Think Global and the Sustainable Development Goals

Think Global and the Sustainable Development Goals

The new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced in September 2015. Global agreement was reached on 17 goals to be achieved over the next 15 years. Their achievement will be no mean feat – it will involve people everywhere working together to learn about them, share good practice, and decide what they can do to make them a reality. At Think Global, our spring seminar series and our Global Educator of the Year Award are just the beginning of our work to support the realisation of the SDGs.

So why are we at Think Global interested in the new ‘global goals’? Firstly they tie-in with our vision for a just and sustainable world. Through activities such as teacher training, awareness-raising campaigns and producing resources and publications, we help people to understand complex global issues such as poverty, conflict and migration. Our approach is to encourage ‘critical thinking’ – we don’t tell people what to think, we help them develop skills on how to think, and to make up their own minds. We empower people to take action, and then to reflect upon the impact of their action.

The SDGs provide a useful framework to hang learning about global issues, with the 17 goals targeting some of the biggest challenges we face in making our world fairer and more sustainable. That the goals are themselves ‘contested’ – in other words, they do not garner universal support as the prescription for a better world – is itself a powerful learning tool, encouraging deeper thinking and reflection of the issues presented.

Our spring seminar series, delivered in collaboration with the British Council, explored the role of education – particularly school education – in realising the global goals. While the first seminar focussed on the work to raise awareness of the SDGs and examined some of the conditions necessary for human behaviours to change, the second of the series delved deeper, focusing on the dispositions and abilities that will allow young people to move from learning about, to living the SDGs. The series closed by examining the concept of ‘global skills’ in more detail – their value for young people growing up in a global economy, and how these skills can be fostered both within, and outside of, the classroom. This might be through careers guidance for example, or with the support of external organisations!

Throughout the seminar series, participants engaged thoughtfully and critically with the information presented, analysing the opportunities for – as well as the challenges to – the contribution schools can make towards the global goals. This critical reflection is vital for us at Think Global, an approach we have also promoted through this year’s Global Educator of the Year Award. With its focus on the SDGs, we want to celebrate those individuals who have gone above and beyond in deepening people’s understanding of one or more of the goals, and who have encouraged people to take action. Nominations came from across the broad field of education – both from here in the UK and internationally! We look forward to announcing the winner and finalists in July, and sharing the brilliant work they have been doing to promote a just and sustainable world.

For more information about our work at Think Global, and for updates on the winner of the Global Educator of the Year Award, visit and follow us on twitter @thinkglobaluk

For resources to support teaching about the SDGs, visit The World’s Largest Lesson page on our website for teachers,

More and more schools reaching for the STARS

This Spring a further 80 schools from across the country have achieved STARS accreditation. Schools from Torbay to Newcastle have joined the growing number of schools that have achieved STARS accreditation that now stands at 522. This year alone 209 schools are already accredited with another large batch of applications expected over the summer.

In more positive news for the scheme, Maple Primary School of Hertfordshire recently became the 2,000th school to register for Modeshift STARS.

The STARS scheme continues to recognise schools that have demonstrated excellence in supporting cycling, walking and other forms of sustainable travel. Currently 55 organisations representing around 11,500 schools in England are signed up to the scheme. If you are interested in joining or would like further information then please email

National Modeshift STARS School of the Year Announced

Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School of Leeds are the first ever National STARS School of the Year. They were awarded the title at the National STARS Awards Reception held in London in March.
The six STARS Schools of the Region all made the journey to London for the Reception which was overseen by Transport Minister Lord Ahmad, who presented the National STARS School of the Year award.
The Awards Reception recognised the tremendous amount of hard work and determination to reduce the number of car journeys made on the school run every day in favour of walking, cycling, scooting and using public transport.

