Our Chair of Trustees, Bill Scott, here reflects on a 40 year-old publication from HMI.  He writes in a personal capacity.

The text that follows is a brief extract from a long 1979 HMI publication: Curriculum 11-16 Working papers by HM Inspectorate (second edition, 1979).  The section on environmental education is on pages 71 to 74.  The whole document can be read here.

This is how the paper begins:

“Environmental education is to be regarded as a function of the whole curriculum, formal and informal.  … There is a common purpose in these to foster an understanding of the processes and complex relationships which affect environmental patterns, together with sensitivity to environmental quality and a concern for the wise and equitable management of the earth’s resources.  Contributions come mainly from biological, physical, earth and rural science, and from geography, history and art (including architecture); but this is not an exclusive list.  Because the spectrum of concern is so wide and so many variations of content and emphasis are possible, it is desirable to identify a set of overall aims for guidance in syllabus and curriculum construction.”

One of the issues that the paper deals with is the sort of understandings that environmental education should be encouraging.  HMI say this:

“A large proportion of academic disciplines are devoted to the study of the physical world and man’s [sic] behaviour within it.  Some of the topics with implications for environmental education, of which the informed citizen could be said to need a degree of knowledge and understanding, are:

ecological relationships and balance
energy sources and energy flow
population growth and control
the preservation of finite resources and the husbanding of renewable resources
the care of wildlife and the countryside
the processes and dangers of pollution
the implications of technological development
economic activity and growth
differentials in human consumption patterns
the distinction between standard of living and quality of life
conservation of the cultural heritage
the planning and control of land use
the distribution, form and function of settlements
urban growth and decay
the political structures within which environmental decisions are taken.

Much of the content indicated by such a list is dealt with by the separate subjects of the curriculum; it may usefully suggest criteria for the selection of what is to be taught.

Clearly, any attempt to teach everybody everything is misplaced, although there is good reason to try to provide as wide a range of insights as possible.  What is perhaps most important is to convey the realisation that environmental systems are complex and environmental problems not easily resolved.  This cannot readily be done solely through the medium of individual subjects or without taking a synoptic view from time to time.  The proper study of environmental issues requires cooperative teaching approaches and automatically entails cross disciplinary reference.”

………………………………….

The ideas in this quoted text (and most of the rest of the publication) have stood the test of time pretty well.  HMI were encouraging schools (and it has to be said, the education ministry) to consider how ideas could be enacted and how young people could be helped to understand the issues facing them and helped to want to have an active interest in them.  40 years on, it is groups of young people that are doing this, and, of course, organisations such as NAEE.

Sadly, the last point about the need for “cooperative teaching approaches and … cross disciplinary reference” was never (and is still not) taken seriously.  But perhaps a greater problem is that HMI (Ofsted) no longer takes a serious interest in curriculum.