Sustainable Schools: Responding to New Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT:

The Government has announced that all schools are to become sustainable schools by 2020. This article suggests that if geography teachers are to realise the full potential of such schools, they should enable students to think critically about sustainable development and make informed choices about realising sustainability within schools and the wider world. After exploring ways in which critical geographers have sought to understand sustainable development, the article explores some of the contradictions surrounding the national framework for sustainable schools, and then outlines three activities for older students that suggest how the framework might be explored in the geography classroom.

Government iniatives on education for sustainable development

We do not know exactly what will be the skills needed for sustainable development, but we expect that they will include team work, flexibility, analysis of evidence, thinking critically, making informed choices and participating in decisions.'

'It is important that young people are heard. We know that they want action to ensure the world becomes a better place to be and the future of their planet is secure. In addition to our own actions to improve our sustainabiiity, we need to empower young people with the skills, knowledge and freedom to voice their opinions and to make a difference' (DCSF, 2008, pp. 15-16).

The most recent Sustainable Development Action Plan drawn up by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), for the period 2008-2010, seeks to empower and educate young people for life in a sustainable world. Reflecting and reinforcing the policies set out in Securing the Future (the UK sustainable development strategy, HMG, 2005), Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) and The Children's Plan (DCSF, 2007), it accepts the Sustainable Development Commission's (SDC) belief, outlined in Every Child's Future Matters (SDC, 2007), that the environment is 'the agent that binds and adds strength to the social and economic thrust of Every Child Matters something that must be there if we are to deliver our commitments to children' (p. 5).

The Plan re-states the Government's intention that every school will be a sustainable school by 2020. The DCSF published a national framework for such schools in 2006 (Teachernet, 2008) and the sustainable schools website (www.teachernet.gov.uk/sustainabie schools) offers guidance to schools which includes a self-evaluation instrument (s3) for them to monitor progress. The DCSF is funding regional sustainable schools networks, while the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has established 'the global dimension and sustainable development' as a crosscurricular theme in the national curriculum. Ofsted now includes two questions about the national framework for sustainable schools in its self-evaluation form, and has published a focus survey on sustainable development based on visits to 45 randomly selected schools (Ofsted, 2008).

Critical geographical education for sustainble development

The national curriculum gives geography a major responsibility for education for sustainable development (ESD) alongside citizenship, design and technology, and science. Reflecting the quotes from Brighter Futures - Greener Lives at the start of this article, I will argue that if geography teachers are to realise the full potential of sustainable schools, they should enable students to think critically about sustainable development and make informed choices about realising sustainability within schools and the wider world. This involves understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the dominant discourse of ecological modernisation that shapes government policies on sustainable development and sustainable schools, and exploring alternatives - including ecosocialism (Wikipedia, 2008; AGS, 2008).

After exploring the ways in which critical geographers have sought to understand sustainable development, and their links with a global anti-capitalist movement that seeks alternative forms of political economy, education and citizenship, I consider some of the contradictions surrounding the national framework for sustainable schools. …