Building the skills for a sustainable future: the most important report FE professionals can read this year

UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

I’m sure I’ve not been alone in eagerly awaiting the new Education and Training Foundation workforce survey report on sustainability in FE, Experiences of Education for Sustainable Development in the Further Education and Training Sector . Today it’s finally arrived, a timely publication as the UK hosts the UN COP26 conference in just a few weeks’ time.

Charlotte Bonner’s report has many encouraging messages on the existing levels of awareness and appetite for education for sustainable development (ESD) in the sector. It also poses challenges – for leaders, managers and educators – regarding designing and facilitating the curriculum of the future.

The first thing to note from the report is there is a clear demand for sustainability to be woven into the FE curriculum coming from employers and also from the learner voice. This is reflected in the Institute for Apprentices and Technical Education (IfATE) creation of a Green Apprenticeships Advisory Panel and Community. Their aims are to ensure new apprenticeships reflect the occupations required to reach net-zero carbon emissions and meet the needs of employers in our growing green economy.

The report also quotes the latest Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) Skills Survey which found that 91% of the 9,000 students polled say that their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development. Over 80% of of respondents want to see sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted throughout all courses.

Sector practitioners responding to the survey state that they feel sustainability as a concept is ‘broadly well understood’. They consider that the sector, with its diverse subject specialisms, is ‘well placed’ to lead on sustainability solutions with each subject area having an important role to play.

So what are the challenges? The work concludes that different providers are at different stages of their ESD journey. Fewer than a third of respondents feel sustainability is an important issue for all parts of their organisation; only around a quarter report it to be a ‘strategic priority’. Organisations appear to be adapting sustainability practices and ESD within current delivery models rather than realigning their approaches to innovate. Only 20% of respondents felt that their leadership teams drive positive changes towards meeting sustainability goals.

The most urgent challenge for us as teachers is that the FE workforce appears to have had very little training on how to deliver quality, impactful ESD. Almost three quarters of teaching staff considered that they’d not received sufficient training to embed sustainability in their professional practice. There is a clear need for investment in ESD, both in initial teacher education and for ongoing professional learning for the existing FE workforce.

Teachers report a preference for flexible ESD CPD opportunities that will suit practitioners with already packed work schedules. They would like opportunities for synchronous, online learning backed up with resources that they can access in their own time. There’s a demand for adaptable template resources supplemented by regular updates about new ESD developments.

This short blog captures just a snapshot of some of the significant findings from a report that will certainly repay full reading – we might say that all of our futures depend on it.

Published by ltaylerson

I am a former FE Computing and Teacher Education Curriculum Leader and ex-BBC engineer and trainer. Worcestershire-based, I specialise in teacher education and CPD, educator mentoring, digital skills and pedagogy, I am director of Real Time Education, an independent provider and a keen commentator on further education and digital skills on social media @realtimeedu. I completed a PhD in Education investigating teachers' use of informal social media dialogues for professional learning in April 2020.

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