticisms of it, at least it does exist and it carries some weight." She also feels that SCAA's selection of the environment as one of the educational areas through which values can be taught has been helpful.
The CFEE is based at Reading University and its aim is to not only promote and develop environmental education but also co-ordinate it. The multiplicity of agencies and the constant flow of new educational resources can lead to confusion. "We're trying to devise a code of practice for providers of materials for this subject. We're aiming to get government funding so that we can try to establish some standards and provide potential users with a checklist for assessing resources," explains Ms Midgley.
"There has been a lot of duplication and it's sensible to acknowledge that and try to do something about it. Joint, termly mailing of lists of new materials from different agencies would be helpful to schools. A more co-ordinated approach would certainly help."
So, with luck, teachers of environmental education should get better and more co-ordinated resources from now on. However, what about experiences outside the school? Three of the leading supporters of field studies centres have joined forces to create an Education Through the Environment stand at the show. But in these days of tight budgets and obsession with the curriculum, how easy is it for schools to get out to make the kind of visits which can transform a pupil's awareness?
Rosie Edwards, chairman of the National Association of Field Studies Officers, admits there are some problems. "Reduction in the level of support from some local authorities means that the service provided by centres is now a bit patchy. Some have had to close, some have had to raise their prices and others have been taken over by private organisations," she explains.
However Rosie Edwards is positive about the effect of the national curriculum on field studies centres. "Teachers have realised that a visit to a field studies centre can be much more advantageous and effective than anything you can do in the classroom. But unfortunately the cost of travel has rocketed and so some teachers have had to reduce the number of day-trips they take." Nevertheless she feels optimistic about the situation: "There's not been a decline in the number of fields studies centres and generally interest remains high."
Christine Midgley thinks that while field trips are important and can be formative, what's done every day at school is of considerable value as well. "It is empowering for pupils to be able to do something about their own environment, to realise that they can make a difference." She likes the way city schools have dug up tarmac and that pupils have been involved in the design of an outdoor classroom. "Young people have been able to take responsibility for their own environment in schools where everyone is enthusiastic. It's more difficult if everyone isn't fully involved."
At this nitty-gritty end of trying to help schools to transform their often less-than-Arcadian surrounding is the charity Learning Through Landscapes (LTL). It has a membership of 2,500 and, since 1990, its turnover has multiplied from Pounds 50,000 a year to Pounds 500,000. LTL gives advice and tries to disseminate good practice through a whole host of resources, ranging from a CD-Rom about seating in school grounds to a new book Grounds for Sharing specifically aimed at the requirements of special needs pupils.
"What we're most frequently asked about is how to get grants to improve school grounds," says Jenny Day of LTL. "We can help schools to understand that developing a new feature - such as a pond - means caring for it long term. " Jenny Day is particularly pleased with the way urban schools have begun painting their asphalt, laying mosaics, creating interesting changes in level, adding imaginative seating and shelter to keep the sun off the skin in hot weather.
Environmental education is in a phase where, in Christine Midgley's phrase it is "under-resourced, but high focus". The Education Show is going to serve to make that focus even sharper.
* The Council for Environmental Education has resources lists(Pounds 1. 50 inc. postage), provides courses, Inset, counselling and membership service, as well as a large database of publications.
Tel: 0118 9756061.Education Show stand F1 * Education Through the Environment is launching a directory of Field Study Centres(Pounds 5 + Pounds 1.50 postage) from The Stibbington Centre, Great North Road, Stibbington, Peterborough PE8 6LP. Tel: 01780 782386 * Learning Through Landscapes Tel: 01962 846258.
Education Show stand PV290
* National Association of Field Studies Officers
Education Show stand SJ43