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Is the Climate right for Environmental Education in our Schools?

Logo: National Association for Environmental Education

Sue Fenoughty, Secretary of the National Association for Environmental Education, and fellow members of the NAEE Executive. 

A decade ago, Environmental Education was one of 5 cross-curricular themes in the national curriculum; by 1997, it had almost disappeared.    NAEE recognises that EE is needed today more than ever, to prepare today’s youngsters for their role as tomorrow’s stewards of the planet, and empowered  to take action to reduce the harmful impact of human activities on the environment.  

There are opportunities in the curriculum for environmental education and also in some government initiatives so why isn’t Environmental Education higher on the national curriculum agenda?

Drawing on my own experience as a teacher and environmental education teacher-consultant, and those of my teacher colleagues at NAEE, I have gathered many of the reasons and some of the barriers facing classroom teachers attempting to include the environmental dimension of outdoor learning.

A lack of status for environmental education in the curriculum with schools focussing on the 'tested' subjects and government targets, means there can be little support from management and poor awareness of the opportunities within the curriculum for regular outdoor learning.  Professional development courses on EE are a low budgetary priority and budgetary constraints are cited against off-site trips or even for visiting providers.  Other school time constraints mean that time is short for planning and organising trips which in itself can be daunting with the additional paperwork of consent forms, extra CRB checks for helpers and the ever present health and safety implications.  Resources and experience are not always shared in some staffrooms and school management may question the necessity for outside activities.

Uninspiring schools grounds don't encourage teachers or pupils to leave the warm classroom, many pupils lack suitable outdoor clothing and even the fitness to venture far into what is for many an unfamiliar environment.

Lack of communication between teachers and providers of off-site activities can result in trips being regarded as 'extras' instead of enhancing the core curriculum. Visiting from conservation workers to school may not be sustained with follow up work and some teachers demonstrate an unwillingness to become involved in activities preferring to stand back and let others do the teaching.

Environmental Education is a very practical, pupil-centred approach to outdoor learning, its hands-on approach suits all ages and abilities, from learning through play in the Foundation Stage right through to A level biology field work.  

Teachers need to be released from ‘teaching to tests and targets’ and given time to stand back and enjoy being outside learning with their pupils about the surrounding environment.   Bringing back environmental education would raise pupil awareness of the world outside the classroom, and strengthen the role of school visits to places further afield to pursue their environmental studies, at field study centres, etc.  

NAEE’s aim is to restore Environmental Education to the curriculum and we welcome links with all people and organisations who share this vision.  For further details, please see our website www.naee.org.uk

Updated information August 2014

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First published in CJS Focus on Environmental Education in association with The Field Studies Council on 24 November 2008