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Only half a percent of FE students are studying qualifications with a strong Education for Sustainable Development Curriculum

Charlotte Bonner - National Head of Education for Sustainable Development
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The ETF’s latest report on Leadership for Education for Sustainable Development in FE Curriculum shows only 1 in 200 post-16 enrolments are studying for qualifications with strong ESD coverage

Following the close of #COP26 and with important conversations around sustainability in education gaining traction and global attention, today, the ETF launched a new report: Leadership for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in FE Curriculum.

ESD encompasses the vital role the Further Education (FE) and Training sector has to play in combating climate change and achieving sustainability and social justice both nationally and globally, by equipping students with new knowledge but also new ways of thinking and learning that are futureproof and resilient to change.

This report sets out to better understand the challenges curriculum leaders face in embedding sustainability across their education provision. It also showcases those who are already working to ensure their learners develop the relevant skills, knowledge, behaviours and agency to help them contribute positively to sustainability goals.

Highlighting the heart of the issue, this report illustrated that a very low proportion of post-16 enrolments (0.5 percent) are studying for qualifications with strong ESD coverage, with only a slightly higher proportion (3.4 percent of all post-16 enrolments) studying for qualifications which have partial ESD coverage. These are largely in science and geography subject areas.

Commissioned by the ETF and undertaken by the Association of Colleges (AOC), this report set out to discover where ESD was explicitly present in the curriculum. This follows earlier research undertaken by the ETF, which showed that educators cited the curriculum standards they use were the biggest barrier to them including sustainability education in their work.

Two methods of enquiry were pursued – a quantitative audit of ESD content within popular FE curricular and the creation of a series of qualitative case studies showcasing those leading on ESD within the curriculum across a range of FE providers and subject specialisms.

The report found that many curriculum leaders already see it as their responsibility to empower their learners and prepare them to act as leaders, influencers, and advocates for sustainability when they progress into the workplace. As a result, they are bringing relevant ESD into their teaching.

Common themes in successful ESD delivery included:

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  • use of scenario-based exercises
  • field trips
  • bringing in external expert speakers from community and corporate settings
  • building links between global and local issues
  • skills development and promotion of further study routes.

There are examples of these approaches resulting in learners using their knowledge and understanding to positively influence sustainability within their communities, the workplace and the home.

The ETF have undertaken two pieces of education for sustainable development (ESD) themed research this year to understand current sector practice and needs, to inform our ESD work with a robust evidence base and to give us a baseline for monitoring processes.

The first, Experiences of ESD in the FE workforce can be found here.

Charlotte Bonner, National Head of Education for Sustainable Development at the ETF said:

“We know ESD has a critical role to play in tackling the sustainability crises we face. Educators have told us one of the biggest barriers they face is the content of their curriculum not being well suited for delivering high-quality and meaningful ESD that is relevant to their subject specialism and students. This report will be useful for curriculum and quality managers, as well as others with an interest in, or responsibility for, curriculum design and delivery. We’ll be using this data as part of our ESD strategy to equip and enable leaders and educators from across the FE and training sector to bring ESD to their learners.  We know the sector wants to see this happen, as do learners – the appetite is huge. ”

Janet Clark, National Head of Leadership at the ETF said:

“The publication of this vital research is very timely. COP 26 will have prompted many FE strategic leaders to consider how they can best embed sustainability throughout their institution. The research is an important tool to support this process, as it will enhance the work that Curriculum Leaders are already engaged in, and to ensure that learners have the maximum opportunities to access sustainability across all subject areas.”

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