I have recently begun to develop a sense of hope and a realisation that there could be many opportunities about to re-emerge for Learning for Sustainability or ESD. I know – and this is despite the current media attention on the ‘B’ word and the ‘T’ word!


So, given that SEEd is really about the movement to embed ESD in the way we think about education and learning as well as how we do it – am I spotting the next opportunity in the movement? I am hoping that this is where age, patience and persistence come into their own.


Here is a short list of the reasons I am finding for optimism – but also is making SEEd think about who we target next for this next step in the social movement called ESD.


Firstly the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and why this newsletter is heavily focussed on it. Although not fully accepted across the whole of the UK, it is great being a Key Global Partner with UNESCO because I then get to meet others from around the world who are taking the SDGs very seriously indeed – and in particular the opportunities for education. We met in Costa Rica in April and the enthusiasm to continue and the commitment from UNESCO to encourage the member states to continue to support ESD was heartening.


However there are some challenges with the SDGs and some contradictions – depending on your viewpoints. Please do read Morgan Phillips thoughtful analysis in this newsletter – this focusses on Goal/Objective 8.1 – and the economic growth model.


Secondly, I am also concerned about the broader learning agenda – not just Goal 4.7, but the whole of SDG 4 on Education and where education sits in the other 16 goals. Because, make no mistake, every other SDG will at some point say they need education to solve some of their issues. They always do this! However, what do they mean by education for sustainability or climate change or biodiversity loss? Whenever I have asked this question and dug deeper – they usually mean content and awareness raising. As we know this does not lead to change or building the sustainability competencies and resilient, hopeful young people ready to engage in making the world a better and safe place for all life.


But we can flip this into an opportunity, and I would encourage you to do this! By bringing in ESD and global citizen educational methodologies their work and impact in those other 16 SDGs will be much more effective and long lasting. This is after all a programme that is firmly rooted in futures thinking. So can you encourage systems thinking, collaboration, thinking about change, action learning, inclusivity, socially critical thinking? If you need more training in this do join our Facilitation Course in October. Sign up here. We are also running some courses on inquiry based learning for primary and secondary schools – do contact us if you would like such a course in your area.


Thirdly, My other worry is the way the SDGs could become compartmentalised and appear as separate silos. Goal 4.7 would not be immune to this as this is what we have been doing so far. Can I recommend you look at my blog from a while ago where I mapped out how we all fit a jigsaw and all are important for an education FOR sustainability. The map and blog is here: https://se-ed.co.uk/personal-view-world-esd/. But I take hope from the new groups interested in ESD – their conferences and the linking up happening e.g. the Sustainable Schools Alliance which SEEd founded and manages. We have been asked to attend and give speeches about ESD to many organisations recently including the IUCN.


Fourthly,  in the UK there is movement to hold government to account and to record progress on the SDGs. This is being led by UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD). SEEd have been member since the beginning and have contributed to conferences and their first report on the SDGs in the UK. Its called ‘Measuring Up’. There is some good practice and policies around – Scotland, Wales and the NUS specifically get a mention but it is not across the whole of the UK or limited to a few programmes. Here are the recommended actions for Education:


“Recommended actions


  1. Identify, disseminate, and support existing effective policy and practice in

SDG-related teaching and learning across the UK


  1. Support all educational institutions and providers (pre-school to post-graduate

provision) to further develop effective curricula and schemes of work that

integrate SDG-related issues into students’ experiences, including ecological

imagination, critical thinking and a greater awareness of the interdependence

of all life


  1. Revise, using proven strategic planning processes for sustainable development,

all technical and vocational provision to make it fit for the 21st century


  1. Ensure that the SDGs feature prominently and coherently within all teacher

education provision, with a focus on integration within subject, appropriate

pedagogy, and assessment and evaluation. Establish a commission to oversee

UK-wide strategies to support this programme of teacher education


  1. Continue to give attention in all schools to the issue of underachievement of

boys, through participatory learning strategies, clear, realistic and positive

goal-setting for all those less motivated to learn, and imaginative interaction

with extended families”


Linking Quality education to SDG related education is a strong message here to government, rather than believing we have a good education system without reference to the SDGs – which the Government’s  Agenda 2030 said.


Lastly, I am taking heart from some government news. I am a great admirer of the Environmental Audit Committee and their current Chair Mary Creagh. They have been grilling the Prime Minister and Michael Gove recently.

There are other moves too. At the launch of the ‘Measuring Up’ report at the House of Commons recently, we were introduced to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the SDGs. The APPG for Education were recently engaged in an event on Global Learning that Think Global organised, and there are other APPGs on sustainability and youth. Now if we could just join them up!


The trick will be to keep up the work, join it up so it represents the size of both the movement and the need and urgency to embed ESD. To do that we all need to see ourselves as part of the jigsaw and join in!