Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission

Written evidence submitted by Friends of the Earth Youth and Education Network (ESD 17)


This submission concerns sustainability within government generally, but also specifically in the Department of Education, in light of the proposed cutting of the Sustainable Schools project. To be 'The Greenest Government ever' the government needs to promote values of common-interest, participation, social justice and responsibility towards others throughout all their policies as only this can lead to the co-operation needed to tackle global problems. The Sustainable Schools aspect of the Sustainable Development commission needs to continue and strengthen as all other policies for sustainability affect only the present - sustainability in schools secures the future. 


1. "How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?"

a. Sustainability must be built into all the new school policies that are currently being written or the idea that this is the ‘Greenest government ever’ is just rhetoric. I understand the government’s dilemma on this, as it conflicts with an understandable move to cut red tape:


"The school Self Evaluation Form (SEF) process takes days out of heads’ time and can cost schools tens of thousands of pounds. The Secretary of State has asked Ofsted to ditch it."

Michael Gove [1]


However, the SEF was the place where a school evaluated how sustainable it was. If schools are not going to be required to do a SEF any more, there needs to be an alternative way for the sustainability of schools to be measured. As you will be aware, only things that are measured will be prioritised. If you do not measure sustainability in schools, you are sending a message that is not important.


b. In writing the policies for the new academies and free school, there needs to be built in an obligation to embed sustainability into their curriculums and cultures. In the application guidance to apply for a new free school, there is a request to:


"Please set out the Free School's aims and objectives. You should also describe:

· the teaching methods that will be used and whether the Free School will follow a particular philosophy (e.g. Montessori);

· the outline of the Free School's proposed curriculum, including any religious ethos;

· how the Free School will improve pupil learning and ensure strong discipline;"

Free Schools - Proposal Form [2]


There could be an additional request to describe, for example, "How the Free School will embed sustainability into the culture and curriculum of the school". If this is not seen by the government as an essential aspect of a Free School, this would point to a serious lack of commitment to sustainability. I appreciate the government's wish to allow freedom in the curriculum and ethos, but ensuring a sustainable future for children cannot be compromised. Only if all schools are expected to become sustainable will sustainability truly be embedded into our future.


c. The new 'slimmed down' curriculum will also need to include sustainability as a core principle:


[Not just in the range of subjects, qualifications and pathways in schools, but] the entire planned learning experience of the child or young person, in other words everything the school as a community intends to lay before them for learning. That breadth means lessons, rules and routines in corridors, changing rooms, playground, the regular round of assemblies, visitors into school (theatrical, business, connected to religion/belief), meetings and dialogues with young people from elsewhere, learning outside the classroom, and what happens in the schools dining room and kitchen. Children and young people can learn as much from the ethos, ways and rituals of the school community as they do from content in lessons.

[3]Mark Chater


d. In terms of procurement, sustainability criteria must apply to school meals, school supplies and new school buildings. New schools must be built from durable materials with the smallest environmental impacts possible, reusing materials from the old buildings if possible, or at the very least, these old materials should be resold to other builders for re-use. Renewable energy and energy saving measures should be of a very high standard.


2. How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?


The current measure of GDP only considers the amount of money generated in our country - including money generated by rebuilding from floods, clearing up environmental disasters and polluting industries. If GDP continues to be held up as the only important measure of our country's success and sustainability reporting is left hidden within the EAC, improving our sustainability will never be seen as important enough to merit serious consideration. The only way to make sustainability reporting more transparent and accountable is to make it part of the national measure of success, instead of a separate measure which people can choose to ignore and disregard. In other words, a more holistic measure than GDP which includes wellbeing and sustainability is needed. For example,


"The Happy Planet Index (HPI) provides that compass by measuring what truly matters to us - our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives - and what matters to the planet - our rate of resource consumption. The HPI brings them together in a unique form which captures the ecological efficiency with which we are achieving good lives."

[4]New Economics Foundation


Using a new measure of success for the UK such as the HPI would show an outward commitment to sustainability. Something that is in the public eye in this way will naturally come under more scrutiny and will therefore be more transparent and accountable.

3. Was the SDC successful in fulfilling its remit? Which aspects of its work have reached a natural end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of particular continuing importance?


a. The DCSF's Sustainable Schools Strategy was built on the foundations of the Sustainable Development Strategy and the Children's Plan. As the aim was for all schools to be sustainable schools by 2020, this work still has a long way to go before reaching its natural end. Even after 2020 there would need to be a continuing role for the Sustainable Schools Strategy to help new schools, new teachers and the continuing development of sustainability.


b. For there to be an ‘enhanced departmental capability and presence’ as this inquiry states, the Sustainable Schools Strategy will need to be retained and strengthened in the education department. We need a system such as Sustainable Schools which sets a standard for schools to work towards, as part of the core curriculum and embedded into Ofsted inspections. If there is no inspection by Ofsted, no there is no imperative for Headteachers to help young people to participate in it.


c. The strategy is popular with schools, who can see its huge value and potential:


"Unlike many 'initiatives', the Sustainable Schools framework is a gem on so many levels and if anything, it needs additional support, not less, to enable more schools to engage in a meaningful way. Carried out properly it meets many national indicators, meets Kyoto & COP agreements, contributes to increased awareness of climate change and how to reduce it, as well as showing the children that we as the-current-adults-in-charge take their futures seriously."

