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The University of Southampton
Southampton Education School

Research project: Making informed decisions about sustainability (MIDAS) - Dormant - Dormant

Currently Active: 

January 2000 - January 2002

This research focussed on the development of a community project to promote education for sustainable development (ESD), through collaboration between Southampton schools and the local community. A particular feature of the project was to encourage cross-phase (primary-secondary) collaboration and opportunities for primary and secondary teachers to work together during fieldwork, and visit each other’s schools to observe and join in the project classroom activities. This was also to promote continuity and progression in learning among pupils as they move from primary to secondary school. Recent reports from Ofsted have shown that this is a major weakness of the English education system (Ofsted, 2002a, Ofsted, 2002b), stating that ‘…there was insufficient discussion between [primary and secondary school] teachers…about the standards of work expected and about approaches to teaching’ (Ofsted, 2002b, page 2). The project sought to promote this aspect by involving a Southampton secondary school and some of its feeder primary schools. The research monitored the ‘journey’ taken by the project and the partners as they strove to meet their individual objectives, in terms of general difficulties encountered, some practical solutions found, and positive (sometimes unexpected) outcomes. A paper was published in addition to the report to promote the benefits and encourage others to undertake similar work, while at the same time avoiding or solving comparable problems.

The project revealed that teachers have very limited knowledge about the multi-faceted, far-reaching nature of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (and in retrospect they were willing to admit this). It takes time for some teachers (particularly some science teachers) to believe that there is a need to explore the social, moral, cultural and spiritual aspects of environmental issues with children. It is therefore very important for project partners to spend considerable time discussing ESD among themselves, agreeing definitions, objectives and ground rules, before embarking on the work itself.

Project partners outside the school environment have limited understanding of the curricular and time constraints within which teachers work. It may seem obvious that children should be learning about environmental matters, but teachers have to justify its inclusion by checking where it fits with their own subject curriculum orders - and if it does not fit, there is considerable pressure on them to leave it out. Such factors contribute to a considerable and often unexpected time-lag effect on community-based projects. It takes much more time than expected to get the partnership up to speed and really seeing the value of the work. This partnership-building phase appears to be entirely necessary as it simply takes people time to appreciate each other’s views, and individual approaches to group work. But once this is accomplished, the substantial benefits of this community collaborative approach to tackling environmental issues soon become apparent.

Funding body: Worldwide Fund for Nature funded ‘Partners in Change’ project

Related research groups

Mathematics and Science Education (MaSE) Research Centre
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