The teacher projects

Nine initiatives developed practical responses to the Bill Scott Challenge.  Together, they represented a range of ways to construct ‘learning journeys’ for children and young people.

We asked each group to:

  • explore how they can enable students’ capacity to think critically about sustainable development;
  • look at how the key concepts in the 1998 Holland Report might be used to enhance this.

Those leading each initiative were also familiar with the idea of ESD 2 – Learning as sustainable development.

Strong threads running through the work of each group were around individual and collective thinking:  learning journeys that take on the ideas of care, risk, trust, belief and reality.  These threads led to the core ideas synthesised in the discussion paper, and Bill Scott’s think piece on Schools, but not as we know them?

The following pages offer details of each of the nine projects:

  1. The Less is more? Project - consumerism and quality of life
  2. Thinking through making - art and sustainability
  3. Pupil voice at the climate change summit
  4. The Growing Schools Garden
  5. Chandos Primary School - whole school approach
  6. Think Food and Farming
  7. Preparing teachers for the challenge
  8. Our Beautiful Earth
  9. Science, technology ... and joined up curriculum

The following outlines something about each initiative and what they had to say in response to the challenge.

The Less is more? Project - consumerism and quality of life


The project

Based in Worcestershire, this project brought teachers together from both primary and secondary schools to explore ideas about supporting children’s engagement with questions about consumerism, quality of life and sustainable development. The project was led by Rupert Brakspear and Faye Walters, ESD Officers for the county.

Findings from the project

“This is not really a project – this is a way to do things.”  Elaine Huntington, Honeybourne First School.

In several schools, the links between thinking skills and sustainability became very clear. For example, Honeybourne First School explored the  theme for a full term, and this gave them opportunities to explore the links to Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Children began to ask questions, while developing a strong sense of motivation and ownership around the theme of sustainability.  The school valued the opportunities the theme offered for exploring knowledge, understanding, analysing, synthesising, evaluating and being creative. This led on to a discussion by governors about the appropriateness of engaging children in debates around controversial issues such as Peak Oil.

The extended nature of Honeybourne’s activity allowed children to move through different stages of the learning process in a particularly thorough and systematic way.

This use of an open-ended theme to underpin a whole term’s work proved a significant breakthrough. Other schools made the theme a focus for shorter projects, or part of a cluster Change Week, and these were successful on their own terms [eg one primary teacher noted that “dealing with real global issues makes the kids feel more grown-up,” while all stressed the significance of children being the drivers of learning around this theme].

Further information

A Tide~ Talk article by Rupert Brakspear includes more about the project, and is supported by a story resource and linked assembly plan:
Less is more? ~ Consumerism and quality of life

Thinking through making - art and sustainability

The project

This involved the use of the creative arts to explore ideas about change and sustainable development – through the process of designing and making things with value and meaning. The project was led by Mark Riley of Creative~ States, a freelance arts educator based in Birmingham.

The work itself involved a group of 36 Year 5 children, who had a wide ability range. They worked in groups to develop sculptures responding to the outdoor learning environment in Timberley Primary School, Birmingham.

Findings from the project
The key challenge for this project was about how you make sense of things as a learner. It focused on developing learning and practical skills as part of a real situation with a real purpose. It was the situation, rather than information, which served as a stimulus.  The question in the background was ‘how do we relate to our school environment?’

Mark and the teachers involved needed to work closely to push children past a superficial level of understanding. Critical thinking mostly came from the last part of a cycle which involved thinking, making and reflecting/evaluating … although there were elements of it elsewhere [eg in refining key words about the outdoor learning area]. They often needed great flexibility in responding to issues which came up, in relation both to the ideas and the process of working as a group. They concluded that this was a strength, and that in leading such work we should not be too fixed about the models we adopt.

Among the aspects of the project where children needed to engage in deep thought were:

  • Practical considerations eg what materials are suitable for the environment they are being designed for;
  • Social considerations eg group working, consensus building;
  • Conceptual considerations eg synthesising key words, and conceptualising artefacts which represented them;
  • Meta-learning eg documenting and thinking about the process.

Because the learning was driven by the children, it helped develop questioning skills … and at an appropriate level. The children’s positive response to the experience suggests that going head-on into thinking about ‘issues’ is not necessarily the best way of engaging with sustainable development with a primary age group.

The project was partly made possible due to flexibility around timetabling, which allowed for substantial sessions over an extended period of time. [It involved 8 x ½ day sessions across the Spring and early Summer Terms].

