A critical analysis of the factors influencing interpretation of the cross-curricular environmental education theme in secondary education in England
Environmental education in schools has a critical part to play in the reorientation of social attitudes and behaviours that address the perception of a looming environmental crisis. Many believe there is a need for a debate about the purpose of education. In the UK, government imposed educational change by introducing the Education Reform Act in 1988. There was a clear opportunity to address environmental education within this reform. In 1992 government made a commitment to Agenda 21 (UNCED) that included the proposal that, within 3 years, governments should prepare or update strategies to integrate environment and development into all areas of education. This thesis considers whether any of the rhetoric has been realised. It recognises the crucial role of teachers in implementing reform and it uses a Grounded Theory methodology to `give teachers a voice' in an attempt to understand the impact of teachers' beliefs on environmental education development in English secondary schools. The study was carried out in 3 schools that were participating in an environmental education pilot project in Cumbria and also in 3 schools in Merseyside. Interviews took place with 27 teachers, with one external consultant and with the co-ordinator for the Cumbria project. The key finding is that the limitations on environmental education provision at its most profound, socially reforming level are beyond the locus of control of teachers. The outcomes of the ERA (1988) with its imposition of a restorationist curriculum and the accompanying myths about the nature of knowledge are such that the role of teachers as experts-in-knowledge and a didactic mode of teaching have been reinforced. Neither of these promotes the collaborative endeavour of knowledge construction that would be prerequisite for reforming education to meet the needs of a complex, rapidly changing world. Within these constraints, environmental education is likely to remain in its infancy with provision being limited to the knowledge and skills defined in conventional subject areas.