Overt the period of 2002 to 2010 Ofsted (the UK schools inspectorate) conducted 3 research projects exploring ESD and sustainability in schools and evidence of impact.
The Ofsted ESD report 2003 looked at 26 schools and was looking for evidence of good practice linked to the 7 Key concepts from the government’s Sustainable Development Education Panel (1998-2002).
The OFSTED – Schools and sustainability 2008 (PDF format) looked at 41 primary and secondary schools and the progress schools were making towards the National Sustainable Schools Framework.
The OFSTED Education_for_sustainable_development 2009 followed 14 schools over a 3 year period to look at the long term impact on students understanding and whether education for sustainable development had any impact on improving the broader life of the school. This project ran concurrently with research carried out by Dr. Chris Gayford of Reading University which focussed on the pupils perspective of Learning for Sustainability. You can read his full report here: wwf_report_final_web(1)
You can read a critique of these reports from Professor Justin Dillon, or Bristol University here.
There is debate about the Ofsted methods for their research which is generally based on the way they inspect schools but with a specific focus. This means they look for evidence of practice, evidence of improvement and ground truth it with interviews from students and staff. The evidence may be documented or verbal reporting. Despite some people’s questions about the Ofsted methods there is still very little in school research that has been conducted. Many writer’s claim that the definition of education for sustainability is contested. This really is referring to the goal of education – again contested – and a common practice of persuading students to be sustainable. This refers to education for sustainability (encouraging critical thinking and others skills or competencies) rather than education about sustainability ( driven by knowledge of sustainability). In truth both practices can be seen in all school based research and schools practicing different approaches need to be viewed togther for a stronger sense of impact of ESD. The best example of thhis is schools undertaking a deliberative whole school approach.