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The place of sustainability in schools

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

The Department for Education’s National Curriculum for England, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, the Northern Ireland Curriculum and the Welsh Government’s National Curriculum are all designed to help students go on to succeed in the wider world – and the wider world is changing rapidly. The current generation of school pupils will be entering a world in which “sustainability” underpins and informs all aspects of their day-to-day lives.

This sense of sustainability across the board is reflected in the way that students throughout the UK currently learn about environmental issues at school. From the water they drink to where they live, pupils are learning about sustainability in many different subjects.

I believe this is where outside organisations can play a vital role. With the opportunity to hear about sustainability from real people working in the real world, pupils can effectively begin to engage with the issues and make connections with their own lives.

I am very passionate that sustainability cannot afford to be seen as just another subject on the curriculum. By teaching about sustainability within lots of other topics students begin to see it as a global issue in which everyone is working in partnership.

Stuart Nunn, Geography Teacher, St Ivo School


School leaders looking to really pursue green ideals and credentials may need the support of external organizations to fully explore the complex topic of sustainability.

However, despite sustainability not existing as a subject in its own right, the draft 2014 National Curriculum programme of study has broad enough requirements to leave schools with huge scope to devise their own schemes of work. This is also true of the curriculum frameworks of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For many children currently, their introduction to the term ‘sustainability’ will come through access to things like packaging which they encounter at home. Over the course of their time in primary schools, they will participate in projects that promote environmental awareness, progressing their understanding of these issues.

This will continue with the new curriculum. Sustainability fits in well with the proposals for Geography, which mention ‘equipping pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and environments, together with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes’. The Welsh Curriculum Programme of Study for KS3 Geography also refers to the need for pupils to ‘develop an understanding of why countries are interdependent, how people interact with their environments and the importance of sustainability.’ In both Scotland and Northern Ireland sustainability is prominent.

It will be left to schools to consider how best to discuss and promote sustainability and other environmental issues, based on the needs of their school and its learners. In order for their learners to have a deep and true understanding of the issues, they will need to be enthused. Cross-curricular, relevant topics using transferable skills are an effective vehicle for creating the necessary enthusiasm.

Bryn Llewellyn, Education Consultant




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