Further information

A Tide~ Talk article by Mark Riley includes more about the project, and the process which the children followed:  Thinking about our school environment ~ learning through art

The project used a ‘Thinking through making process’ like the one described in the Tide~ Talk article Thinking through making: Art and sustainable development

Pupil voice at the climate change summit

The project

This project engaged teachers in exploring how we give space for pupil voice. It made use of opportunities in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate change summit, 2009, to engage Birmingham children in talking together, sharing ideas about the issues and developing conceptual understanding. The project was led by Paul Archer,  Environmental Education Advisor for Birmingham and Andrew Simons [in his role as Head of Centre at Centre of the Earth].

Findings from the project

The project generated interesting discussion about the relationship between different ways of using talk, including how we might map out a progression between talk genres [this drew on the paper “Talking for a Purpose” as a stimulus, see link below]. 

For talk to be most effective, the project concluded that it should involve a real audience – face to face – including people with influence. Talking should have a real sense of purpose: talking to get things done; to persuade; to influence. This inevitably involves other genres of talk.

One of the issues that emerged was: are we interested in educational or social outcomes? In what learners learn, or what they do? The answer in this case was both, which in turn raised a question about the relationship or  balance between these outcomes. The project challenged a widespread current emphasis on personal behaviours, rather than students engaging in public debate, or reflecting on political or collective action. The latter might start with the school’s own policies – including things like procurement. 

Further information

The project made wide use of the stimulus paper, Talking for a purpose

It was also influenced by Robin Alexander’s Dialogic Talk for Learning Project.

A follow-up project in Autumn 2009 brought young people together to speak out on their ideas in the lead up to the Copenhagen Summit itself. This included a delegation visiting the Department for Energy and Climate Change, an event with Birmingham City Council Leaders [including those attending the summit] and the production of a poster which was distributed widely, including to all the city’s schools, as well as appearing on bus stops and other public places.

The Growing Schools Garden - global learning through school gardens

Photos: Outdoor Learning Service at Birmingham Botanical Gardens

The project

This project took children’s involvement in growing food and other plants as a starting point for exploring deeper issues about their engagement with the environment, here and elsewhere in the world.  Using a new site within Birmingham Botanical Gardens as a stimulus, it made strong links to the Learning Outside of the Classroom Agenda. A teacher group was led by Steve Hagues, Education Officer for the Outdoor Learning Service at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The project also made links to PhD research by Lynne Sealey at the University of Exeter.

Findings from the project

Initial ideas stimulated by the Growing Schools Garden in Birmingham, led to a wide raft of ideas that could be developed, allowing learners a broad access to thinking and exploring opportunities around global and local sustainability ideas. Areas for discussion were remarkably varied, despite the garden being quite small: biodiversity, food miles, aesthetics, garden design, food production and methods [including poly-tunnels and water management]. 

The idea of “growing questions” became a very productive strand of enquiry within this: the idea being that children could keep on visiting and revisiting a garden as they developed layer upon layer of questions, often moving from the concrete and specific to deeper and more abstract questions. Allowing space for questioning in a non judgemental way allowed learners to be confident to formulate and ask their questions. Gardens seem to provide an excellent resource to stimulate ideas for planning such learning opportunities.

The project found that the Holland Report Key Concepts still offer a solid base for exploring areas around ESD1 and ESD2. They can clearly both broaden and focus questioning opportunities [eg questions raised through the ‘Doorways’ of the Sustainable Schools Framework].

At the end of the project, Lynne Sealey asked:

Is there something about caring for plants - sowing the seeds, watering and tending, harvesting etc that engenders a caring for others? Can physically caring for a plant lead to an ethical disposition towards our relationships with others, be they near or distant? For example, one woman who had lost her garden plants in heavy rains, said she had felt a great empathy for the first time for the farmers whose crops had been lost in recent floods. I guess it's only a short step away to start relating that to people in other countries, who are at the frontier of climate change. What you do with that empathy I'm not sure yet.”

Further information

The stimulus for this project was the Growing Schools Garden at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Chandos primary school ~ whole school approaches

The project

Chandos is an inner-city Birmingham school with an exceptionally diverse cultural and linguistic catchment. The school is exploring ways to embed work on global dimensions and sustainable development in an integrated and meaningful way at a whole school level. This project was led by classroom teachers Helen Groom, Lezli Howarth & Rukhsana Bentley.

Findings from the project

From the school’s perspective, the principal challenge of this project was to allow the children to take maximum control of their learning. This meant raising teacher confidence in a process of co-learning: “getting past the fact that it means that lessons can’t be scripted.”

Consequently, the process of change often began with small things: elicitation activities to get a sense of children’s prior knowledge and interests; minor changes to school and curriculum to incorporate sustainable development components. The idea that, “from the thinking comes the doing. From the doing comes more pupil voice, more let's just see what my class wants to do, let's just take that chance, let's really get stuck in.”

