Field Studies Council Written evidence (EDU0044)

 

1 Skills Needed for the Green Economy

a)    The green economy will need those with an in depth knowledge and the set of skills necessary to understand, study, monitor and work in the natural environment. These skills we be needed to combat two of the biggest challenges of our time: climate change and biodiversity loss.

b)    These skills include analytical and problem-solving skills and digital and data skills to deal with the results and messy data that come from the natural, chaotic world with variables and a level of unpredictability far outside that of laboratory conditions. The 11-16 curriculum should provide a solid foundation for this to happen.

 

 

2 Current Skills Gap Suggests a Lack of Effectiveness

a)    The lack of opportunities to develop those skills as part of the 11-16 curriculum has become clear and suggests that the curriculum as it stands has not been effective enough in equipping enough young people with the skills they and the country need to enter a green related career or further study path.

b)    High stakes end of course exams risk teaching to the test, squeezing out experiences and enrichment activities such as outdoor learning residentials. But these experiences are where an interest in a green career or study path can be sparked, and skills and knowledge can be developed. Practical hands on science is what engages learners with science itself. The lack of effectiveness in the curriculum to equip people with the green economy skills they need can be seen in:

  1. The report Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality? - The potential contribution of nature-based solutions to net zero in the UK published on 27th January 2022. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee identified significant skills deficits in ecology and related environmental disciplines.
  2. As an environmental education charity, young people have told us that they struggle to find the courses and opportunities to develop their study and career interests in the natural environment, especially around practical fieldwork, ecology, and identification skills. Therefore we have developed and curated a number of courses, camps and study opportunities for 16-25 year olds to fill the gaps in their education.
  3. The recently announced GCSE in Natural History is the first new GCSE in many years. As such it’s an acknowledgement of the need for a dedicated subject as key areas of study are not covered effectively enough in the current curriculum.
  4. The desire for such a GCSE and more opportunities for first-hand experiences in the outdoors as an integrated part of their education have been clearly expressed by young people themselves in recent years. They felt that the current curriculum was not effective enough at giving them the opportunities to understand more about the planet, increase their opportunities to study it and be able to play their part in protecting it.

 

 

3 Lack of effectiveness and decline in opportunities to develop skills for the green economy through curriculum subjects

a)    The effective development of skills and knowledge needed for the green economy comes from learners having a progression of outdoor learning experiences in the natural world. This tends to be as part of the science or geography curriculum, in particular in the development of ecological skills in biology and fieldwork skills in geography.

b)    However, long term trends have seen fieldwork residentials shorten over time and it’s now quite rare for a school to have a week’s residential, especially for biology GCSE where ecology is marginalised. The practical assessment tasks that learners have to pass in science or biology GCSE are almost all laboratory based with usually only one task being ecology focussed and that around sampling techniques. Geography GCSE has more fieldwork content but as the subject is not compulsory for KS4, science is often the only way in which learners can develop a number of green economy skills, which are often squeezed out of the busy curriculum. This then reduces the pool of those who then go on to follow a career or study path in the green economy.

c)     Long term trends observed by our long serving members of teaching staff have seen a decline in what was once common knowledge about the natural world including things that 11-16 year olds used to know now only being found in undergraduate or even post-graduate levels learners.

d)    This charity has also seen a steady decline in the length of stay for a field trip, and a reduction in the distance travelled to undertake one. This suggests that the opportunity to study in a contrasting environment to that of home is becoming more limited due to time and finance pressures.

e)    Fieldwork and ecology fieldtrips were very severely curtailed during Covid. The mandatory requirements were lifted two years running so that an entire cohort of learners have missed out on a vital opportunity to develop knowledge and skills based on a first hand experience of the natural world. Since Covid, the cost of living crisis is now threatening fieldwork trips and cancellations are on the rise simply because schools and/or parents are not able to fund them (see more in section below on spending).

 

4 Effective use of outdoor learning in the 11-16 curriculum to develop key life and work skills.

a)    The decline in opportunities for outdoor learning, especially residential experiences away from the usual school environment has reduced the effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum to develop a number of life and work skills, attributes that machines cannot replicate and that are highly desirable in the workplace: 

  1. A residential provides a chance to break up the usual classroom and school hierarchy, allowing learners to interact and communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds as they mix, work, study, share space and eat together.
  2. A residential allows that uninterrupted time to develop the 4 Cs (Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaborative problem solving) which employers look for. Learning and studying in the outdoors brings another layer of unpredictability so that creative problem solving, often on the go, is needed as weather, tides or the subjects of study change suddenly.
  3. Designing, testing and then re-designing experiments can develop critical thinking skills and a residential allows thinking time for these skills to develop as additional variables have to be considered.
  4. Outdoor study in natural environments develops communication and collaboration around problem solving as teams have to work together to safely navigate the landscape, deal with the unexpected, work together with unfamiliar equipment to gather high quality data in an unfamiliar environment outside the predictability of the laboratory.
  5. Skills that the World Economic Forum suggest are needed (active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility) can be developed in abundance. We know that cohorts of learners bond over their shared experiences on a residential, with a sense of achievement and confidence in their own abilities to achieve and learn taken with them back into the classroom.

 

6 More effective use of outdoor learning in the 11-16 curriculum could develop cross curricular skills

a)    There isn’t a subject on the curriculum that can’t be enhanced by outdoor learning from arts and drama to maths and literacy. An outdoor residential can bring a number of themes together over a few days which can help look at a problem or issue from a number of perspectives. London Challenge for example, used outdoor learning residentials very effectively to help improve maths, English and science. Sadly these opportunities continue to be under threat from financial pressures (including the cost of staff cover and transport), and a busy, exam focussed curriculum. 

 

HOW SPENDING FOR THIS PHASE OF EDUCATION SHOULD BE PRIORITISED, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CURRENT FISCAL CLIMATE

7 Skill Development for the Green Economy is Under Threat

a)    It will come as no surprise that the benefits of outdoor learning and the opportunities to study in high quality blue and green spaces is not a guaranteed experience for every learner. This has been greatly exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. Our Grants for Schools scheme where we help fund residentials for disadvantaged learners was oversubscribed fourfold last autumn and we are seeing rising numbers of cancellations as parents and / or schools can no longer afford residential trips as school funding is squeezed to meet rising staff, food and fuel costs.

b)    The disadvantage gap could as well be described as the experience gap. The most disadvantaged learners are the most likely to miss out on outdoor learning residentials and unlike their better off peers, are unlikely to make up the experience gap with family holidays, going on science camps, visits to science attractions, joining after school clubs or becoming members of other youth organisations.

c)     In theory some of the science curriculum could be covered by studying on the sports fields at school or in the very local vicinity, but this means that learners miss out on experiencing for themselves the “wow factor” of some of our greatest natural landscapes that contrast greatly from where they live.

This phase of education could be where horizons are expanded, and further study and a career in an environment sector could be considered because learners can see it for themselves. Given the multiple benefits of outdoor learning residentials as an effective way to deliver curriculum subjects, cross curricular themes and develop those skills that are so needed in life and work, consideration should be given to ensure that sufficient funding is available to make it happen. Private members bills in both the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments have been put forward to that effect, England should consider following suit.

28 April 2023

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