Curriculum Development for Sustainability in Further Education & Skills

The debate is done, and common agreement has been reached on the necessary actions. We are now at the stage where we need to design, develop, and deliver a green curriculum to empower society to understand and then action sustainability.

The FE & skills sector is primed as the agent of social change to deliver the solutions for society. Our learners have a thirst which needs quenching, especially when it comes to understanding the underlying concepts and more important the mechanisms to deliver NetZero.

From a sustainability perspective there are some themes which need to be addressed and included in the curriculum, which includes:

- An understanding the basic principles, including the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), definitions, history, causes, terminology, and approaches to the environmental and sustainability debate

- Renewable technologies, what are they, how do they work and how do they have a positive impact on reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions?

- Decarbonisation, what is it, why is it important, how it is different from sustainability and how can it be delivered?

- Carbon footprints, what do they measure, how are they calculated, why are they important and how can they be used?

- Carbon reduction planning, what is a carbon reduction plan, how are they structured, how are they implemented and monitored?

- Sustainable behaviours, what are they, how do they work, how can they be promoted and what impact will they have?

These are the essential elements that need to be included in a new green curriculum. There is a strong argument that we also need a workable framework to guide and embed these behaviours into colleges, training providers and SME’s internal systems and processes. It is important that organisations that deliver training in sustainability can demonstrate what they are actively doing to reduce their impact on the environment and practice what they preach.

Addressing the sustainability curriculum is just a small part of the sustainability journey that we must all embrace.

In terms of the curriculum development, consideration should focus on the mechanics of how we deliver this new provision. There is plenty of scope to develop on-line and blended learning models of delivery.

It is important to create opportunities for new learning that enhances current provision and that does not over burden teaching staff with additional responsibilities of weaving this new thread into lesson planning. So how do we develop a curriculum which meets our stakeholders needs.

There is a clear demand for a new curriculum that meets the following criteria:

- Additionality – programmes that can be added to existing study programmes and delivered through tutorial /pastoral provision to enhance learning

- Vocationally relevant contextualised learning – programmes that can be delivered alongside or within programmes, which frames learning about sustainability within a specific vocational area

- Within programme support– providing learning about sustainability within existing qualifications to ensure that opportunities are not missed and learning about sustainability can be framed in the context of other learning

- Support for staff - working to ensure that we share a common understanding of sustainability, we need to level up our collective sustainability literacy through effective professional development, teacher training and access to readymade resources and toolkits

How can we drive and plan an effective sustainability curriculum?

At present the Department for Education (DfE) is in the process of articulating their policy via the Sustainability & Climate Change: Draft strategy, which is up for consultation and due to be published in April 2022. An element of this is focussed on developing a green curriculum and equipping teaching staff with effective knowledge and skills through training and professional development.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) is working on this via the FE Green Thread Webinar Series – Beyond the FE Roadmap. The AoC is launching an Annual Climate Change, Sustainability and Green Skills Conference in March 2022 and are lobbying the Government for change, whilst championing and encouraging greater collaboration between key stakeholders across the sector. The AoC helped initially develop the FE Climate Action Road Map, which is a good start to supporting organisations in their sustainability journey.

The Skills accelerator plan, funded by the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) (£85 Million) is enabling over 100 different trailblazing projects to be delivered by Further Education Colleges. Many of these projects are focussed on developing sector based (engineering, construction, marine and agriculture) solutions to decarbonisation. Involving significant capital investment in physical resources and the development of new courses and provision (as part of the conditions of funding and as project KPI’s).

These blue-sky approaches are creating growth and development in sustainability education. Important lessons are being learnt for future deployment and we are increasing our technical, resource and knowledge capacity.

There are risks and challenges associated with this type of approach, which requires consideration:

- The number of qualifications – the Secretary of State for Education highlighted in his keynote speech at the AoC 2021 annual conference that “there are over 12,000 qualifications at Level 3 and below, and in comparison, our competitors have 500 hundred or fewer”. However, COP26 and the resultant policy shift has created a race to the bottom; many awarding bodies have scrambled to get their products out and over the line first. As a result, quality has suffered, teaching and learning has not been put at the forefront and the key sustainability messaging has been lost in some instances.

From a strategic perspective, we should be looking at this from a holistic viewpoint and considering opportunities for progression, skills development, and with green jobs in mind. It is important that organisations get support to understand, measure and implement their own carbon reduction plans. Development of a framework is needed to inform the decision-making process and to guide growth and development. A ready-made solution exists, the FE Climate Action Road Map is a good starting point and should be developed, grown and better resourced.

We must also consider what role should / could Ofsted play in this process?

There is a lack of sector capacity and specialist expertise in sustainability and curriculum development at present. Sustainability has only recently been promoted to the top of the agenda and although we have witnessed a green reinvention of sector, a clear skills gap remains. Curriculum design has often been driven by external factors and has not had to be an internal sector priority. As a result, we are playing catch up and I am concerned that we are taking a bit of a gamble on the climate emergency.

Putting caution to one side, there are many achievements and opportunities to share and celebrate. The welcomed new finacial reality and growth in FE and Skills sector has created a landscape in which funding is more accessible and is allowing more opportunities to collaborate, invent and co-create solutions. The Carbon Literacy Project is creating impact and driving change within the sector and beyond.

The mood music from the DfE has shifted towards listening and working with the sector. There is a clear political, economic, and social commitment towards sustainability and achieving our challenging NetZero target from all concerned.

If we can embrace the tenets of sustainability and embed these into our solutions, I feel confident we can make a difference and create a strong start to the challenge that we all now face.

We are only at the real beginning of the start of tackling the climate emergency. It is important that we provide the next generation with a head start with the necessary tools, skills, resources, resilience and knowledge needed to reverse the climate emergency.

Sir David Attenborough, concluded his speech at COP26 with these powerful words, which we all need to heed.

"If working apart we are forces powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.. and It comes down to this. The people alive now and the generation to come will look at us and will consider one thing – did the number stop rising and start to drop as a result of commitments made at COP26?"

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