Lezli Howarth describes the resulting change in the school:  “It has been a bit of a Bill Scott journey. Little seeds planted into practice, growing through the school, into the curriculum, themed days, themed weeks, we want more. But it’s not just ESD anymore. It’s growing. Why don’t we let the children think about that? Why don’t we let the School Council run that? Why don’t the Eco Club plan that?”

Such changes are not only about curriculum, but go to the heart of teachers’ professional practice:  “My teaching has changed, it is no longer primarily What They Need To Know. It is what will they discover, what will they question, what will this look like at the end of this week, this term, this year?
I hope I think about things as much as I ask my children to think about them. I hope I question as much as they do, because seeing the world through the eyes of the children who are growing into it, and giving them the opportunity to develop the critical skills to deal with the way that world is changing, is the most important thing an educator can do.”

Further information

Lezli Howarth talks about one element of the school’s ‘Bill Scott journey’ in her Tide~ Talk article based on children’s enquiry into sustainable farming in The Gambia and the UK.

The article describes ways in which the school planned around a trip to Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, Shropshire. It incorporates resource material from the museum, as well as an account of its fruitful partnership with Tanje Museum in The Gambia.

From little seeds … Thinking about Africa, thinking about farming

Think Food and Farming ~ exploring issues in a special school at KS3/4

The project

Issues about food, farming and sustainable development were explored with KS3-4 students in a special school setting. This included work which critically engaged with the issues faced by Windward Island banana growers, and what this might mean for the choices of people in the UK.  This work was led by Martin Crabbe, Glebe Special School, Kent, and supported by Bill Graham, Director, Farming and Countryside Education [FACE].

Findings from the project

The school responded positively to the need for opportunities"where students work with relevant adults to produce meaningful responses to real world situations.”They saw this as complementary to a need for learners to access wider world views which would enable informed decisions.

Martin found that the Doorways of the DCSF Sustainable Schools Framework offered“clear, practical entry points to sustainability for schools. Once through the doorways, the realisation that each doorway is usually connected through real world situations comes soon enough. It is at this point that ideas such as the Holland Report concepts become invaluable.”

The work drew on a link with Windward Bananas, and this practical experience led to many of the deeper questions which arose subsequently:  “It was the real difficulties  of maintaining this link that got us into real ESD2, where we critiqued the purposes of links, fairtrade, approaches to learning  about  places, food growing, co-operatives and so on.”

Further information

Martin’s website ‘aims to show how schools can become more sustainable places if they take a critical approach to geography’  See www.sustainablegeography.com

Preparing teachers for the challenge ~ through an ITE module


Carol Dweck [1998], adapted by Nigel Kent, Worcestershire LA.

The project

How can initial teacher educators enable the next generation to grapple with the challenge of sustainable development: the issues themselves and the critical pedagogies they imply?  Tutors at the University of Worcester developed a module to support ITE students in work on sustainable development, citizenship and climate change. This work was led by Steve Pickering, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, in collaboration with ITE students at the university.

Findings from the project

The work included a professional studies module, incorporating seminar lectures and a formal assignment that aimed to engage “students with critical debate about Citizenship and sustainability issues in primary education.” Following the project, there are plans for the professional studies assignment to include greater school practice reflection, so as to encourage the transfer between theory and practice.

A parallel enquiry based project in liaison with Worcestershire LA’s Children’s Services engaged children, their teachers, ITE students and university staff in answering the question;  "Does the university care, for people and places, near and far, now and in the future?"

Children completed a sustainability audit of their school as a trial before completing an audit of the university, and a plan for future. They interviewed a series of people at the university and presented their findings to senior representatives there, advisors from Worcestershire Children’s Services and their schools’ headteachers. The emphasis was on encouraging work that focused on children developing open, enquiring minds.  It also presented an opportunity for children to consider their own futures, and in so doing it raised aspirations [visiting a university was in itself part of that process for many children].

In reflecting on children’s learning, the project drew on Dweck’s distinction between a ‘learning orientation’ and a ‘performance orientation.’ This proved a useful tool for teachers’ and students’ analysis.

Further information

For more on Carol Dweck’s work see  www.brainology.us  www.mindsetonline.com

Our Beautiful Earth ~ using a school link to explore sustainability issues

The project

Based at Rookery Primary School in Handsworth, Birmingham, and supported by DFID’s Global School Partnerships initiative, this whole school initiative supported children’s engagement with water, food and climate change issues worldwide.  In this, it incorporated work with an international partner - Mira Model School in New Delhi, India - exploring what it means for children in different places to have such global sustainability issues in common, and what they can learn from each others’ perspectives. Led by Ceri Bowen, Geography and International Co-ordinator.

