Monday, August 27, 2007

Renewed focus on environmental education is needed

No comments:
One of my current activities brings together three interests - science, the environment and education. I currently have a petition on the Bristol City Council website
( ) which is about enhancing environmental education and awareness through school/college environmental charters. I've written and used environmental charters in several of the places I've taught and they can work well.

My petition says:

The petitioner requests that, consistent with objective 10 in the Bristol 'Green Capital' pledge list to 'enhance environmental education and awareness', Bristol City Council circulates a 'Model Environmental Charter' to all Bristol schools and colleges, accompanied by a letter to governors urging them to adapt the model charter to suit, adopt it asap and agree to annually review progress related to it.

The model charter referred to goes like this:

The students, staff, governors and all friends of will work to make annual improvements in:

* developing and improving grounds and buildings in a green way (like ponds, wildflower areas, tree planting, vegetable plots...)
* keeping the school and grounds clear of litter
* saving energy for example by sensible use of heating and lighting
* reducing waste, reusing and recycling
* using healthier, environmentally kinder products
* using recycled products and locally produced products
* efficient use of all resources, such as water, food, paper...
* travelling to and from school in low impact ways, like walking, cycling and public transport
* teaching care and responsibility for the environment, people and community, guided by a clear environmental education policy dealing with education about, education in and education for the environment

My experience tells me that schools and colleges need a focus for their environmental education work. Adopting an environmental charter can provide this focus in a school/college. It also takes forward the Bristol 'Green Capital' objective of 'Enhanced environmental education and awareness'.

Environmental education's profile surely needs to be substantially raised in all schools and colleges given that we all need to live more sustainably. In my view all of Bristol's schools/colleges should carry out environmental education: in and through the environment as a resource; about the environment by imparting knowledge; and for the environment by encouraging students to formulate caring values, attitudes and practical actions in their environment; and by developing the skills needed to study the environment in students.

One interesting development is that my petition has drawn a response from Kate Campion, Program Director, Children and Young Peoples Services, Bristol City Council, who wrote this in the discussion section of my petition:

All schools are expected to include environmental education as part of their citizenship agenda. Curriculum coverage is monitored by OfSTED inspections. The LA promotes environmental education through the work of a consultant, working with schools to develop the curriculum to ensure learning is about the environment, in different environments and through the environment, about 'real world' learning. Bristol City Council also provides support for schools to become Eco Schools and the Council has made a pledge to support the 'Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto'. An Outdoor Learning Policy and strategy is currently in draft format. Within our new secondary school building programme, the council is seeking every opportunity to ensure environmental standards are being met and that the building programmes and the subsequent maintenance of sites can be used as a tool to support learning. We are also promoting school travel plans. Over 90 schools now have a travel plan that highlights the benefits of environmental awareness and positive action towards environmentally friendly options. Much of this work is also promoted through the Healthy Schools programme, for which BCC holds 'Beacon' status. We agree that all schools should be encouraged to be environmentally friendly, promote environmental education and ensure learning is of high quality. To this end we work with schools to promote the agenda. Each school must make a decision about how this work is undertaken, by becoming an Eco School, a bespoke charter is created which directly relates to a particular school. We think this is the best way of promoting and sustaining environmental education and practice.

This is a very interesting contribution which I will shortly be discussing with her. From what I know about getting eco-school status a school applying would need something similar to an environmental charter (or some other sort of statement of environmental intent at least) in order to be successful in their application ( I thus hope that the council will agree to circulate a model charter, consistent with their policy of supporting schools to become eco-schools, encouraging schools to be environmentally friendly and promoting environmental education.

I do agree very much that each school must make its decision on how environmental education work is undertaken. Its important that each school, or in fact any team or organisation has ownership of its policies and action plans. This is why the petition says that schools/governors use the model charter as a basis, adapting it to suit them...

On the other hand by circulating a model charter I think the council would be signalling that they want schools to develop a renewed focus for their environmental education efforts, saying that they should have some sort of overarching statement on the environment. Some local schools will have an environmental charter or equivalent statement, sometimes a fully developed and operating specific environmental education policy (including one school and one college where I have worked as a science teacher).

I think all schools should be in this position however, and hope the council agrees, because of the critical importance of environmental issues. Why shouldn't all schools become eco-schools of their own design? In fact the model environmental charter could easily be adapted for all sorts of organisations.