In December 2008, as part of the Bill Scott Challenge, Tide~ held a seminar to mark the 10th anniversary of the Holland Report on Sustainable Development Education and the debates it generated, and to serve as a focus for a further activity.

A wide range of Tide~ working groups have used the Holland Report, and the key concepts it features, as a stimulus to their work.  It has served as a focus for planning and evaluating teaching and learning, not just around sustainable development themes, but in response to a wider global learning agenda.

The report came out of the work of the Sustainable Development Education Panel, hosted by DEFRA and chaired by Sir Geoffrey Holland.  It was published in 1998, as part of the wave of educational thinking which also included the Crick Report on Citizenship Education.

The Holland Report’s key concepts, were widely valued as support to educational work in schools on Sustainable Development, and were for some time taken up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Seven key concepts

For an overview of the key concepts, pdf click here

For a full copy of the 1998 Holland Report, pdf click here

The 10th Anniversary of the report offered the opportunity to take stock and to look to the future.  A group of 25 people with lead roles, representing schools, local authorities, ITE academics, NGO education staff and environmental education centres met for the day. The seminar reviewed progress relating to education for sustainable development in the school sector since the publication of the Holland Report.

In preparation and as a stimulus we used the key concepts from the Holland Report and the report itself, as well as a thinkpiece generated by the DEA and written by Paul Vare and William Scott:

Education for sustainable development: two sides and an edge

How do we see the potential?

Members of the group brought a whole variety of perspectives to why the Holland Report had been significant, and ways in which the questions it raises remain important.   These include …

Some quotes from the seminar participants

“There is so much happening and changing in our world, at such a pace that young people need a different set of skills/thinking processes/personal learning to be able to function/live and grow in the unknown future. We are preparing them for a world/time we don’t know. Our current knowledge/understanding is inadequate for the unknown future.”

“The Holland Report still matters because … it lays out why schools need to embrace sustainability as a fundamental part of their ethos - not as one more add on ‘initiative’.”

“The Report is important because it is about enabling deeper thinking about what sustainable development might mean. The report mentions pedagogy ~ what are the implications of this for how we teach and learn? Uncertainty and precaution are a particular challenge for such teaching.”

“There is a strong link between helping to make delivery of the curriculum more effective in schools, Every Child Matters outcomes and ESD as proposed in the Holland Report”.

“The Holland Report is still current because it has seven short clear concepts that are easy to remember and hold on to … they have many applications.”

“The messages from the Holland Report are even more valid today than when it was written.  The must do/ tick box list approach since then resulted in a loss of integrity. Recent curriculum review has returned to processes/skills/attitudes at the core of curriculum delivery.”

“There are a lot of creative teachers out there that are motivated to take on the challenge of thinking through the learning implications … what is it going to be like for their kids when then are 50?”

“It’s all about being curious and enquiring and developing critical and creative thinking. The Holland Report framework offers space for this.”

“The concepts enable us to think about future-proofing learning. They require multidisciplinary approaches and move beyond a technical fix. The concepts have not been taken up by schools readily because they focus on concepts without context. It works well in tandem with the Sustainable Schools framework – whose doorways can provide those contexts.”

“DCSF has just opened up the curriculum at KS3 … Teachers could be persuaded that this is a fantastic opportunity.  If [we] were brave enough to tell them for the first time in a long time there is room for teachers to “take a risk” and a fresh look at the curriculum. The Holland Report demands space and vision, which is why it had little/no impact in 1998. The concepts provide a potential effective framework for curriculum thinking.”

There was a strong feeling that in many ways it would be valuable to re-publish the report. On balance it was felt that this was not the best strategy, but we have made the key concepts available for those who are interested.

The group felt that it was important that any new work relating to the Holland Report ideas and the key concepts should strongly cross reference to the Sustainable Schools Strategy with its 8 Doorways Framework. However, the discussions also raised numerous debates about that framework, and the extent to which it did not address some of the learning issues that the Holland Report had raised.

We were not clear why the learning focus advocated by the Report had not been encouraged by DCSF as an extension from the Doorways Framework.  There was agreement that there was a need for the “Campus, Community, Curriculum” approach of the Sustainable Schools document but a strong consensus that the two approaches could … and should complement each other. This argument is developed in the DEA Think-piece.

