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The importance of Learning for Sustainability

A blog post by David Maxwell

David Maxwell

Posted 08/12/2023

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Ahead of Our Strategy launch in September we invited David Maxwell, a Quality Improvement Officer within the Education & Learning Directorate in Dumfries & Galloway to outline his passion for Learning for Sustainability and his engagement with the work of our charity, in particular the activities sitting within our Climate Action Schools framework.  This week we welcomed the publication of The Declaration on the Common Agenda for Education and Climate Change at COP28 and it seems fitting to share David's commitment to learning for sustainability for all. 

We all know that we live in a turbulent, interdependent and rapidly changing world, with a complex range of environmental, social, cultural, political and economic challenges shaping our future - locally, nationally and globally. For me, Learning for Sustainability is learning to live within the environmental limits of our planet and to build a just, equitable and peaceful society, and is essential for the well-being of all. 

Our relationship with Keep Scotland Beautiful has developed greatly over the last few years as we have worked to support our practitioners, settings and schools embed Learning for Sustainability across their work.  With the launch of the refreshed Learning for Sustainability Action Plan in June 2023 this relationship will become increasingly important as all settings & schools are asked to take up the call to action “To build an inspiring movement for change so that every place of education becomes a sustainable learning setting by 2030”.

Learning for Sustainability isn’t new – it is an important component of Curriculum for Excellence, an entitlement for all learners, it supports the development of the four capacities.  Learning for Sustainability is a core part of teachers’ professional standards. Professional Values, Learning for Sustainability and Leadership underpin and permeate those GTCS Professional Standards.  Learning for Sustainability also provides a mechanism for promoting and working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

The National Improvement Framework reflects this further in its updated vision for education in Scotland. Here we see mention of climate change, the biodiversity crisis and importantly the drive to encourage children and young people’s participation and engagement.

In March 2022 Scottish Government published ‘Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education’.  In this report Prof Muir places Learning for Sustainability very much at the heart of curriculum reform.  He notes the views of learners who wish to learn more about the environment and climate change.   This report was quickly followed by the Children’s Parliament Learning for Sustainability Report and the University of Dundee report which highlights the views of children, young people and practitioners. 

Besides the national context to Learning for Sustainability, we also need to consider our local contexts.  In June 2019 Dumfries & Galloway Council declared their Climate Emergency Declaration. Dumfries & Galloway Council have already made significant strides towards achievement of a regional net zero carbon status, and as part of this 12-point action plan aim to achieve regional net zero carbon status the year 2025.  

Taking the national and local contexts together the Education & Learning Directorate presented a paper to the council’s Education & Learning committee in March 2020 detailing the policy landscape surrounding Learning for Sustainability.  Since then our partnership working with Keep Scotland Beautiful and other national and local organisations has developed greatly to support our practitioners, settings & schools to take cognisance of this policy landscape, of the climate & biodiversity crisis, of the voice of children & young people, to take forward this work.

We have now established a Dumfries & Galloway Learning for Sustainability Partnership Group.  This group contains a wide range of national and local partners who all have an interest and enthusiasm for Learning for Sustainability activity across Dumfries & Galloway.   This partnership group provides a space for us to communicate, and to work & plan together to further support Learning for Sustainability across the education sector. Keep Scotland Beautiful is very much part of our work now, and hopefully in the future.   

A Learning for Sustainability Action Plan has been created to support our work with settings, schools and the wider local authority.  This uses the national 2030 Action Plan as its basis and aligns to the local contexts of Dumfries & Galloway.  Plans are in place to update this to include actions from the refreshed action plan and from the call to action. 

We officially launched our Dumfries & Galloway Learning for Sustainability Strategy and published our Education & Learning Directorate’s vision for Learning for Sustainability in March 2022. The Strategy makes important connections between ideas and challenges us to thinking crucially about our role as educators in building a socially just, sustainable, and equitable society.  The document sets out our strategic approach to meeting the entitlements for learners. It details the responsibilities of staff within whole school approaches as learners learn about the world, for life and work in a global society and through global contexts. 

Delivering the vision for Learning for Sustainability in Dumfries & Galloway is everyone’s responsibility, and the aspirations of both the national and local strategies will only be achieved if everyone works together, building on the good practice, relationship and partnerships already taking place within our settings, schools and local communities.    Our Learning for Sustainability Strategy describes actions which working together, in partnership, will allow us to achieve the aspirations of our vision statement.

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s work, and importantly the work of Climate Action Schools is a key element of our activity across Dumfries & Galloway.  Our practitioners have been able to access a wide range of professional learning and our settings & schools continue to engage in the wide-ranging offer of learning opportunities available across the 3-18 context.  Our practitioners have been able to engage in much of the national offer, but we have also been able to work closely with colleagues in Keep Scotland Beautiful to deliver projects and support bespoke to Dumfries & Galloway.

