This isn’t my field of expertise!

With #COP26 just around the corner, Tina Alderson reflects on what FE can do about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD*)

Where do I begin? ‘Where do we begin?’ I hear echoed by fellow Post 16 educators.

Let me start at the beginning by simply saying ‘We don’t know, what we don’t know’ and then if I may, ‘if we don’t know, then how can we share this unknown information with our learners?’

photograph of a hut with recycling boxes outside itLet me unravel further: What do I know, I thought I was doing my bit? I readily place my cardboard and paper in the blue recycle boxes the council provide, and then in the other I place my glass bottles. Into the blue bag go the plastic and cans, in my green bin garden waste: there is very little in my grey household waste I am proud to say. The nation was able to change, together we did change, and local councils jubilantly reported their recycling statistics. But is this enough? Research tells us it is not!

Build back better

COP 21 came first, hosted in Paris on 12th of December 2015, a universal legal agreement applicable to all, where 196 negotiating parties committed to drawing up a long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development:

  • Reducing GHG emissions by 2025-2030
  • Adapting or reducing vulnerability to the effects of climate change

The United States withdrew from the Paris agreement on the 4th of November 2020.

As the world meets for the 31st of October to the 12th of November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, known as COP 26 (Conference of the Parties), there is hope that the event will result in a truly historic agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate emergency, we, as educators need to address learning now. But how do we build back better?

Experiences of Education for Sustainable Development in FE

As a starting point we can begin by reading the Education Training Foundation (ETF) report: Experiences of Education for Sustainable Development in the Further Education and Training Sector (August 2021), which clearly states:

‘The further education and training (FE) sector has a critical role to play in combating climate change and achieving broader sustainable goals. It is uniquely paced to bring about transition and transformation in our society.’ ’The sector reaches millions of learners from all walks of life.’ however, ‘The FE workforce has very little training on how to deliver quality, impactful ESD … 74% of teaching staff feel that they haven’t received adequate training to embed sustainability in their work nor to educate learners about sustainability or climate change.’

In response to the report, the ETF Team have been working tirelessly to meet the needs of educators; you can keep up-to-date with their ESD work, including what is in the pipeline, here, which includes specialist ESD CPD for educators.


What is a reliable source?

The burning question is, ‘what is a reliable source?’ when you search the internet in a bid to include the 4C’s (Curriculum; Campus; Community and Culture)? Fortunately, I live in the beautiful area of South Lakeland and Kendal Town Council have teamed together with experts in industry, to shape change, educating all. On their website you will find resources that explore the carbon neutral quest to safeguard our planet, advertising that:

Kendal is set to become a national driver of positive action against Climate Change following the UK’s first Citizens Jury at a town level… As Kendal continues to honour its citizens, the town has every potential to become a beacon of positive climate action.’

The Kendal Climate Change Jury have recorded 19 expert presentations, over a course of eight sessions, addressing key areas of Food, Political Leadership, Energy, Transport, Food Waste & Packaging, Planning and Trees.

click to access

Did you spot two 5’s … The numbers are not meant to be in consecutive order, instead they represent how many recommendations within each topic/category have been selected as part of the Key 27 actions.

If you choose to sign up to their website, they will keep you updated when new content and up-dates become available. They are in the process of updating the site as I speak, tracking the progress of each of the actions, you may find this interesting and a good way to be accountable.


Educators can make a difference

Globally we need to adapt resources and reduce highbrow language to the level of learners we are delivering to if we, are going to make a difference.

We are all busy delivering to a new cohort of learners in this new academic year, however, we all need to find time to stop and reach out to learners to determine their sustainable starting point and then develop their understanding further, addressing areas of misunderstanding, in a language that is appropriate to their level, encouraging the learners to lead conversation and actions.

I want to learn more too, I need to learn more, so I’ve just signed up to a free online course, run by the University of Edinburgh, British Council and Learning for Sustainability Scotland… I found the link on the COP 26: I’m not Scottish and the ozone, just like Covid doesn’t mind either. The course is providing me with valuable networking opportunities across the globe as we address new ways of thinking and behaving. The world came together for Covid and acted immediately, without hesitation, to preserve life because there was a clear and present danger to you and your family, so the questions we should be asking ourselves are ‘What is the difference? What was the point of preserving human life if there is going to be no planet to live on? What do I need to know and share to make a difference?