The six schools that attended the awards ceremony were:
• Godmanchester Primary School, Cambridgeshire
• Haydonleigh Primary School, Swindon
• St Bede Church of England Primary, Hampshire
• St John’s CE(A) Primary, Stoke-on-Trent
• The Federation of Abbey Schools, Darlington
• Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School, Leeds

Rawdon Littlemoor Primary recorded no pupils cycling to school in 2013. Within 2-years that figure has increased to 42 pupils regularly cycling to school in the summer months and 18 pupils cycling throughout the year. This is in addition to 63 pupils scooting to school daily and 2 members of staff regularly cycling to school. They have achieved this through a combination of installing infrastructure to support cyclists, and by involving members of the school staff, pupils, parents and governors in the process of promoting sustainable travel options. They have spent the last 2-years fundraising in order to install a cycle track in the school grounds to continue the cycling ethos and last year held a Glastonbury themed festival to help raise the funds which included a roller bike competition, stalls and games. Over 500 parents and pupils camped out overnight as part of the event.

After the awards event, pupils from all six schools travelled across London in a vintage London bus to the BSkyB Studios in Brentford where they took part in a Sky Academy activity which included a tour of the Sky Studios and the production of a news piece on the promotion of cycling.

Transport Minister Lord Ahmad said: “The schools being recognised today have achieved exceptional results in encouraging their pupils to take up healthier and greener travel choices.

“We are committed to Britain becoming a cycling and walking nation and we are providing £50 million for Bikeability training over the next four years so a million pupils can ride their bikes safely.

“There is no better place to instil good transport habits than in schools so the next generation get into healthy routines which improve journeys and quality of life for all.”

Twitter: @modeshiftSTARS
Email: or

Learning in nature!

Learning in nature!

This seems to be the time of year when pretty much everyone can be persuaded to get out and about in nature!

There are a great range of outdoor based campaigns and activities to sign up to – here we look at just three – a month a week and a day….

International School Grounds Month is in May – have a look here for some great ideas and their fantastic guidebook.

The International School Grounds Alliance says:
“In May each year, the International School Grounds Alliance calls on schools around the globe to take their pupils outside to celebrate their grounds. It’s as simple as that. We believe school grounds are very important to children and youth, and shape their experience of the world around them. If you agree with us, we hope you will take some time during this month—an hour, a day, even a week—to go outside into your grounds with your students to engage in learning, play and other activities.

There is no right or wrong way to take part. You could take academic lessons into your grounds, promote play outside, camp out in your schoolyard or invite parents to the school to watch a play outdoors—whatever works best for your school.”

June 6th is the start of National School Grounds Week in the UK, this year Learning through Landscapes, who lead on NSGW are focussing on taking Maths outdoors:
We now have a number of exciting resources available for this Maths themed week so check them out here! And if you have any questions or great ideas please email us on

And then to round off your Summer outside we have Empty Classroom Day on June 17th. Empty Classroom day is supported by Persil/OMO as part of the Dirt is Good campaign.
This is what they have to say:

“Empty Classroom Day is a day to celebrate and promote learning and play outside the classroom, and we want YOU to get involved!

Join schools from across the world in taking at least one class outdoors, and then see if you can get the rest of your year group outside or maybe your whole school can come out too!

Whether you plan to go bug hunting or pond dipping, teach maths with natural materials, or you want to see how inspired children are after an extended recess with lots of loose materials to play with, you’ll be sure to see your playground or nearby open spaces in a whole new light.

We’re developing inspirational lesson plans, missions to excite your children (and you) and guidance written by experts from around the world to help make the day easy.
Sign up below to take part and help us build a movement that gets children outdoors to play and learn every day!” Follow this link for more info on empty classrooms day.

Juno HollyhockScreen Shot 2016-05-04 at 17.19.55
Learning Through Landscapes

North Yorkshire County Council Coordinator for Yorkshire & Humber Regional Sustainable Schools Group.

The group continues to lead Education for Sustainable development from County Durham to South Yorkshire. Currently the group is looking to develop connections with STEM centres. They seem underused. The stem network may be revamped shortly and we hope to use the York Centre for future events and meetings. We also welcomed Sophie Bebb from fair and funky She currently sits on Kirklees sustainable schools group.

