Supporting Environmental Education in Schools: the role of NAEE

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Logo: National Association for Environmental Education

Since the 1960s the National Association for Environmental Education (NAEE) has been a key organisation specifically supporting the work of schools and teachers. Starting out as the National Rural Studies Association, our purposes were originally to support the growth and delivery of environmental education activities within the school curriculum. That was at a time when we were just starting to become aware of the environmental issues being caused by how we are living on this planet. NAEE is still run by members and volunteers who care passionately about environmental education.

Our main charitable objective is to advance environmental education within all types of school setting and institutions responsible for teacher education. Principally this is by

  • providing resources, information and ideas, including a journal for teachers to assist them in curriculum development
  • providing bursaries for schools to enable them to take pupils to experience the natural world at environmental centres in the West Midlands
  • collaborating with organisations that have related objectives

Our journal Environmental Education was first published in 1971 and is aimed at practitioners and policy makers. Every year we produce 1 paper journal and 2 on-line journals which are free for our members. Back copies are available to view on our website The journal gives an insight into the Association’s work with schools and NGOs and features case studies, book reviews and articles including young writers.

Kenrick sponsored environmental investigation at Martineau Gardens, Birmingham. Photo Credit NAEE
Kenrick sponsored environmental investigation at Martineau Gardens, Birmingham. Photo Credit NAEE

The benevolence of the family of the late Hugh Kenrick means that West Midlands schools can access bursaries of up to £400 to visit outdoor learning centres where their students will have environmental education experiences, predominantly outdoors, and always led by a centre teacher. These Kenrick grants currently support visits to Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Martineau Gardens, Mount Pleasant School Farm and the RSPB’s Sandwell Valley Reserve.

In return schools must submit a report that demonstrates the environmental aspects of the visit, and how this is enhancing curriculum work and environmental awareness across the school.

Collecting the hens’ eggs on a Kenrick visit to Mount Pleasant School Farm. Photo Credit NAEE
Collecting the hens’ eggs on a Kenrick visit to Mount Pleasant School Farm. Photo Credit NAEE

Our website is a window into the work of the Association with regularly updated feature articles on environmental education practice in schools, additional book reviews, weekly updates highlighting the work of like-minded organisations, blogs and comment on relevant environmental policy and practice, and Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The development of environmental education in schools has not been smooth. In the 1970s a range of innovative A level, GCE and CSE courses in environmental science and environmental studies were developed. Following the introduction of a centralised national curriculum in the late 1980s, environmental education’s specific curriculum area was lost. In many schools, however, it survived, and continues today. Although the national curriculum encourages a study of climate and biodiversity, this is very limited and much of it is optional. NAEE supports the calls for this to be a core part of every young person’s experience of school.

Environmental education remains more than just studying the natural world and ‘green’ issues. It includes the built environment and ways that as humans we relate to the places where we live, and fosters caring, responsible attitudes, inspiring young people to take action in order to live more sustainably. This is something that can give them a sense of identity and a pride in their local environment and community.

NAEE sees that environmental education can be classified into education about the environment, education for (the preservation of) the environment, education in the environment. In the environment also means the world outside the classroom.

Environmental art produced by a group of Year 9 students on a Kenrick-funded visit to Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Photo Credit NAEE
Environmental art produced by a group of Year 9 students on a Kenrick-funded visit to Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Photo Credit NAEE

In addition to the journal and the website NAEE has produced curriculum documents which are freely downloadable as pdfs from our website.

Two handbooks give guidance on incorporating environmental education into different subject areas of the curriculum. The first starts from early years through to Key Stage 2. The second booklet carries on into Key Stages 3 and 4.

A more recent handbook has drawn out curriculum opportunities from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It contains curriculum analysis and case studies that can support teachers in engaging young people in learning about local and global issues.

A new initiative that is waiting for formal approval by the DfE is a natural history GCSE. If approved, this will enable young people to study ecological issues with an emphasis on practical skills. It will also enable them to appreciate just how dependent we are on the natural world for our wellbeing and survival.

To support and encourage the role of future generations NAEE is supporting Teach the Future which is a student-led campaign to repurpose the education system around the climate and ecological problems that we face. One of their ‘asks’ is for the establishment of a government commissioned review into how the formal education system is preparing students for the climate emergency and ecological crisis. Another is to ensure that all trainee teachers are prepared to teach about these issues.

Once the Coronavirus crisis has become a historical memory the work of NAEE and related organisations, in conjunction with the rising tide of well informed young people, will become even more important as we face up to the twin challenges set by the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions and the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nina Hatch

NAEE Executive Chair

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Posted On: 07/04/2020

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