Today’s post is from Ben Balin, the chair of the West Midlands Sustainable Schools Network [@wmsussch ].

Somewhere among the chatter of these volatile past few weeks, I have started to pick out a familiar refrain that had been silent for some time.  It is twitching its nervous little nose like a hedgehog cautiously re-emerging from a long hibernation.  If only, the chorus goes … if only we had a government that took environmental education and global learning seriously again. Now wouldn’t that be good? And of course, it would, or could, or should, be so …

Thus it was that I found myself trying to imagine what my ‘elevator pitch’ would be to a newly-appointed, terribly progressive and wholly sympathetic Minister of Education.  (I am thinking of England: its devolved near-neighbours in Wales and Scotland seem slightly ahead of this game).  What would I actually ask for, were I to be stuck in a lift with their full and rapt attention for a couple of minutes?

Money, of course, would come in useful. There is no doing without money. However, I am reminded of the sad tale of Australia’s Global Education Centres, lavishly funded by central government in the 1980s and then pruned back to almost nothing within ten years.  Or DFID’s Enabling Effective Support and Global Learning Programmes in the UK: the brakes on the former were slammed down hard ahead of the 2010 coalition, three years before the scheduled stop; the GLP is about to end in December this year. Money would be useful, but things have to be a lot more sustainable than that, a lot more (dare I say it?) strong and stable.

I could, of course, beguile the new minister with seductive talk of policies: how the UK is already signed up to Sustainable Development Goal 4.7, and is toying playfully with some new OECD global competencies.  Surely every new minister loves yet another set of PISA scores, a chance to strut their stuff on the international league tables?  Ah, but there again, how could we be sure that these policies would prove any more enduring than the Holland Report Key Concepts?.  Those marvellous concepts mysteriously disappeared overnight in 2006 (along with supporting materials from QCA), to give way to the magnificent (if rather less conceptual) eight doorways of the Sustainable Schools Framework.  Now, where did those doorways go?

Meanwhile, sustainable development, the environment and climate change have hopped in and out of the beds of various English national curricula as often as the protagonists of Love Island. All on the promiscuous whim of Ministers.  Surely our new minister can do a little better than that? A bit more stability could go a long way.  So what on earth am I going to say? Well, what would you say? (I urge you to try this, it concentrates the mind most wonderfully).

I could tell my imaginary minister that I am constantly amazed at how many schools persist in seeing things through anyway, doing and valuing work on environmental education and global learning. I could explain that they do this regardless of the (barely) five-year attention span of a government. I could explain that they do it because their learners thrive on it, and because communities – at all scales – need it.

As we rise up through the floors, I could tell the Minister about the many dedicated people and organisations I meet through the West Midlands Sustainable Schools Network: people whose work continues despite, not because of, government; people who collectively show remarkable resilience and creativity.  But I need to be careful, because we could do more, so much more, with just a little more help … and much of that work is far too often in jeopardy.  So yes, imaginary minister, I would say, as those imaginary lift doors open, please do bring on a bit more money, please do come up with some helpful policy. But think long-term. And think laterally.

Perhaps a protected schools budget would be more useful than yet another one-off initiative? A budget restored to decent per-pupil levels, and then topped up to support work around a broad and balanced real-world curriculum, rather than the dreary old narrow focus on EBaccs and SATS? (Come to think of it, minister, show some gumption, you could usefully get rid of both!).  Perhaps securing some cross-party support for such things, so that the next five-year cycle doesn’t knock it all off track again?

The imaginary minister’s post might not last forever, but with some well-considered measures in place, we who work in and with schools can shore up our own sustainability alongside them. Looking beyond the next few years, ready for the next adverse cycle, refusing to be enervated by any temporary governmental dazzle, maybe this time we won’t get fooled again?


Ben Ballin chairs the West Midlands Sustainable Schools Network [@wmsussch]. This blog is written in a personal capacity.  Ben can be contacted at:





  1. Nicely expressed, Ben. Of course, one of the many challenges of seeking executive mandate is that, no matter how sympathetic the minister, the new boss is – invariably – the same as the old boss. What happens in schools is ultimately governed not by an individual or even a government, but by the deeply ingrained and restless appetite for novelty and growth which marks our society.

  2. Exactly and if only Ben. I have been long enough around in both the world of Environmental & Sustainability Education, alongside a ‘day job’ at an educational farm to know that what goes round usually comes around again in terms of ideas and principles. What seems different today is that it would take a very brave minister to go outside the security blanket of their party and truly follow their personal concerns for the future direction of our society/planet.
    But we must still retain our hopes and wish list…

  3. Well said Ben. The comment “topped up to support work around a broad and balanced real-world curriculum, rather than the dreary old narrow focus on EBaccs and SATS?” summed up one of our major frustrations.

    David Fellows
    NAEE and ex Cumbrian Headteacher who retired in the face of SATS domination.

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