Mike Cargill Stem Ambassador is working on the “Children’s university” This scheme is designed to increase the take up of after school activities. There is the opportunity to get children working on environmental activities after school.

David Etheridge from Farming and Countryside Education and John Muir Award has been working on projects with the national farmers union and school clusters. The National farmers union is keen to engage with schools to increase publicity. There are now good online resources:

Links are also being developed with Bright Crop is a careers scheme to explore the wide choice of careers in farming and food supply. There is a food ambassador’s element to this and links to STEM. In the Autumn they are running engagement sessions with schools.

In County Durham Rich Hurst organised a highly successful Climate Change Conference, which it is hoped will become an annual event. They have also been developing the Spiritual Moral Social and Cultural agenda as a root way into sustainability issues.
In North Yorkshire the Energy traded service schools carbon reduction officers have introduced new events at Harrogate and Howsham Mill. These have proved very successful. Schools feedback said they were good value for time and money some were using pupil premium.

Finally the group is looking into the feasibility of a Regional newsletter This could be termly, with an events page, resource links and updates list.

Peter Bell

SEEd, Leicester City Council, and SSA partner for National Sustainable Schools Conference

SEEd, Leicester City Council, and SSA partner for National Sustainable Schools Conference

On Wednesday 2nd March, SEEd, Leicester City Council, and the Sustainable Schools Alliance hosted the National Sustainable Schools Conference in Leicester City Hall. With around 150 people in attendance the conference was a finely tuned affair. In the morning delegates gathered in the Main Hall to listen to talks on the current issues facing sustainability and education. This included speakers such as Lloyd Russell-Moyle the Chair of the major UN group for Children and Youth, head of University of Leicester Environmental Action Society Daniel Schofield and our very own Ann Finlayson, SEEd CEO. 

Daniel caused a stir talking about the impact of animal agriculture on our environment (some estimates say the industry is responsible for 51% of carbon emissions) and how cutting meat and animal products out of our diets could well be necessary in our fight against climate change. 

With over twenty different charities and organisations holding stalls and events, the rest of the conference saw a steady stream of teachers and students flow through. Big Brum, a Birmingham based production company who write and present children’s plays, were a particular highlight for their adaptation of Rumplestiltskin. The famous tale was refocused to talk about environmental issues. There were also workshops upon a multitude of topics. All of which were talking about ways we can help deal with current issues through critical thinking and how to present these issues to children, from ecology and insects all the way up to politics and International Aid. 

The conference was a huge success and owed a great deal to Victoria Tait, SEEd employee and all-round winner who organised and ran the entire day. Thanks must also go to the volunteers from the University of Leicester who gave up a day of their time to provide directions and support to delegates. We are all very grateful.

Now that it’s over, it’s time to start planning the next one! If you think your city would be a great location for the next National Sustainable Schools Conference, let us know! 

Laurence Atterbury

SEEd intern

Wicked problems

Citizen Science

When I first heard the phrase ‘wicked problems’ I thought it was a bit naff. However, now that I understand what it means I’ve come to use it a lot. As someone with a science background – my first degree is in chemistry – I’m used to seeing problems as having solutions. For example, if the problem is a hole in the ozone layer then reducing the use of particular chemicals should sort it out. And in essence that’s what we did although it’s going to take another 50 years or so to get ozone levels back to the pre-1980s concentrations.

But what about climate change? There’s no simple solution – in fact there isn’t a complex solution. The problem needs to be addressed by experts in a whole range of disciplines including the sciences and the social sciences. And, as we find out more about climate change, our understanding of the problem changes, too.

The website Wicked problems suggests that the reason they are difficult or impossible to solve can be fourfold: ‘incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems’. So, all we can do is to mitigate against the problems rather than solve them. As well as climate change you could add poverty, sustainability, food security and biodiversity loss.

Education helps – if we want people to adopt strategies to address the problem of sustainability then they need a good evidence base of what the issues are, what contexts they’re working in, what resources they have, what’s been tried before, what might give them a quick win and so on. Between us we know a lot and sharing that information through education should speed up the process of mitigation. You only have to look at how ignorance stops people from taking action about climate change to see how important education is. But, so far, education for sustainable development or education for sustainability hasn’t had as much impact as its proponents hoped for because education only goes so far.

