The Less is more? project brought Worcestershire teachers together from primary and secondary schools to support children’s thinking about consumerism, quality of life and sustainable development.

The project was led by Rupert Brakspear and Faye Walters, and formed a contribution to the Bill Scott Challenge

There are many places in the world where growth and development are essential to improving quality of life, and to the eradication of poverty.  However, in many other places, including these islands, our ‘quality of life’ is sustained at the expense of the environment; and many of the goods we consume are made or grown by people in other places who often work for a pittance. 

The New Economics Foundation [NEF] asks the question: ‘Does being richer necessarily make us happier?’.  Its Happy Planet Index [below] questions whether we are justified in compromising the planet’s ecological integrity in order to support unsustainable economic systems.  Think, for example, of the Brazilian government’s drive to increase beef and leather exports through further deforestation [See www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/slaughtering-the-amazon].

nef Happy Planet Index

Explores links between the levels of well-being [measured in terms of happiness and life expectancy] and the carbon footprint of various European Countries

the UK is ranked 21 of 30 countries for the level of human well-being it delivers.  See: www.happyplanetindex.org

“Children were driving the agenda, raising the ideas about what they wanted to know and finding out what they could do.”

As teachers, we are not strangers to exploring the big ideas that shape the world: climate change, habitat destruction in the rainforest, poverty etc. Until recently, all these themes were regularly covered, mostly separately, in lessons shown up as Geography in school timetables.

Learning for sustainability involves taking a joined up view of the world, bringing together questions about economy, society and the environment [see below]. 

In addition to opportunities within the formal curriculum [such as the Cross-Curricular Dimension on Sustainable Development and Global Dimension], there are clear opportunities for schools to make significant links to the DCSF Sustainable Schools Framework, with its focus on taking whole school approaches across Curriculum, Campus and Community from eight possible starting points or doorways.

Less is More?

The Learning for Sustainability team at Worcestershire County Council, worked with schools on ‘Less is More?’, a project that emphasised geography, design and technology, science and PSHE. The team’s sub-agenda was to develop an enquiry-led approach to learning; critical thinking as a key skill to empower learners in their exploration of choices; and decision making skills to build confidence for living in a rapidly changing world. In this, the project was influenced by the thinking of the Bill Scott Challenge.

Together, the participating schools explored how ideas and practical applications could find their way into whole school approaches. How could they be linked to curriculum development, in order to create a profound and dynamic impact?

“Dealing with real global issues makes the kids feel more grown-up.”

The ‘Less is More?’ project was kick-started by an introductory day, attended by representatives of 20 schools and some undergraduates, which was followed by a series of twilight sessions.

Different schools explored the ‘Less is More?’ theme in very different ways, including:

  • co-operation between a cluster of five schools to hold a ‘Less is More?’ eco week;
  • the implementation of a whole-school, whole-term ‘Less is More?’ theme ;
  • staff meetings where the ‘Less is More?’ theme informed curriculum development;
  • the ‘Less is More?’ theme informing curriculum planning and delivery, for example a ‘Sustainable Christmas project’ in Design & Technology, and a water project in Geography;
  • linking cross-curricular class projects, for example, connecting a school garden project with a focus on a local park;
  • using the theme as a focus for a sustainability module aimed at developing learner led approaches in Year 9.

In all participating schools the ‘Less is More?’ project also dovetailed with planning around Eco Schools: thinking and doing.  It formed a key part in developing pupil and teacher awareness, and in creating opportunities for linking sustainability with the curriculum.

“To start with children are shocked when teachers don’t have the answers to these things, but after a while they have found it invigorating when they have to find the answers for themselves.”

Case study:  Honeybourne First School:

Elaine Huntington is the Head Teacher at Honeybourne First School, which has less than 100 pupils. Her school adopted the theme as a focus for the Spring Term.
The theme was launched with a dramatised story, The king and the draughty castle.

The king and the draughty castle 

This story was conceived and written collaboratively by project group members.  It is a simple tale of a beautiful kingdom whose forests are ransacked for fuel to heat its big, old castle. The environmental degradation continues until the local people decide enough is enough!

At intervals the story can be paused for dramatic effect so that: ·

  • ‘photographs’ of scenes can be built up with the children [eg by creating still/frozen images];
  • ‘thought bubbles’ can be added to these scenes on large sheets of paper, or
  • key players can be hot seated.