A growing number of our settings & schools have engaged in Keep Scotland Beautiful projects.  The annual Pocket Garden Project involved learners submitting designs for miniature gardens which use edible plants, plants to attract wildlife and that re-uses something that otherwise would have been thrown away. 

Ten secondary schools and 40 primary schools were involved in the Dandelion Food Festival.  Each secondary school received a specially designed growing cube, and all primary schools engaged in the great tattie growing experiment.  Almost all participating schools held a harvest festival with music, food and stories towards the end of 2022. 

Across Dumfries & Galloway a number of ELC Settings, Primary & Secondary Schools continue to engage with the Eco-School Awards.  As of June 2023, 23 of our schools have currently hold a Green Flag Award, with many others actively working towards their award. 

Applegarth Primary School were involved in the pilot of the Learning about Forests (LEAF) programme.  This programme that advocates outdoor learning and hands-on experiences, resulting in pupils gaining a deeper and more involved understanding of the natural world. The LEAF programme rests on the belief that children need to experience nature both for themselves and for society as a whole.

Our secondary schools engage in the Climate Ready Classrooms Secondary Programme.  This programme, is a one-day accredited Carbon Literacy training course which uses interactive activities and examples to start a conversation about climate change.  Upon completing the course, pupils receive Carbon Literacy accreditation. 

Last session we worked with Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Climate Action Schools Team to develop a pilot programme supporting Primary School classes to be Climate Ready.  This was delivered in schools in May 2023 to 16 schools and 22 classes.  The day focused on climate change, biodiversity and action planning.  Each class involved in the programme now has an action plan to deliver, which will see a positive impact on Learning for Sustainability.   All action plans have been collated on an online SWAY, this has been shared nationally by Keep Scotland Beautiful. 

As part of the Keep Scotland Beautiful offer to school a number of live lessons are delivered throughout the year.  From information gathered data over the course of last academic session we can see that 144 classes across Dumfries & Galloway participated in these live lessons with topics covered including climate, pollution, biodiversity and plastics. 

There is a great dealing happing across Dumfries in Galloway, which is very much down to the close partnership working with Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Climate Action Schools Team, however there is more do to.  The UNESCO Global Teacher Survey had over 58,000 teacher responses.  Fewer than 40% of teachers are confident in teaching about the severity of climate change even though 95% of teachers believe that it is important or very important to teach.  20% of teachers do not feel they know how to teach children to take action to tackle climate change. This detail is also mirrored by our own D&G Practitioner Survey.  To support this work, working with Keep Scotland Beautiful, and with financial support from D&G DYW, a Climate Champion project was developed. 

 A new Climate Champions role was created with champions coming from ELC settings and Primary & Secondary schools. The project aimed are to support practitioners: 

  • Understand the science of climate change.
  • Understand how the school & local community will be impacted by climate change.
  • Appreciate the significant changes, adaptations & mitigations necessary as Scotland moves to address the climate and biosphere emergencies.
  • Identify practical actions to address the climate and biosphere emergencies, both as citizens and as practitioners.
  • Highlight useful resources and learning activities to support children and young people in learning about climate change.
  • Support settings and schools to embed the principles of eco-schools into their daily practice and into their curriculum.
  • Make connections across the policy landscape highlighting opportunities for learning about green jobs within the green recovery.

 Across two cohorts 54 Climate Champions engaged in four online CLPL twilight Inputs delivered for us by Keep Scotland Beautiful.  From this group 24 Climate Champions chose to be accredited by the Carbon Literacy Project.   Building on this work a Climate Champion Engagement Day was held in partnership with D&G DYW and D&G College in May 2022.  A range of national & local partners, including Keep Scotland Beautiful facilitated sessions during the day.  Practitioners who attended the day very much said that they benefited from the day and agreed to continue to meet as a network of Climate Champions.  A further day was held last session and was again supported by Keep Scotland Beautiful.

There has never been a better time for Learning for Sustainability.  With the launch of the refreshed Learning for Sustainability Action Plan in June 2023 and the call to action “To build an inspiring movement for change so that every place of education becomes a sustainable learning setting by 2030”, practitioners, settings, schools and indeed local authorities will need the support from Keep Scotland Beautiful to realise this ambition. 

For me, this quote from the Children's Parliament Report, from a 10 year-old child sums up my thoughts:

We should have Learning for Sustainability because if people learn about it, they will act, and it’s true that just a few people can make a change, and more children can have their voices heard.

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