What can the public do to promote sustainability locally, regionally and globally? Well, we know that there are examples of people working together to address local problems whether they be water pollution, aircraft noise or food waste. So, if we can find ways for local people, supported by experts in a range of disciplines, to work together on addressing their sustainability challenges then we might make some progress. And this is where we can learn from the citizen science movement.

Citizen science involves people collecting data and contributing to our scientific knowledge base. That process may involve the public counting species of birds, monitoring water quality or monitoring when plants flower. However, in my view, this is not much better than crowd-sourcing data and does not deserve to be called ‘science’. What we need is scientists and engineers prepared to work with the public, listening to their questions, helping them to design research and involving them in carrying out real research that helps them to mitigate the wicked problem of sustainability. Citizen Science 2.0 perhaps?

Justin Dillon

University of Bristol



CAT’s ‘Top Trumps’ for Engaging Young People in a Sustainable Future

Our latest blog post comes from the Centre for Alternative Technologies (CAT) based in mid-Wales. CAT is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability. It covers all aspects of green living: environmental building, eco-sanitation, woodland management, renewable energy, energy efficiency and organic growing.

Ann MacGarry, who represents CAT on the Sustainable Schools Alliance Management Board, tells us about the initiatives that they have been working on this year and how they can be used to help engage young people in the move towards a sustainable future:

This year CAT launched its new and updated Energy Trumps workshop for KS 3, 4 and 5 with accompanying online resources.

CAT’s Energy Trumps activity is based on a set of 30 cards which compare energy sources and ways of using the energy sources in a scientifically rigorous, but engaging way. Pupils play the Trumps game but in this version it is the low impact card that wins. The cards have recently been revamped and can also be used for a range of further activities such as in small groups;

  1.  imagining that they are designing a future energy policy and prioritising the criteria on the cards
  2. following up the criteria they’ve chosen by sorting the cards according to the ‘best’ on each criteria.

The cards are great for engaging young people in critical thinking around energy usage and lead to a lot of discussion. Although the cards themselves already contain a wealth of information, “fact files” for each card with further details will soon be available from CAT’s website.

The newest version of the Energy trumps cards are now available as FREE bi-lingual downloads on the resources section of the CAT website at

Alongside these resources for younger pupils, CAT also offers a variety of postgraduate courses in sustainability and related fields. You can learn more about these courses through the fantastic student blogs which are posted at regular periods on CAT’s website. The most recent blog post comes from student Chris Woodfield who has just started an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation and reflects on his first week – it definitely sound like a great learning environment to be a part of!

For more information or to arrange a day or residential visit to their 7 acre Sustainability themed visitor centre see: or  email



The Eco-Schools Roadshow

The Eco-Schools Roadshow

We are touring England at the moment on an Eco-Schools Roadshow. The events are being hosted by Eco-Schools Ambassador schools who are all shining examples of schools who have put sustainability at the heart of everything they do. We’ve designed the roadshow so that it is a chance for educators to explore education for sustainability in some depth, getting into some of the bigger questions about how we can do it and what the learning, as well as sustainability, benefits are. The great thing about this is that the three roadshows have all developed their own themes organically as conversations progressed through the day. Here are some reflections on the themes emerging from our event in York in July.

Our second Eco-Schools Roadshow event took us to Bootham School in York. Our hosts had reserved their beautiful music and drama building for us and, with its sustainability features, it was the perfect space for us to explore the twin goals of the Eco-Schools programme: improved sustainability performance and increased learning for sustainability.

These goals overlap, it is a central tenet of the programme – by improving a school’s sustainability performance through projects, campaigns and actions that pupils themselves design and deliver, those same pupils learn for sustainability by doing sustainability.

