The Sustainable Schools Framework – and those doorways
Much of the work of the Sustainable Schools Alliance [ SSA ] is focused around the Sustainable Schools Framework which was something the Blair government set up. It had 8 ‘doorways’. The framework was formally abandoned by the Coalition Government in 2010 – along with the rainbow motifs, but the SSA is keeping it alive, despite its being an inadequate way of framing sustainability in schools. Indeed, it has added a 9th doorway – Biodiversity and Nature – which was inexplicably omitted from the original 8.
The use of the doorway metaphor meant that the language of the sustainable schools framework was already familiar to school leaders because it mapped squarely onto many recent policy foci; for example, healthy eating / citizenship / well-being / transport / energy / and social inclusion. The government hoped that schools would see in the framework something of what they were already doing, and be encouraged to develop it further. And the evidence (anecdotal at least) seems to be that this strategy was effective in enabling schools to think about sustainability and learning, sometimes for the first time.
That’s what good doorways do, of course: they allow you to enter, but that’s all they do. Once you’re inside, you don’t usually then spend time looking back at the doorway. So why did so many schools seem to be doing just that: reifying these 8 areas and building work around them? This is not to argue that the doorway themes don’t matter, they do, but If you get the point about sustainability then the doorways have done their job. This is not something that the department for education (DCSF as it then was) seemed fully to appreciate, given how much advice and guidance is couched in doorway terms. For example:
“The Sustainable Schools strategy is made up of eight sustainability ‘doorways’. Each plays a role in the curriculum and campus, but can also have a big impact on the whole community. … Each doorway may be approached individually, though schools will find that many of the doorways are actually interconnected.”
Well, indeed they are. They all are connected, and are merely access points into the life of the school as a whole. They are convenient (and familiar) entrances onto the same space: the work and life of the school as a community and in its community. This is a space that is both physical and cultural – and increasingly global. NAEE’s publication Positive Action recognises all this, and argues persuasively for environmental education’s being seen as a ‘green corridor’ leading to the doorways where the point of teaching about sustainability, and managing the school in a sustainable manner, is to protect the environment for us all, now and in the future.
The huge risk, however, is that too great a focus on the doorway metaphor can encourage a fragmented approach, and the presentation of a series of seemingly unrelated ideas. Whilst it might encourage a coverage from a range of perspectives, this focus on doorways can militate against seeing connections, relationships, and consequences, and limit creativity. All these are plausibly highlighted as essential qualities in ESD in Chris Gayford’s 3-year study of 15 schools for DCSF and WWF.
And once you’ve entered this space, and want to develop practice and understanding, you need the sort of help that the doorways (mere entrances, after all) simply cannot provide: you need a way of thinking about sustainability in relation to education, schools, learning, and young people’s lives, which means you need a way of thinking about sustainability itself; that is, you need a conceptual framework that is fit for purpose, which does not yet exist. The addition of an overdue 9th doorway cannot change any of this.
DCSF (2008) Planning a Sustainable School: driving school improvement through sustainable development. London: DCSF. Available at: tinyurl.com/n8xp7xn
Gayford C (2008) Learning for sustainability from the pupils’ perspective. London: DCSF / WWF. Available at: tinyurl.com/q35qaa6
NAEE (2009) Positive Action: greening the local community; the school as a role model of sustainable living. Walsall: National Association for Environmental Education.
Reynolds & Scott W (2011) Sustainable Schools in England: background and lessons learned. NAFSO. Available at: tinyurl.com/nhaqaww
The Sustainable Schools Alliance. Available at: tinyurl.com/ongn3sy