The concept of sustainability remains a crucially important issue in our schools despite the challenging demands of Covid-19. While many schools have been making excellent inroads into educating for sustainability, a year like 2020 can lead to us taking our foot off the accelerator on all but the most essential elements of school life.
The enforced slowing down that the global pandemic led to may well have proved positive for the environment in some ways, but we do still need to ensure that the risks associated with climate change remain in our sights and in our curricula.
Ben Ballin is chair of the West Midlands Sustainable Schools Network. He is positive about the way that schools can explore sustainability within the global pandemic, even utilising it to inspire change. He explained, “There are two main outcomes of the global pandemic with regard to sustainability as far as I can see. Firstly, there has been quite a lot of materials produced by organisations like Learning Through Landscapes and the Geographical Association about learning outside while Covid-19 remains a risk. Clearly getting outside is key in any recovery curriculum for all schools. Secondly, perhaps this epidemic reminds us about the reality of these potential catastrophes. We were warned that it could happen, we did know about the likelihood, yet still it caught us by surprise. The pandemic reminds us that this looming climate catastrophe is not going away. It is a salutary reminder.”
Five ways to boost sustainability in your school
There is a lot that schools can do to improve their sustainability. These ideas from Ben Ballin are a great place to start:
- Go outside: Spend time learning outside the classroom. Even if your school doesn’t have vast grounds to use, you can still utilise the outdoor environment as much as you can.
- Seize the moment – Use this time, while there are no section 5 inspections. Delve into what is in the news. The pandemic is global and it connects us to other people around the world, as well as reminding us of the serious nature of this situation. This global connection can be an antidote to the social disconnection of the last eight months.
- Curriculum matters – Look again at your curriculum. Get documentation in place and start auditing what happens in your school with regard to the climate and sustainability. You may want to use the four Cs as suggested by the NAEE as focus points for your audit: Curriculum, campus, community and culture. Have a serious conversation within your school about what subjects can do to support learning about sustainability. Geography, science, citizenship and PE are the obvious subjects to focus on, but there is also art, design, technology, English etc. And there are some wonderful new young nature writers communicating clear messages about sustainability.
- Development goals – Look at the seventeen sustainable development goals. Don’t attempt to focus on them all at once but pick two or three for your school to explore.
- Utilise experts – Look for expert support and teacher networks in your locality. For example, Tide Global Learning or the London Schools Eco Network (many areas have local networks). Hooking into specialised support can help to boost commitment and enthusiasm in your school.
Inspiring as is to feel a sense of empowerment in the face of climate change, there may, however, be some resistance to an enhanced focus on sustainability, just as there is resistance to positive change in other areas of life. If you find this is the case in your school, Ballin has some ideas for dealing with it:
- Look at the way you teach in your school to make sure that you are not telling children that there is one way to look at things. This is what great teaching does anyway, but we need to be aware of potential bias in what we do.
- Fall back on the corporate responsibilities that your school has, as well as any local commitments to the sustainability goals.
- Reinforce the message that good sustainability education is also good education.
The shared experience of lockdown helped us to notice our environment in greater detail. Many people spoke of being able to hear birdsong clearly due to reduced traffic noise, others spoke of cleaner air due to less pollution. For many, the chance to spend time outside in their immediate locality was life enhancing and others enjoyed the simplicity of life that lockdown encouraged. There is a real sense of not wanting to lose the good to come from a desperately difficult situation. This is precisely what we can harness in an enhanced focus on sustainability in schools. The fact that such a diverse range of countries have signed up to the seventeen sustainable development goals is a reminder that the threat to climate and the need to combat it unites people across national and ideological divides. There are young people demanding to learn about sustainability; this is important, let’s not let this opportunity drift away.
Find out more…
- Learning Through Landscapes
- National Association for Environmental Education (NAEE)
- Oddizzi: for sustainability resources
- Tide Global Learning
- West Midlands Sustainable Schools Network
- Practical Action Stem Challenges
- Top tips for sustainability in schools
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.