Although there is no specific national mandate for environmental education in England, a range of policies and practices that support teachers in this work can be found. For example, many organizations and groups are now working to raise public awareness of environmental issues and climate change, and reduce the gap between people’s lives and the natural world by integrating environmental and sustainability education into the curriculum, by building capacity to take action, and by influencing policy. The following are particularly significant: cross-discipline references to environmental issues in school curricula, government support for global learning, a wide-spread Eco-Schools program (an international award that provides a framework for schools to integrate sustainability into school life), many outdoor learning programs (such as forest schools) that use the ‘outdoor classroom’ to help young people develop personal, social, and technical skills and build a sustainable future, and national membership organizations with a specific remit to support teachers and schools. These understand that environmental education will flourish where school leaders are supportive and see its merits, and that building bridges between environmental education and global learning is important.
Across Northern Ireland, all schools are enrolled in the Eco-Schools Programme, which works in partnership with a range of environmental education organizations to improve environmental standards in schools. In addition, the school curriculum in Northern Ireland includes exploration of environmental issues across the curriculum. Environmental educators in Northern Ireland receive training through a variety of approaches; there is no singular certification pathway or training program. Within the national government, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) supports environmental education and environmental education providers, including by providing some funding for environmental education efforts. Environmental education in Northern Ireland may also be supported by other funding streams, such as businesses, local councils, or charitable organizations.
Policy & Practice
All schooling in England is governed by the 2002 Education Act. Section 78 of the Act specifies general requirements in relation to curriculum. These include that the curriculum for a publicly-funded school or nursery school “satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which (a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and (b) prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.” Section 3.2 of the National Curriculum for England provides a mandate of sorts for schools seeking to deliver Environmental Education: “The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.”
EE in K-12 Education
Northern Ireland’s Eco-Schools Programme provides a structured 7-step method for improving the environmental standards in schools. The program is pupil-driven and involves the whole school. Every school in Northern Ireland is enrolled in the program and working towards the internationally-recognized Green Flag award. The Eco-Schools program works with many regional and national environmental education partners. In addition, within the primary years (age 4-11) curriculum, pupils have an area of learning called “The World Around Us” which looks at environmental topics, among others, including social and historical. In Post Primary (age 11-14) there is an area of learning called “Environment and Society” which covers environmental issues among others. These areas of learning are cross-curricular and cut through all subjects. Visit the Department of Education for more information.
In England, the phrase “environmental education” does not appear in legislation, although there are numerous examples of where environmental issues and topics feature in curricular and schemes of work (for primary schools, see www.naee.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NAEE_The_Environmental_Curriculum.pdf). There is a similar pattern for secondary education, and for the public examinations that pupils take at ages 16 and 18. A limited selection of environmental topics are covered in the National Curriculum, but an overarching aim to develop pupils' “awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secure their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national and global level” was removed in 2014.
In terms of in-service professional accreditation, a number of environmental organisations provide such schemes. Prominent amongst these is Forest Schools accreditation. Further examples are the schemes promoted by SEEd and Learning Through Landscapes. None of these is the equivalent of a formally-recognized professional qualification to teach in schools. Environmental educators also engage in training courses offered by organizations such as Eco-Schools (operated by Keep Britain Tidy), SEEd, and Learning Through Landscapes at a national level, and by localized providers such as Lifeworlds Learning, Green Schools Project and Local Authority Environmental departments. There are a number of networking organizations for environmental educators such as Manchester Environmental Education Network and London Environmental Educators Forum who organize meetings and training events throughout the year.
There is no specific environmental education certification program in Northern Ireland. Environmental Educators tend to hold an environmental qualification, an education qualification, are self-taught, or a mixture of all of these things. There is therefore a wide range of qualifications and different skills in the environmental education sector which are adaptable for many different job roles. Teachers tend not to have environmental education backgrounds, and are more often personally enthusiastic about the topic and self-driven to gather other qualifications, such as Forest Schools or field studies certificates. Educators typically receive professional development through their work places, or individual efforts to expand their skill set. A wide range of different courses are available, but not through one specific organization or website.
The National Association for Environmental Education (UK) has existed since the 1960s. It is a member association and a UK charity whose purpose is to advance environmental education within early years settings, primary and secondary schools, and institutions responsible for teacher education within the UK and elsewhere, in particular but without limitation by [i] facilitating curriculum development through the provision of resources, information and ideas for teachers, [ii] providing financial support for pupils to visit outdoor education centers, and [iii] collaborating with organizations that have related objectives. Another national organization with a focus on environmental education matters is Sustainability and Environmental Education (SEEd). SEEd is a registered charity that identifies, promotes, enables and supports environmental education and education for sustainable development in the UK. There are also city-based environmental education organizations such as the Manchester Environmental Education Network and the London Environmental Educators Forum.
EE in the National Government
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) supports environmental education and environmental education providers.
National EE Campaigns and Funding
Environmental (and sustainability) education is funded in a range of informal ways in England, such as membership subscriptions and fees, project grants, sales of publications and merchandise, and sponsorship.
Many environmental education organizations in Northern Ireland are funded in part by DAERA and also through other funding streams and income revenue. For example, the Eco-Schools Programme receives a mixture of funding from DAERA, local councils, and other businesses and charities.
This case study looks at the growth of the international Eco-Schools program in Northern Ireland as well as the challenges it faces in empowering our young people to be the drivers of behavior change for a sustainable world.