Findings from the project

Thinking globally and acting locally helped make the issues real.  Knowing that children in other places were doing comparable things was important: it makes the issues personal and real, and it offers something in common. That broader scale and context, and the awareness of other perspectives, seemed in themselves to raise questions which supported and encouraged critical thinking, leading teachers and children to “challenge assumptions that our way is the best way,” and previously held ideas about what is possible.

For example, when learning about global warming and discovering that children at the Indian partner school were also thinking of ways to reduce their carbon footprint, a Year 6 child exclaimed:  "Before I thought it wouldn't make a difference if for example I turned off lights, but if children in India are doing the same and children all round the world, then together we really can make a difference!'

At the same time, sustainable development provided a meaningful learning focus for partnership itself:“Experience beyond your own sustainability context gives partnerships a purpose and focus.” This was both conceptual and practical:“We can learn from others that do it better,” “We can begin to see what it means to be a global citizen.  ”For both partners, the Holland Report key concepts provided a useful common framework for enabling mutual learning about sustainable development.

Other elements in the partnership called for criticality and responsiveness for change. To do this often meant “recognising that teachers bring their own assumptions of places to the classroom, and also assumptions of children’s attitudes.”

As Ceri explained, “Children’s perceptions of India completely changed over the course of the project, including the 50% of the children who are of Indian heritage. We needed to actively counteract stereotypes [including out-of-date perceptions from Indian heritage parents and grandparents] and to support critical, analytical and reflective thinking about what the children were seeing and what was going on. This enabled children to re-think their perceptions of the world, and India in particular.”

To put this another way: after communicating via e-mail with children at the partner school in India for a couple of months, a Year 3 child said  “Before I thought there were lots of differences between us and the children in India but now I realise that we have a lot in common.”

Further information

Tide~ articles:

Global learning and school partnerships – Thinking it through
Climate x-change – Children using ICT to share ideas
Mutual learning for sustainability: The Gambia and the UK

Science, technology ... and joined up curriculum

The project

The new KS3 curriculum offers potential for a fresh and joined-up approach to sustainable development.  Within this, Science and Design Technology offer particular scope in working together to support learners’ understanding of sustainable development processes, their investigation of potential solutions, and the skills and capabilities required to respond to the complexity of the future … and shape that world.  This group developed planning and ideas in response to these ideas.  The group was supported by: Bren Hellier, Harris School, Rugby; Jo Flynn, Director, Science Learning Centre, Keele; and Cathryn Gathercole, Education Manager, Practical Action.
“D&T involves the practical application of Science.”

Findings from the project

We identified the need for ‘hooks’ to engage initial interest from learners: these would usually involve a project with a clear outcome and concrete purpose [eg designing and making something to an environmentally or socially responsible brief, such as a solar powered vehicle]. These ‘hooks’ needed to have the  potential for building in specific learning outcomes around science and D&T.  In this model, critical thinking came into the work at a later stage, as the wider ethical and global context of the project began to be explored and problematised.

We recognised that a range of thinking skills are involved in any practical project involving Science and D&T, and noted the value of frameworks which helped us tease those out [eg Blooms Taxonomy, De Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats’]. We were challenged by the idea that learners’ thinking should not be constrained by what is already possible, but might begin to imagine artefacts and processes which do not yet exist. [See box below]

We found the Holland Report key concepts exceptionally useful in breaking down the ‘big idea’ of sustainable development in a way which helped us focus on creative planning opportunities and address sustainability in the round.

Tenbury High School in Worcestershire took the theme of “Save our Bees.” This led to critical thinking on links between human activity [making hives, keeping bees], economics [pollination of crops, selling honey] and environment [wildflowers, pesticides, conservation, trade, global issues]. The wider global scale offered particular opportunities for critical thinking, while local issues tended to draw learners into practical but sometimes short-term thinking.

Different types of critical thinking

We should beware of seeing critical thinking as an homogenous thing. Here are some of the forms of thinking which we made a note of having used. You could use these as a support for your own work, and add some of your own.

  • Critical analysis and evaluation
  • Broadening a challenge into ethical and global debates
  • Developing higher order debating skills: justification, argument, use of evidence, making a proposition
  • Synthesising ideas
  • Applying ideas to concrete situations
  • Creative thinking: imagining fresh solutions, thinking anew
  • Looking at what if …? Scenarios
  • Drawing on contexts and perspectives which learners may be unfamiliar with [eg from rural Africa]
  • Understanding, and starting to think about, change

In looking at the thinking skills involved, we found it useful to cross refer to De Bono’s Thinking Hats or Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Websites like www.albinoblacksheep.com offered imaginative stimuli for learners, while Shift Happens is a great starting point for starting to look at change.