Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL]

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 16th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the Lords register, but that does not include the fact that I was a mathematics teacher and therefore have some passion for this subject and the potential for education and learning to transform the lives of those children who pass through the system.

Twenty years ago, I was the Education Minister in the new Scottish Government. At that time, there was an explosion of eco-schools. The impact of those eco-schools on children of all ages, who were enjoying the adventure of learning more about nature and the environment, and on their families, inspired me to believe that it was possible to transform attitudes, as well as legislation, in relation to environmental issues. That led, ultimately, to very ambitious targets for recycling and renewable energy in Scotland, for more eco-schools and for sustainable education in the curriculum. I always believed, through that, that children could not only set themselves up for a better future but have a big impact on the attitudes and behaviour of the adults in their lives if sustainable education was embedded deep into the curriculum.

Today in Scotland, Learning for Sustainability is an entitlement within the Curriculum for Excellence. There is much policy on this and many elements of guidance. The Scottish curriculum operates in a slightly different way from the curriculum south of the border and there is, perhaps, more policy than measurement of the impact of this. It will be interesting to see, in years to come, whether this entitlement has a real impact on the outcomes for children going through the Scottish system.

Because of that experience, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Knight’s Bill and the way that he has introduced it. The tone he set, combining urgency with thoughtfulness on the way this can be implemented, was really important. It is not just about climate but about nature and the environment as a whole, and not just about the environment but about citizenship as a whole. That key proposal in the Bill is very welcome and could be transformative; I hope the Government will support it.

The Government have been lukewarm on the sustainable development goals since being such an active participant in their creation and agreement back in 2015. There have been odd examples in the UK—for instance, the “World’s Largest Lesson” being taught in UK schools to encourage people to learn more about the sustainable development goals and their potential to change our society—but they are only odd examples; that could have been much more widespread. Legislation may well be required, and good, careful, thoughtful legislation, as is proposed today, is always best. But I would be tempted to go further. There is a case for making this subject compulsory in primary schools, and indeed in all schools; those that are not currently forced to teach the national curriculum should perhaps be considered too. I look forward to the debates on this Bill, because not only is it an important measure as it stands but it may be necessary to go further.