The UK Government has commissioned a number of public institutions to implement the UK’s transition to sustainability. Please see below for descriptions of key departmental initiatives on ESD during the past ten years, and links to both departments and publications.
Sustainable Development Commission
The Sustainable Development Commission is the government's independent watchdog on sustainable development. The department aims to accelerate and deepen the government’s commitment to sustainable development as a policy goal in the education sector, and more broadly within the public services and structures that support children and young people in the UK. Its core functions are to advise government, advocate and build capacity for sustainable development practices, and to report on government’s performance in implementing sustainable development into its policies and practices. One way that the SDC does this is through evaluating the sustainable development action plans (SDAP) put into place by the various government departments.
In education, the SDC focuses on primary and secondary schools, working closely with the Department for ChildrenSchools and Families on:
Every Child’s Future Matters, published in June 2007 in partnership with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), addresses children’s well-being in the context of the environment and sustainable development, and discussed ways in which sustainable development can improve the implementation of Every Child Matters, the government’s extensive policy for the well-being of children produced in 2003.
The Sustainable Development in Government Annual Report** in 2007 assessed the performance of government operations against targets set by the Framework for Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE). The report found that although government on the whole is generally doing better than the previous year, individual departments still had work to do to meet their SOGE targets.
Green, healthy and fair: A review of government’s role in supporting sustainable supermarket food** (February 2008)
Department for International Development (DfID)
The Department for International Development (DfID) promotes sustainable development on both a policy level and in schools, as part of its work on the global dimension in education. In 2000, DFID published Achieving sustainability: poverty elimination and the environment, a report that examined the ways in which the international community could take action to meet international development targets for the environment and sustainable development. The report was framed as part of DfID’s core mission to eliminate poverty.
DfID has also partnered with the Development Education Association on its Global Dimension website, developed as a way of giving teachers access to the best development education materials available, such as books, videos, posters and websites with a global dimension - from climate change to poverty, water to fair trade.
DfID provides a number of funding schemes, many of which support initiatives in ESD. One example is the DfID Global Schools Partnerships, which allow schools in the UK and Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to apply for grants to help build partnerships through teacher exchanges and for projects to build development issues into the curriculum.
The UK government published a response to the 2003 EAC report critical of its engagement in ESD. The report reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ESD and specifically mapped out three key actions to be taken: the development of an ESD indicator; the publication of SD strategies by Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE); and the launch of the Sustainable Schools website resource. Of these three actions, the latter two have been accomplished, while an SDC-initiated indicator development process did not conclusively identify an ESD indicator.
DCSF established the Sustainable Schools area of the government’s Teachernet website, which brings together sources of advice and practical support for teachers, head teachers and governors. It aims to help schools include the principles of sustainable development in their everyday work whilst achieving educational excellence alongside the goals of healthy living, environmental awareness, community participation and global citizenship. View a list of core materials offered by the DCSF to support embedding sustainable development in schools here.
The site offers approaches to the challenge of sustainability, awards schemes and grants, teaching resources, research and local support. It also includes case studies, news and training information, which can be searched at a regional level. On the site, the National Framework for Sustainable Schools introduces eight ‘doorways’ through which schools may choose to initiate or extend their sustainable school activity, including long-term expectations of progress up to the year 2020. The eight areas are:
* Food and Drink
* Energy and water
* Travel and Traffic
* Purchasing and waste
* Buildings and grounds
* Inclusion and participation
* Local well-being
* Global citizenship
The 2006/07 academic year was the Year of Action on Sustainable Development for Schools. DCSF is working with partners to provide resources and materials to help embed sustainable development into all areas of school life.
Outside direct education efforts, DCSF’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, launched in 2004, is the country’s largest education investment project in over 50 years. Focused, in the main, on secondary schools, the programme will refurbish or rebuild all schools to become sustainable buildings by 2020. BSF is also linked to learning, and pupils are invited to be involved in the process of designing a building for the future. Additionally, the National College for School Leadership (NCSL), a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) of DCSF, created the BSF leadership programme to provide support to school leaders during the process. BSF’s managing organisation, Partnerships for Schools (PfS), also offers resources on how to make the renewal process beneficial for the school community.
NationalCollege for School Leadership (NCSL)
The National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has published its SDAP, which pledged to integrate SD across its programmes and initiatives for school leaders. NCSL also in 2007 published the commissioned research report Leading Sustainable Schools: what the research tells us, which asserted that “the status of the sustainable schools strategy needs to be raised” in schools if it is to have greater impact. It highlighted good practices among school leaders and made recommendations for increasing the profile and visibility of the Sustainable Schools project. From the report, NCSF initiated a new initiative of the same name, a grant scheme to provide 36 schools with individual grants of £5,000 to support the development of school leader networks and to build leadership capacity for Sustainable Schools.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
The mission of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is to enable everyone to live within our environmental means, so sustainable development is a key element of the department’s work. DEFRA have been directly involved in the development of ESD policy in the UK. View DEFRA’s sustainable development pages here.
Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP)
In 1998, DEFRA and DfES (now DCSF) set up the Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP). SDEP reached the end of its five-year term in February 2003, publishing its key document, Learning to Last: The Government’s Sustainable Development Education Strategy for England. It recommendeda specific ESD strategy for England and explicitly linked it to the commencement of DESD, asserting that “there has never been a greater opportunity nor a greater need for a coherent strategy.” Also in February 2003, DEFRA and DfES published A Sustained Lesson – Reviewing England’s Sustainable Development Education Panel. In March 2003, SDEP published its fifth and final annual report, Understanding, Conviction and Commitment. It recommended working to promote the DESD within formal education, through curricular reform, and through all aspects of education in which the government works (e.g. further and higher education).