[5] A teacher contributing to the Government’s ‘Spending Challenge’ website


d. However, after writing to the Department for Education asking for the Sustainable Schools Strategy to be kept, I received a letter containing the following:


"It will still be up to schools to decide if becoming a sustainable school is the best way for them to operate, and the greater flexibility in the curriculum will allow schools wishing to do so an excellent opportunity to incorporate the teaching of sustainability into a broad and balanced curriculum."

[6]Letter from Jayne Watson, DfE


This implies that schools will not be encouraged or helped to become sustainable schools. This is, in effect, abandoning schools who are trying to do the right thing and degrading the importance of sustainability with children, parents, teachers and the wider community - all of whom were involved in the Sustainable Schools Strategy. I wonder what proportion of the population could encounter positive messages of sustainability through the Sustainable Schools Strategy will not if it is not cut.


e. I think the importance of schools in creating a sustainable society must not be underestimated. If the future is to be sustainable, the people who will be running the future - today's children- need to be included and enabled to play a full part. It will not be enough if the only children to appreciate the full implications of sustainability are those whose schools choose to prioritise it. The Sustainable Schools aspect of the Sustainable Development commission needs to continue as all other policies for sustainability affect only the present - sustainability in schools secures the future. 




4. In formulating a future architecture for sustainable development in Government, how can it take on board wider developments and initiatives (e.g. to develop ‘sustainability reporting’ in departments’ accounts) and the contributions that other bodies might make (egg Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement)?


Is tying sustainability reporting into accounts fundamentally a good idea? Doesn't this imply that sustainability is only good as long as it saves money and makes consideration of sustainability secondary to economic considerations? Sustainability reporting, I think, needs to be separate and have its own value or to be part of an overall measure of success like the HPI as in section 2.


5. How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is ‘the greenest government ever’?


a. The only way to demonstrate true green credentials is to ensure that the VALUES needed for the development of sustainability are embedded throughout all government policy and ways of working. The values promoted by government and wider society must be those of acting in the common-interest, participation, social justice and responsibility towards others. [7]Sustainability can only be achieved if people are concerned with others around the world and in the future, rather than only themselves in the present.


b. Big Society is an inclusive, co-operative vision - but these values do not seem consistent throughout policies. For example, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, promoted the above sustainability values when he said of National Citizen Service:


"We know that across the country many young people are ready to stand up and make a difference to their local community. We see NCS as key to building a Big Society, to increasing engagement, cohesion and responsibility for young people across the country."


"This programme will allow a whole generation of young people to make a difference in their local area and play an active role in making society a better place."

[8]CO press release


Yet the values that will lead to young people wanting to be involved in this are not being promoted in schools – the government are:


"...asking Ofsted to change their framework to focus on four principal areas: the quality of teaching, the effectiveness of leadership, pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ achievement."

From a Michael Gove press notice, 23rd September (reducing bureaucracy) [1]


These headline criteria seem to be at odds with the values of the Big Society and of future sustainability. The children will be taught, controlled, disciplined, protected and assessed throughout their time in school - and only in the schools that choose to prioritise it will they become the informed, creative, motivated and empowered citizens we need.

It is realistic to assume that after a 2 week 'National Citizen's Service' at age 16, children used to being taught, lead and controlled will morph into fully thinking, engaged adults ready to lead the country into sustainability?


c. As another example, the government intend to


"...continue to offer parents more choice with the expansion of academies and the free school programme."

[9]Letter from Michael Gove


Yet increased parental choice in itself is an appeal to self-interest values. Instead of making every school a good school so children can walk there and meet friends who live close to them which strengthens communities, this policy encourages parents to drive their children far from where they live. It encourages competition for places in good schools and new schools, whilst taking resources from struggling schools, which could be forced to close. Inherent in this is waste and replication of resources, as more schools are built than are needed and other schools decline.


d. Fundamental analysis needed of the conditions to ensure sustainability. It is no good to keep promoting business, consumerism, lack of community, etc, in most policies, then trying to stick SD on top like a plaster. SD is a way of thinking.


e. To show it is 'The Greenest Government ever', there is a need for an open debate - or at least an explanation from government - about what values really matter to them, so we, the public, can see the reasons behind the policies that are being set.



[1]From a Michael Gove press notice, 23rd September (reducing bureaucracy)


[2] Free Schools - Proposal Form


[3]Mark Chater, QCDA, September 2010


[4]New Economics Foundation



[5]A teacher contributing to the Government’s ‘Spending Challenge’ website

file:///C:\Users\Rachel\Documents\Youth%20and%20Education\Sustainable%20Schools%20campaign\Sustainable%20schools%20press%20release%2020_08_10_final.doc >


[6] In a letter from Jayne Watson, Public Communications Unit


[7] Common Cause, The Case for Working with our Cultural Values, September 2010. http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/common_cause_report.pdf


[8] Prime Minister to launch National Citizen Service pilots for young people, CO press release 22 July 2010 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/newsroom/news_releases/2010/100722-citizenservice.aspx


[9] From letter to Christopher Trinick (QCDA) from Michael Gove, 15th September

14 October 2010