Save the planet before break;Digest

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Sarah Cassidy reports on how the changes in environmental education will affect schools

Looking after the school grounds and turning unnecessary lights off are to become the starting points for a new focus of the primary curriculum.

Learning about the environment and conserving resources will be given more weight when sustainable development is introduced in schools from September next year.

But what will this mean for teachers in the classroom? Current practice will not need to be rewritten, say the environmentalists and academics who advised the Government on sustainable development. Instead teachers need to recognise where they already cover "sustainable development" and extend those areas.

The teaching of sustainable development is not new. It has its roots in environmental and development studies that grew up in the Sixties and Seventies, and links with the study of personal, social, economic and environmental change.

Primary geography already tackles some environmental issues but from next year sustainable development will be listed explicitly in the compulsory geography curriculum.

Meanwhile, from next year it will also be part of a new non-statutory framework which includes personal, social and health education and citizenship.

The new framework, a list of non-statutory guidelines for primaries, aims to give schools the flexibility to develop their own approach to the subject.

Infants will concentrate on personal development but also learn about their local environment: what improves and harms it and what people can do to preserve it; and simple environmental moral dilemmas. Juniors cover a broader spectrum and learn about the wider world, the interdependence of communities, the choices that must be made in allocating resources and the rights and responsibilities of individuals and communities.

Most primaries already teach many of the new topics, although coverage and quality can be patchy, said Education Secretary David Blunkett in his proposals.

Mr Blunkett also praised primary schools' success at integrating these topics into almost every subject, which is how he hopes the new framework will be implemented. His proposals explain: "The learning framework sets out what pupils may be expected to know, understand and be able to do but leaves the decisions about the detailed content and delivery of personal, health and social education and citizenship to schools. It cannot specify the many aspects of school life which contribute to teaching and learning, and highlight links with other subjects."

Teachers will have complete freedom in how they cover the new material, although they are set to receive detailed guidance in the form of new schemes of work this autumn. The new units will supplement the current folder of schemes of work, most of which remain unchanged, although some are also being updated to include new material.

Schools minister Charles Clarke said: "Due to reduced prescription, there is ample opportunity for teachers to use a range of sustainable development issues and contexts to develop subject-related skills. For example, this could include problem-solving and data-handling in mathematics; or responding critically to a variety of media in English.

"A key issue for sustainable development education is the provision of good support materials that enable teachers to convert rhetoric into day-to-day classroom practicalities."

The themes of sustainable development are to be drawn out in many subjects, but particularly in geography, science, design and technology, and English.

Subject organisations are helping to draft the new units. The Geographical Association is working on a scheme of work for juniors about coastlines which will explore issues of citizenship and sustainable development in terms of how coastlines should be managed, whether they should be defended, who this might affect and who has the power to make these decisions.

Roger Carter, GA president, said: "Teachers may be baffled by the term sustainable development but they need to realise it is a crucial part of what they already do. The geography curriculum includes work on the environment and sustaining the local environment; this just strengthens those elements."

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