In 2005, DEFRA published its Sustainable Development Action Plan: Just jump straight in, which identified SD as the department’s “overarching aim” and outlined its key policy commitments and actions. In 2005 it also launched thinksustainable, an online resource aimed to provide a “coordinated approach” to implementing sustainable development in government. DEFRA have also funded the Every Action Counts initiative, which was developed by a consortium of national organisations to assist the voluntary and community sectors in their work to promote sustainable development.
The Community Action 2020 programme was established in 2006 to support non-profit, voluntary and community groups to take action on sustainable development. It aims to work with and through voluntary and community sector organisations. It also aims to complement the work local authorities are doing to create genuinely sustainable communities everywhere through the local community planning and community involvement process. The Community Action 2020 commitments in the government sustainable development strategy Securing the Future form the basis for the programme’s components and schemes.
The Climate Change Communication Initiative is led by Defra in partnership with the Environment Agency, the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, the UK Climate Impacts Programme, the Department for Transport and the Department of Trade and Industry. Their website provides a resource for understanding the challenges and the difference the public can make.
More recently in 2008, HEFCE published AStrategic Review of Sustainable Development, establishing a broad benchmark for understanding the status of sustainable development in higher education. The report evaluates HEIs across England in four major areas: SD research; SD teaching; SD in estates and corporate management; and SD case studies. The data collected and analysed in the report gives the government substantial information on SD in the HE sector, which may have an impact on future government funding policies.
In May 2007, LSC published its Sustainable Development Action Plan 2007/08, an updated strategy based on its 2005 From Here to Sustainability action plan. The strategy outlined key actions to be taken by the LSC. These included: undertaking an internal survey of SD activity within the LSC; developing capacity building programme for LSC staff; developing a set of SD indicators for the LSC; contributing to the development of sustainable communities; and working with the further education system to facilitate sharing of good practices.
In February 2008, LSC launched its 2008-2011 national capital strategy, called Building Colleges for the Future, which requires colleges to propose eco-friendly and efficient designs in order to receive funding.
-Sustainable Development in the Learning and Skills Sector: national baseline survey, a 2006 report that came out of a 2005 national survey on current practice in sustainable development in the learning and skills sector. The report found evidence of progress in the learning and skills sector in the four key categories of sustainable development addressed: leadership and management; buildings and estates; teaching and learning programmes; and community and business.
The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) is England’s inspection authority for schools. It has conducted work in schools to determine the existence of ESD practices in English schools. In 2002, OFSTED published the report Taking the first step forward…towards an education for sustainable development: Good practice in primary and secondary schools. It reported on a survey of 14 primary, 2 middle and 10 secondary schools in order to identify the characteristics of good practice in ESD against its seven key concepts. It identified a number of curricular links appropriate for ESD, which included geography, science, design and technology, citizenship and personal, social and health education (PSHE). It also noted that the “successful” schools surveyed incorporated a whole-school approach and had a well-developed local support network.
More recently, in May 2008, Ofsted published Schools and Sustainability: A climate for change?, which reported on inspection visits to primary and secondary schools to examine schools’ performance in implementing the National framework for sustainable schools. Whilst the report identified the presence of good practices and innovative approaches, overall it found that most of the 41 schools visited did not incorporate sustainability as an integral part of the curriculum, and that there was generally a low level of knowledge about sustainability. It recommended that the DCSF, Training and Development Agency (TDA) and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) prioritise sustainable schools and further integrate sustainability into the school curriculum.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is a public body of the DSCF that is responsible for maintaining and developing national curriculum. In 2000, QCA created curriculum guidelines for schools which identified seven key ESD concepts initially suggested by the Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP): citizenship and stewardship; sustainable change; needs and rights of future generations; interdependence; diversity; uncertainty and precaution; quality of life; equity and justice.
Regarding ESD in the formal curriculum, QCA updated its curricular guidelines in 2007, adding ‘global citizenship and sustainable development’ as one of its cross-curricular dimensions, but this change gives schools the options to include the subjects and is not statutory. The QCA has however integrated SD issues into its recently updated (2007) KS3 curriculum, and also in 2007 published The global dimension in action: a curriculum planning guide for schools, which focuses on teaching the global dimension but makes explicit mention of sustainable development as a conceptual aspect of the global dimension.
Quality Improvement Agency (QIA)
The Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning (QIA), which emerged from the break up of the Learning and Skills Development Agency into the QIA and Learning and Skills Network, works to improve quality in the sector, and has also been involved in ESD. In 2007, QIA published Happy planet: sustainable development and citizenship, a materials pack produced as part of the Post-16 Citizenship Support Programme meant to support the integration of citizenship education into post-16 education and training programmes.
Training and Development Agency (TDA)
The Training and Development Agency (TDA), the national agency for educational training, has funded the Citized project, a citizenship website and network started to assist in training for the UK citizenship curriculum. It has also funded the Teacher Training Resource Bank web portal, which provides information for teacher training institutions and trainees. Both sites feature resources on sustainable development and ESD.
In 2006, TDA published its Environmental statement: April 2006 to March 2007, which announced the department’s commitment to promoting sustainable practices in all of its activities and integrating ESD into all its programmes. Also in 2006, TDA published its Sustainable Development Action Plan, which referenced the work of the Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP), as well as the importance of partnership with DfES, and outlined its actions and targets for integrated SD into its programmes and departmental practices.
Note: the included links to publications and departmental activity on ESD are not comprehensive. For a full report on the range of UK departmental initiatives on ESD, and a timeline of UK government policies on SD and ESD from 1998-2008, see UKNC’s 2008 report on ESD in the UK**.
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