Each one of our roadshows features a keynote speaker drawn from the broad sector of education for sustainability. In York we welcomed Olwen Turchetta from the Global Learning Programme. Global learning is sometimes seen, like conservation education, as a cousin of environmental education in the education for sustainability family.

Too often, however, they are viewed as competitive cousins vying for the attention of a favourite grandparent. The assumption is that schools don’t have space for global learning, environmental education and conservation education and that they must choose one over another. We don’t see it that way, we see the links between them and the overlaps, we see schools embracing all three simultaneously and within the national curriculum.

Our goal is for education for sustainability to thrive and for pupils to engage with it through the topic areas that most motivate and inspire them. Whether their learning is ‘global’, ‘environmental’ or ‘conservational’ they will develop key skills, nurture supportive values and gain new knowledge – this is the vital end goal. This is why we are keen to work together, through our Friends of Eco-Schools England programme, with organisations from across the full spectrum of sustainability education.

Schools who have so far been involved with the Global Learning Programme have embedded it into their Eco-Schools work too under the global perspective theme. They work on it alongside other projects (on, for example energy, water and waste) and no doubt weave these topics together looking at water use, climate change and biodiversity with a global perspective. We hope and expect to see the Global Learning Programme referenced more and more in Eco-Schools Green Flag applications in the coming years.

Inspired by this wonderful short film made by BEAST (Bootham Environmental and Sustainability Team) discussion moved on to psychology and behaviour change. Guided by their Eco-coordinator, Harriet Ennis, pupils have been learning about our understandings of human behaviour and how we can use these understandings to design effective environmental messaging.

In the true spirit of Eco-Schools, pupils didn’t do this learning solely through careful classroom study of Sigmund Freud and Daniel Kahneman, they learned by doing. They designed campaigns that, for example, framed environmentalism in a positive, fun way. They reviewed how their peers reacted to this approach in comparison to more negative frames to create their next intervention.

Their campaigns are having a positive impact on the schools’ sustainability performance as they inspire teachers and pupils to change their behaviours for environmental good, but, as importantly, learning for sustainability is on the up too. Children are developing and practising new skills as they pull together and roll out their campaigns. The campaigns are also developing the environmental knowledge of both those designing them and the audience that receives them.

Harriet is performing her role as Eco-Coordinator very well here as she skilfully ensures the pupil-led Eco activity is bringing multiple observable environmental benefits as well as longer term learning benefits for the school and its pupils.”

 In September we are running four more roadshow events across England and are planning more for later in the Academic year. The roadshows are for teachers and anyone else involved in sustainability education for children. By attending you will learn about the Eco-Schools programme and explore how to make sure it produces sustainability and learning benefits for schools and pupils. Book now for our events in Somerset, Derbyshire or Worcestershire. This year’s Eco-Schools roadshow is sponsored by Ridan food waste composting for schools.


Morgan Phillips


Working together to build a better foundation for our schools

Working together to build a better foundation for our schools

A school is managed much like a business with costs, budgets and continuing development. So when we talk about sustainability it’s important to remember that sustainability is not just about keeping our environment green and healthy, but it encompasses three parts: social, environmental and financial – and having a healthy sustainable school means securing all three of these areas.  Let’s dig a bit deeper into these three areas of sustainability in a school context…

The Social aspect of sustainability in schools relates primarily to the development and training of staff and leaders.  This includes professional development for teachers that will develop their in-class skills further, as well as professional development for leaders that will give them the skills required to manage their school (such as budget control, people management, leadership skills etc.).

The environmental element ensures that the school is functioning in a way that protects our environment in the present and future.  Things like reduced waste/waste & recycling control (separating waste); reduced carbon emissions; reducing energy & water usage are just a few things to consider.

Lastly is the financial component – which is quite possibly one of the most difficult components for a school leader to manage.  Knowing how to efficiently manage a school budget is vital for a school to maintain sustainability.  This can include anything from CPD impact and decisions around professional development, creating a school development plan with your financial climate in mind, as well as being able to effectively monitor all procurement and impact of investment.