The idea of ESD1 and ESD2 is central to the debate, where:

  • ESD1 is about promoting / facilitating changes in what we do;
  • ESD2 is about enabling / realising sustainable living [eg through developing  learners’ capacity for critical thinking].

Numerous reasons were suggested as to why the Holland Report had not taken off as it might have been expected to. It was felt that it didn’t fit with the dominant approach to curriculum change at that time.  Ironically, many of the approaches advocated by the new Key Stage 3 Curriculum fit well with the assumptions about curriculum made in the Holland Report. In many ways the document was well ahead of its time.

There was concern that there is still a “dominant notion that schools are best changed by outside pressure around the collecting of badges”. This does fit with a culture that expects teachers to do what they are instructed to do. The new curriculum and many other initiatives are now recognising the need for much deeper teacher creativity.

There is a synergy between this view of CPD, and what the Holland Report was advocating. However by raising this debate there was a concern that we should not be seen to be dismissing the Sustainable Schools Framework. It clearly provides vital starting points and addresses matters that the Holland Report does not deal with.

It was recognised that the problem with the Holland Report is that it demands a higher level of teacher knowledge, experience and skill to implement. This capacity cannot be assumed … but this does not seem to be a good reason for not offering opportunities to teachers to take on that challenge.

There were numerous stories about why there wasn’t a clearer synergy between the two initiatives, some of which did seem rather petty, such as tensions between individuals in DfES [now DCSF] and QCA or DEFRA, and which make nonsense of the seriousness of the issues.

There was a strong consensus that whatever we do we must build on both ESD1 and ESD2 and make use of the Sustainable Schools Framework. We also need to look to the future and provide opportunities for relatively small groups to do the exploratory work that might be valued at a later date, once Sustainable Schools is well established.

There was discussion about the pros and cons of such a priority. There was not a consensus, but it is recognised that an organisation such as Tide~ has a role [and a privilege] to concentrate on such longer-term objectives.

There was also discussion about whether in the current context it may be better not to start with the concept of sustainable development but to introduce these ideas in the context of personalised learning, new curriculum [Primary and Secondary] or indeed Every Child Matters.

It was further suggested:

  • that there was scope for experimenting and looking at the new Community Cohesion documents and using the Holland key concepts as a way of considering community cohesion [in a sustainability context];
  • that in many ways, while the concepts could be used as a planning tool they were perhaps more effective as an evaluation tool. As a starting point they perhaps encourage people to go to ideas that are too abstract and not focused enough on engaging young learners.

Finally, before moving on to plans for a conference in 2009 and work on nine projects to build up to that, we reflected on:

  • the danger that issues relating to sustainable development are seen in isolation from those relating to social justice and equity. The concepts feature this but perhaps not strongly enough.
  • the potential of using the concepts as a basis for framing questions that could be given a wider application, and encourage holistic thinking which brings together aspects relating to sustainability, the environment, citizenship, cohesion, political literacy etc.
  • the tension between space to develop initiative and creativity within a school community and the increasing anxiety of central government policy.
  • the need for more effective dialogue with politicians so that they too understand some of the key educational issues of this agenda.

Seminar participants

  • Paul Archer, Birmingham LA
  • Ben Ballin, Tide~
  • Colette Bond, Garden Organic
  • Mary Burton, West Midlands Government Office
  • Jon Cree, Bishop’s Wood Centre
  • Jo Flynn, Science Learning Centre West Midlands
  • Cathryn Gathercole, Practical Action
  • Bill Graham, Farming and Countryside Education
  • John Hopkin, Birmingham LA
  • Lezli Howarth, Chandos Primary School
  • Sue Jelleyman, Shropshire LA
  • Becky Link, Tide~
  • Stephen Pickering, University of Worcester
  • John Rhymer, Bishop’s Wood Centre
  • Mark Riley, Creative~ States
  • Bill Scott, CREE, University of Bath
  • Lynne Sealey, University of Exeter
  • Hetan Shah, Development Education Association
  • Linda Scott, University of Worcester
  • Andrew Simons, Centre of the Earth
  • Scott Sinclair, Tide~
  • Faye Walters, Worcestershire County Council
  • Julie Wooldridge, Independent Consultant
  • Mark Wright, National College for School Leadership
  • Jackie Zammit, Tide~