NAEE’s new Secondary Curriculum Handbook will be published on our website in early January. As a foretaste, this is the Foreword to the report written by NAEE’s Chair of Trustees:
Writing some two years on from the publication of NAEE’s Early Years and Primary Curriculum Handbook in 2015, I was briefly tempted to write the same Foreword as I did then – after all, the problems we face are much the same, other than being a little bit more urgent, with those responsible for education policy in England remaining studiously indifferent to the issues. That said, there have been significant changes in the wider world. The Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015 and the UN has demanded that countries work to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. Taken together, and if successful, these programmes will transform the lives of billions of people across the planet – including lives in the UK. The Paris Agreement and the SDGs not only embody the hope of a better world – socially, economically and environmentally – they also represent a race against time. In a narrow sense, this is a race faced by people who dice on a daily basis with preventable destitution, social exclusion, discrimination, malnutrition, illness and an early death. In a broader one, it’s a race faced by us all, as we work to limit climate change and global warming before lasting damage is done to planetary systems. There are positive signs out there, and negative ones as well.
A focus on such issues have been at the heart of environmental education for many years, and 2017 sees the 40th anniversary of the UN’s Tbilisi Declaration which set out the importance of environmental education to the future of the planet, its people and biosphere. NAEE’s 1976 statement of aims was a key part of the UK documentation presented at Tbilisi, and there was a widely-shared feeling at the time that, as the Earth’s problems became more acute, environmental education would be increasingly seen as more and more necessary. However, in those 40 years, it’s not really been like that. For example, the blossoming of curriculum interest in the 15 years that began in the mid-1970s, which led to a range of A-level, GCE and CSE courses in environmental science and environmental studies, were brought to a shuddering halt by the conformity and centralization of the national curriculum. Although environmental education was granted cross-curriculum theme status, that didn’t didn’t mean much in the end, especially in secondary schools where a subject curriculum and specialist, expert subject teachers combine to militate against cross-curricular work.
That said, there are excellent examples of secondary schools exploring ways of subject departments working together to address such issues, and also of adopting whole-school approaches to them as this valuable document illustrates. The current secondary school curriculum, for all its faults, does provide numerous opportunities for schools, teachers and students to explore a wide range of the world’s most pressing issues. The power of this handbook lies not just in its careful analysis of what the curriculum says, but also in its excellent exemplification of how teachers are seizing opportunities to explore these issues with their students. The case studies of practice are particularly useful in helping us see what’s possible in today’s schools. There is something here for everyone: for experienced practitioners there will be insights from other people’s work; and for those just starting out, a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities are carefully set out for scrutiny, evaluation and adaptation.
It is clear that environmental education has a key role in helping us address the challenge we all now face: How can we all live well, without compromising the planet’s continuing ability to enable us all to live well? We do not yet know enough about how to do this, and so we must learn our way into it. I welcome this handbook as a contribution to this great task.