It sounds like a lot of work, right?  Well, it is.  It’s very difficult to manage what is essentially much like a large business when there are so many different cogs to consider and streamline.  What we do here at Bluewave is offer products and services to schools which help them streamline their entire school improvement process, so we completely understand this.  As we’ve just explored above, sustainability largely depends on school improvement processes going smoothly while being monitored effectively and efficiently.

So you’re probably asking yourself “how does school improvement contribute to environmental preservation issues in schools?” well, it boils down to student attainment.  Yes, I said student attainment.  By engaging with ESD schools are improving their overall attainment.  There is a direct link that shows schools who teach through nature – this can be anything from maths, to chemistry to science – have better pupil results through increased engagement and an overall better learning experience.

Through the Sustainable Schools Alliance we will be able to offer our users a large network of experts with sustainability at the heart of their products/services.  This means that all users of our school improvement software, SWIFT, will have access to a network of best practices that will help them through all aspects of their role as a school leader.   And we aren’t just doing this within the SSA network – we are embedding many different applications from a variety of different partners.  If you’re a company interested in embedding your product or service into our system please give us a call!

Employing processes with sustainability as the foundation secures the future of our schools and children – reach out to the SSA for more information on sustainability within your school, or call us at Bluewave for more information on how you can join the 43,000 education professionals using our system.  Also don’t forget to keep informed on latest news by following us on Twitter @Bluewaveswift.

Education for Sustainable Development: a perspective from the higher education sector

Education for Sustainable Development: a perspective from the higher education sector

There aren’t many issues which so many people agree on. From think-tank policy wonks, to the most run of the mill grandparents, we all say the same thing: kids ought to be getting their hands dirty more often.

Whether it’s backed up by reams of research, or just taken for granted as common sense, we know that this is important. There are few experiences more disarming than meeting a kid who doesn’t have the slightest idea where milk comes from. And it’s not that uncommon. Once, a kid tried to tell me an egg was a fruit. I couldn’t speak for days.

Thankfully, I’m part of an incredible section of civic society which is taking action on this. At the National Union of Students, we know how important it is that sustainability is an integral part of education. Not just in further and higher education – but as early as primary school too, ensuring that all pupils, students and graduates have a connected experience through education and employment.

Through students’ unions across the UK, hundreds of students are reaching out into their communities, and helping primary school children get a good sense of nature, biodiversity, stewardship and citizenship.

From Plymouth, to Liverpool, to Cumbria, university students are running educational workshops on sustainability, with plenty of experiential learning. Institutions like the University of Lancaster are even providing formal credit for the sessions their students deliver. And of course, there’s loads of other interventions like this from across the sector, not least the Sustainable Schools Alliance themselves.

But as amazing as all of this work is, it begs the question: why are organisations like students’ unions having to lead on this?

Here in the UK, we have a distinct lack of joined up thinking when it comes to education for sustainable development. We’re falling way behind on this global agenda. Japan gets it – proudly boasting a national strategy which encompasses all levels of education – and they fittingly hosted the UNESCO Decade of ESD conference last year. The UK couldn’t even be bothered to send anyone. This is indicative of the lack of governmental leadership on this agenda.

Our new accreditation mark for education for sustainable development is helping students entering further and higher education see which institutions are taking this seriously. But this needs to be far more strategic and systemic. At National Conference this year, we passed a motion on education for sustainable development for the first time in our 92 year history – mandating us to lobby government for a national strategy on ESD. We recognise how important this is.

The UK student movement does amazing things for sustainability across further and higher education, transforming campuses, curriculums and communities. And more and more students’ unions are even supporting the work of their local primary schools. But, while the third sector, NGOs and students’ unions will always have an important and valuable role to play in any active civil society, they shouldn’t be the sole drivers of quality education. This demands good governmental leadership

There are many crises facing the UK education system today, but few issues require such joined up thinking across primary, secondary, further and higher education than properly embedding sustainability into learning. It starts with something as simple as kids getting their hands dirty more often, but we need government to roll their sleeves up too.


Pic for blog



by Piers Telemacque

NUS vice president of society and citizenship