Environmental Audit Committee

31 July 2003 EAC sets holiday homework for Charles Clarke

31 July 2003 EAC sets holiday homework for Charles Clarke

The Environmental Audit Committee has today published its Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, Learning the Sustainability Lesson, HC 472.

The report examines how far the Government is seeking to harness the power of learning (both informal and formal) in promoting a better understanding of its sustainable development goals i.e. its aim to promote the effective use of our resources - whether social, economic or environmental - to ensure a better quality of life both now and for future generations. The Committee particularly considered how far the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has been promoting an educational system which fosters education for sustainable development (ESD).

The Committee believes that Government policies which seek to promote sustainable development will not bring about the changes required, at the speed required, if the public remains largely unengaged and unimpressed with the whole sustainable development agenda. Everyone needs to play their part to make sustainable development a reality whether at school, work or home. This requires an understanding of which everyday practices need to change to live more sustainably and the potential impacts of these changes. Individuals also need to be encouraged and facilitated to exert the appropriate lifestyle choices in practice.

Joan Walley MP, Chairman of the EAC Sub-Committee which conducted the inquiry, said:

"Education can be a significant driver for change but the DfES has been slow to grasp its key role in underpinning the Government's sustainable development strategy and ensuring that Education for Sustainable Development is integrated into life long learning. We are not talking about a radical overhaul of educational practice, just ensuring that we are equipping ourselves to better understand and engage with the challenges of the 21st century. We need engineers that understand the requirements of our international climate change commitments, business school graduates who understand corporate social responsibility and citizens that understand how their individual actions can make a difference".

"This summer Charles Clarke will be considering the latest draft of an action plan for sustainable development for his Department. This includes plans for its policy on Education for Sustainable Development and will be finalised in the autumn. We hope that our report will provide him with some pertinent summer reading. The Secretary of State is currently considering a number of education and skills reforms which add up to a significant opportunity to integrate education for sustainable development at every stage of lifelong learning".

Key Recommendations and Conclusions of the Report

a) Learning is a key driver for sustainable change. However, the UK Strategy for Sustainable Development does not set out a clear vision of the contribution which learning can make to achieving the Government's sustainable development goals. We recommend that the Government rectifies this omission during the forthcoming review of the strategy. (Paragraph 15)

b) We welcome the Secretary of State for Education and Skills' confirmation that the DfES is the lead department for delivering and promoting ESD. However, this is an area where the Department has failed to demonstrate any clear vision or strategic thinking. We have been struck by how much has been achieved, despite this policy vacuum, by a range of committed organisations and individual 'champions', acting on their own initiative, across the spectrum of lifelong learning. (Paragraph 33)

c) ESD would now benefit from an overall strategic framework which puts it firmly within the core education agenda, provides direction and impetus to existing initiatives, identifies and builds upon existing good practice, and prevents any unnecessary duplication of effort and resources. (Paragraph 34). DfES will also need to consider the implications of the withdrawal of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme for those NGOs on which it might rely to effect change (Para 50).

d) We support the development of a stand alone strategy for ESD which builds upon the draft presented by the SDEP to Ministers, and which is subject to public consultation. We are concerned that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has chosen to incorporate the Panel's ESD strategy into one action plan for sustainable development which sets out measures for the delivery of objectives relating to both environmental management and ESD policy. We are also astonished that DfES has the audacity to offer less than two weeks for comment on this plan. (Paragraph 40).

e) We are disappointed at the dismal response shown by the Government and the majority of Further and Higher Education institutions to the Toyne Report and its review. (Paragraph 111)

f) We welcome the commitment, in the recent Skills White Paper, to make sustainable development a priority theme across the Skills for Business Network in relation to its work on generic and cross-sector skills. However, we are disappointed that the Government chose to present its future skills policy so visibly and exclusively within the narrow context of economic competitiveness rather than against the wider backdrop of sustainable development. (Paragraph 175)

g) DEFRA's two major awareness raising campaigns relating to sustainability to date have been less than half-hearted and ill-focussed. We believe that the funding of any further large-scale, general awareness campaigns would not provide value for money. (Paragraph 136)

Formal education

We recommend that:

- the DfES develops a National School Standard for ESD akin to that used for Healthy Schools. (Paragraph 62)

- DfES evaluates the opportunities for integrating ESD more effectively and explicitly into the existing framework of Citizenship teaching. (Paragraph 76)

- The Secretary of State for Education and Skills requests Ofsted to include ESD in its inspection framework, encompassing ESD both in the curriculum and the learning environment. (Paragraph 83)

- DfES and the Higher Education Funding Councils consider how they can best support and promote ESD in Higher Education Institutions both through strategic guidance and changes to funding criteria. (Paragraph 112)

Informal Public Education

We recommend that the Government funds:

- and develops a coherent, long-term, targeted approach to promoting sustainable development which focuses on specific, priority issues such as waste and energy use. (Paragraph 136)

 - the expansion of Global Action Plan’s EcoTeams programme to operate on a trial basis across diverse communities, with a full evaluation of the resulting costs and benefits both in qualitative and quantitative terms.  This programme is successfully promoting sustainable action at a household level. (Paragraph 163)

Monitoring and Evaluating Progress

ESD is not being systematically monitored or evaluated across the learning spectrum and there is a clear absence of sufficient Baseline data from which to measure progress.

We recommend that:

- The DfES commissions research into effective indicators for ESD to support the monitoring and evaluation of its proposed sustainable development action plan. The forthcoming review of the UK Strategy for Sustainable Development, and its associated indicators, provides an opportunity to revise current indicators. (Paragraph 195)

- The Economic and Social Research Council  investigates the viability of funding new basic and applied research to support the design, implementation and evaluation of formal and informal ESD on the scale of the Environmental Change Programme which ran from 1991-2000 and remains the largest social science programme ever run in the UK. (Paragraph 204)

Notes for Editors

1. The Committee announced its inquiry into ESD on 16 January 2003 and established its Sub-committee on Education for Sustainable Development on 15 January 2003.  Details of all the Committee's inquiries, together with its Reports and other publications, are available on the Committee’s Internet home page at:


2. The Committee will be formally launching its report on 15 September 2003 at the Council for Environmental Education’s policy forum event: Strategic approaches to ESD in the schools sector which is taking place at the Commonwealth Conference and Events Centre, Kensington, London (see www.cee.org.uk). Further details will be made available nearer the time.

3. The term ESD is now commonly used to describe the learning needed to maintain and improve our quality of life and the quality of life for generations to come. The Government Sustainable Development Education Panel devised seven key concepts which sum up ESD (see paragraph 5)

- Interdependence - of society, economy and the natural environment, from local to global

- Citizenship and stewardship

- Needs and rights of future generations

- Diversity (cultural, social, economic and biological)

- Quality of life, equity and justice

- Sustainable change (development and carrying capacity)

- Uncertainty and precaution in action

3. The Committee’s inquiry was timed to coincide with a great deal of activity on education for sustainable development (ESD). The Government’s Sustainable Development Education Panel was wound up in March 2003 and presented Ministers with a draft strategy for ESD; the DfES is now currently developing an action plan for sustainable development which will include ESD; DEFRA is developing a new communications strategy for sustainable development and the UN General Assembly has designated 2005-15 as the UN International Decade for ESD.