The Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill

Emeritus Professor at Bath University, Bill Scott

Emeritus Professor at Bath University, Bill Scott writes on The Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill to be presented to the House of Lords.

An Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill  has been introduced into the House of Lords to “make provision in the national curriculum regarding sustainable citizenship and protection of the environment.”  

It’s a private members’ bill and is 6th in line for debate. This probably means that its chances of success are slim, but you never know. Either way, congratulations are due to SEEd which has been trying to do something like this for some time, and whatever the outcomes turn out to be, at least there will have been some focused debate in parliament; this will make a change.  

Of course, DfE might support the Bill to ease it through its various stages. Or it might not. Indeed, it might support it in order to wreck it. Odder things have happened in the mother of parliaments. We shall see. The Bill seems well drafted:
1. – It seeks to amend section 78(1)(c) of the 2020 Education Act – general requirements in relation to curriculum – by adding “instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations.”
2. – And to amend section 80(1)(f) of the Act – basic curriculum for every maintained school in England – to make provision “for sustainable citizenship education for all registered pupils who are provided with secondary education.”
3. – It then charges the Secretary of State to “give guidance about the provision of education under section 80(1)(f).”
4. – It requires that this guidance must be given with a view to ensuring that pupils learn about the impact of human behaviour on the natural environment, and the impact of the natural environment on human wellbeing.  And …
5. – with a view to ensuring that pupils have opportunities to develop skills to protect and restore the natural environment, and skills to measure the impact of their actions on the natural environment.
6. –  It then requires that the governing body of a maintained secondary school must have regard to guidance under this section.
7. – And requires the Secretary of State to review guidance under this section from time to time
8. – It defines “citizenship” to include programmes of study that encourage learning to protect and restore the natural environment for present and future generations, including but not limited to climate change considerations.”  This applies to Key Stages 1 to 4.

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So, what to make of this?  The clever bit is probably requiring the Secretary of State to give guidance about the provision of education under section 80(1)(f), although this only applies to secondary schools (and then only to those that take any notice of the national curriculum).  This is what DfE has been most reluctant to do up to now.  This guidance is so that pupils will learn about the impact of human behaviour on the natural environment and can develop skills [i] to protect and restore it, and [ii] to measure the impact of their actions.

It goes (almost) without saying that the effectiveness of this amendment will depend on the way that the guidance is written: its scope and detail, and its open or closed focus.  In particular, on how “skills” and “actions” are defined.

Doing so with a generosity of spirit could result in meaningful change.  Done with narrow-minded parsimony, it will be likely be little more than business as usual with the interested schools and teachers addressing issues, and the uninterested carrying on as now.  A crucial question, I guess, is to what extent this guidance represents a programme of study.  I imagine that DfE will want to avoid this.

Bill Scott, is an emeritus professor of education at the University of Bath.  Until 2010, he was director of the Centre for Research in Education and the Environment [CREE] which was established in 1995 and became the largest and most active anglophone group of academics interested in the links between education and learning and sustainability.   He is involved in a range of activities, most particularly as Chair of Trustees at the UK’s National Association for Environmental Education (NAEE).  His latest book, (co-authored with Paul Vare for Greenleaf) is: Learning, Environment and Sustainable Development: a history of ideas.