In the meantime

I posed two questions on a vacated noticeboard ‘What is climate change’ dangling a red pen from a string, and the other question, photograph of a display board with post it notes onand with a green pen dangling down, ‘What should we do about climate change?’ It was an invite for everyone to join in, and join in they did, the buzz around college was phenomenal, the Principal sent out an email, and the conversation got louder and louder. Within a few hours I had people knocking on the staffroom door, stopping me in the corridor and emailing me their ideas. I quickly organised a Teams page, a hub for everyone to unite and share their blogs, Tweets, newsfeeds, weblinks, infographics and ask questions around net zero emissions… where all those within the ESD Team can answer. I hope this page gives learners of Kendal College and the staff, an opportunity to learn, not only from each other, but also together as new knowledge emerges from professionals in industry.


Let our learners know we care

Did you know the ESG Foundation will ‘alert journalists to organisations’ preparedness to report their ESG activities along UN based best practice guidelines?

The benefit of focusing senior leadership teams’ attention on best ESG practice will immeasurably benefit the impact their organisations make to reducing carbon emissions; addressing issues of social inequality and running their organisations efficiently and transparently.’

This would be wonderful to showcase to our learners, to tell them how much we really care, wouldn’t you agree?

Let’s hear it from a learner’s point of view

‘The world is at peril, but nothing is being done’ which is why a nineteen-year-old learner from Kendal College tapped away daily writing her inspiring sustainable living blog addressing Eco-anxiety (anxious response to the prospect of environmental damage and collapse). Take a sneaky peak, scratch that. Take a look, you’ll be hooked, you will be amazed, it’s a learner breaking down issues to sustainable tips, into different areas of our lifestyles because they have hope that we can turn anxiety into action, hope for a better future, hope that we can all build back better. I know your learners will love it too!

New Assessment for Learning

Not sure how to target learners who have poor literacy skills, then demonstrate how they can use the ‘Emoji in English and ESOL’ learner led strategy, Emojis in English & ESOL | Excellence Gateway,  that incorporates the universal language of emojis to enable them to lead their learning forward in a fun, motivational and engaging way, inspiring them to link their knowledge, skills, and behaviours to their workplace, home, and social life, so they too can make informed decisions about their future.

Expert interviewed

I started this blog by stating ‘I am not an expert,’ however, I do know an expert: Mr Ian Carradice, Director at Arup, has 36 years’ of experience addressing environmental issues, his accolades include advising the Commonwealth. In an interview with Mr Carradice, on the 20th of September 2021, he invited me to share his message to you:

“Each individual should think about what they value. We should all think about what we can do as individuals in the way we live and the choices we make. To gain an understanding of the key issues suggested reading are the United Nations Sustainable Development Guidelines UNSDG’s, COP 21 agreement, Planetary Boundaries, Circular Economy Principles and Thame an interest in the upcoming COP 26 in Glasgow, as well as UK and local area commitments. Also bear in mind the many and varied future career opportunities.”

The future is not yet written

The future is not yet written, it can be changed, our behaviour can change. As facilitators our gift is to share knowledge, skills, and behaviours with our learners, to involve our learners, to learn from our learners, to let our learners’ lead. Learners look to us for influence and leadership, we need to encourage the learners to look at what they value, reflect, and adapt! We need to keep the message simple, clear, and easy to follow. Some of our learners will have ‘only just arrived at the party,’ we need to look from a different perspective; look through the learners’ lens and see how we can encourage new knowledge to shape future change as learners show us the way to guide our delivery. Together we can address the ‘carbon battle’ to reduce climate change. The time is NOW!

We ALL need to take drastic action now!

Together let’s start to educate learners, so they can save their precious planet.

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Tina Alderson


Tina is a Functional Skills teacher at Kendal College. She is also a project lead for her OTLA 7 practitioner action research project: ‘Emojis in English