The story was kept open ended to encourage children’s thinking and imagination.

For the full text of the story,  click here
For an assembly plan based on the story,  click here

The following two days offered space for learners to think critically and creatively. There was lots of designing and making, as classes from Reception to Year 5 explored how a building could leak both heat and cold, and how the ideas in the story related to big ideas outside the classroom.

One Year 5 boy commented, unprompted, “That wasn’t a story about a king, that was about climate change!”

Elaine reflected, “This is not really a project, - this is a way to do things and something that will not go away.   I’ve  never seen Year 5 so switched on to discussion and listening to each other’s ideas … Once the children got started it was hard to stop them!”


A key link emerged between the project thinking and Bloom’s Taxonomy [on the right]. Bloom's most widely referenced work, on the cognitive domain, emphasises higher order thinking rather than the transference of facts.

The structures he identifies can be viewed as a hierarchy, to show progressive contextualisation of material, providing opportunities for children to analyse and synthesise their knowledge, leading to evaluation and creative stages where they can generate ideas and responses etc.

The extended and open-ended nature of the project, and the wide range of starting points and activities, afforded space for the children to move freely between different stages of the learning process.

For more on Bloom's Taxonomy click here 

Case study:  Cherry Orchard Primary School

A persuasive writing project for Year 4 children explored the use of emotive language in combination with asking a question.  Many of the children chose a theme related to environmental issues.

The class had considered ‘Less is More?’ during the year.  For example, when looking at the Indian village Chembakolli, the children were asked to relate ‘Less is More?’ to the place they were looking at.

The teacher reflected,“I liked the fact that the children had free choice on the subject matter, and this has shown me our future is something they do care about!”

‘Less is More?’ statements  from Cherry Orchard Primary School

Conclusion

Globally, we have been consuming more of the planet’s resources than can be replenished through the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. What outcomes will we experience collectively?

Being able to think critically and creatively about our changing social, economic and natural environment will benefit today’s children. Beyond this, they need to be able to think critically about possible solutions.

Schools have a key role to play here, and can help make the links: between the global dimension and the children’s own lives; and between subject areas and whole-school approaches to sustainability.

For more information

For more on The Bill Scott Challenge, click here
For a PDF of Bill Scott and Paul Vare’s influential Thinkpiece, Education for Sustainable Development; two sides and an edge, click here
The project also drew on ideas in
Capewell, Ian [ed.] [2007] The Sustainability Handbook for Design & Technology Teachers: Design with Sustainability in Mind
Practical Action / Centre for Alternative Technology  ISBN 9781853396700
See www.practicalaction.org.uk

Acknowledgements

Project workers:  Rupert Brakespear and Faye Walters, Worcestershire LA.

With thanks to the Worcestershire teachers in the ‘Less is more?’ Project:

Liz Clarke, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School
Sara Date, Meadows First School
Rachel Datson, The Lyppard Grange Primary School
Val Fitzpatrick, Holyoakes Field First School
Liz Graham, Sara-Jane Corbishley and David Knight, Regency High School
Katie Harvatt ,St Ambrose Primary School
Elaine Huntington [Head Teacher], Wendy Coles, Gareth Williams and all staff at Honeybourne First School
Mari Jones [Head Teacher] and Ruth Douglas-Osborne, Ombersley Endowed Primary School
Lorna Noon, St John’s CE Primary School
Dawn Price, North Bromsgrove High School
Andy Searle, Leigh & Bransford Primary School
Rebecca Thomas, Cherry Orchard Primary School
Lisa Townsend, Offmore Primary School
Charlotte Webby, St Egwin's Middle School

Thanks to the following partners:

Saamah Abdallah, New Economic Foundation nef
Ben Ballin, Tide~ global learning
Cathryn Gathercole, Practical Action / Tide~ global learning
Beth Holland, Worcester Resource Exchange
Brian Pengelly, Worcestershire LA
John Rhymer, Bishops Wood Centre / Worcestershire LA
Sue Woodhead, Worcestershire LA

Additional thanks to the Primary Geographer editorial team, and in particular Margaret Mackintosh. 
A version of this article appeared in Primary Geographer magazine, Spring 2010. For details see www.geography.org.uk/pg