“If you could choose when to be born, you’d choose right now”

“If you could choose when to be born, you’d choose right now”

I feel I need to state from the outset that I am a big fan of President Obama, not necessarily because of his political persuasion but because I admire his calm thoughtful considered temperament and sense of decency.

So when I caught the end of a repeat showing of one of the Obama documentaries on BBC the other day, I was struck by this quote from him at the end of the programme.

“My view of human progress has stayed surprisingly constant throughout my presidency. The world today with all its pain and all its sorrow, is more just, more democratic, more free, more tolerant, healthier, wealthier, better educated, more connected, more empathetic than ever before.

If you didn’t know ahead of time what your social status would be, what your race was, what your gender was or sexual orientation was, what country you were living in, and you asked what moment in history would you like to be born….. you’d choose right now” President Barack Obama.

Ref: Inside Obama’s White House -The Arc of History, BBC 2. First shown 5th April 2016

As someone who has worked in sustainability education for over 20 years this made me think. (It is interesting however that this statement doesn’t include any reference to the natural environment). I seem to spend most of my time involved in projects where the general data trends are not good, whether that be related to global carbon emissions and climate predictions or obesity levels in children or concerns about rising inequality or devastating global species loss. And yet here is the most powerful man in the world reminding us that (unless we knew we were going to be born into privilege) then to have the best chance in life we would want to be born now.

I wonder if young people in our schools feel like that. Do they appreciate the opportunities they have to be healthy; to learn; to flourish and make their mark on the world? Or could it be that President Obama is misguided in his big picture view and that actually life in the 21st century isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide us all with the structure to re-imagine or restructure our world for the benefit of everyone and everything. They are a fantastic opportunity for young people to engage in understanding the really complicated systems humans have created and the equally complex natural systems that we depend upon. With this understanding and associated skill development,  students can then make their mark in the world in whichever profession / vocation they choose. It may be the best time to be born now, but everyone can and should try to make it even better.


I wrote the first part of this blog the day before the USA election. What a thoroughly depressing experience that has been to follow from this side of the Atlantic. A calm temperament and sense of decency has been sadly lacking in this election contest. So we now know we have a new Republican President, the next few months should be used by teachers and students to investigate what this might mean for their futures and the future of the wider world.

Rich Hurst

9th November 2016

Education Development Advisor – Sustainability, Durham County Council and co-lead of OASES (Outdoor and Sustainability Education Specialists) a charitable organisation that supports schools and other providers with sustainability, outdoor and global learning opportunities in north east England.

Twitter: @OASES_NorthEast



Visioning a low carbon future

Visioning a low carbon future

What impact does the strong thread of dystopianism that we see in fiction have on people’s engagement with the world? Coupled with the often confused ideas that they have of Climate Change this seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

At CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) we’ve always been trying to explore positive futures, both in demonstrating a variety of technologies and looking at the ‘big picture’. At the moment we are developing educational activities that enable people to create their own vision of a sustainable future. Our aim is to produce materials that will equip them to do this as realistically as possible. This is a real challenge as there are so many issues to consider and so much information that they need to get easy access to in order to make informed decisions. Of course, all the information that we provide them with has to be based in well researched science.

We have already produced a couple of resources that can be drawn on. One is Energy Trumps, a set of 30 cards on energy sources and ways of using and storing energy with back-up Fact Files on each one. The other is an online greenhouse gas calculator designed for use with pupils. Both are available for free on the CAT website (http://learning.cat.org.uk/en/resources).

CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research project is a fruitful source to develop other resources. This explores one possible version of a sustainable future where the numbers do add up. An essential part of the process is how they vision it. We use a large map or aerial photo with a variety of models, card, plasticine and other modelling materials, so that they present their ideas in two or three dimensions. We’ve found that this has the added bonus that it prompts creative humour. All sorts of things appear on the map, some pure jokes, such as sea monsters appearing in all sorts of unlikely locations, but most making an important point in a clever way. These workshops are always fun.

The target audience is school pupils from Y6 to KS5 and also community groups, so one challenge is producing differentiated resources. Another challenge is time in the curriculum. Exploring sustainable futures can deliver curriculum content across a range of subjects but that seems to be a difficult ‘sell’ these days. It is potentially easier in schools in Wales than in England, with the Welsh Baccalaureate offering particular opportunities.

Just creating a vision is an essential first step but it is a long way from making it happen. The visioning workshops frequently lead into a discussion of what we can actually do ourselves and with older pupils may well go into the issue of where power lies in our society. My personal view is that it is fundamental to enable young people from the youngest possible age to make decisions collectively and have some control. I have been told of some rare examples of schools doing this meaningfully. With this foundation they are more likely to become engaged members of a democratic society and feel that there are ways to try to implement their visions.

Ann MacGarry

Centre for Alternative Technology

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 think-global.org.uk 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, globaldimension.org.uk.

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 stars@modeshift.org.uk.

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.”

Web: www.modeshiftstars.org
Twitter: @modeshiftSTARS
Email: stars@modeshift.org.uk or starswalkto@modeshift.org.uk

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 enquiries@ltl.org.uk.

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 www.fairandfunky.com/school-and-community-workshops. She currently sits on Kirklees sustainable schools group.

Mike Cargill Stem Ambassador is working on the “Children’s university” www.childrensuniversity.co.uk/. 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: Countrysideclassroom.org.uk.

Links are also being developed with www.brightcrop.org.uk/. 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 http://learning.cat.org.uk/en/resources

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:

http://learning.cat.org.uk/index.php/en/tuition or  email education@cat.org.uk.



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