Education for Regenerative Practice and Sustainable Development
Beki Aldam, Crossfields Learning
As we launch our Level 3 in Integrative Education, we look at why we created it, what inspired us, and what we aim to achieve
The Integrative Education set of qualifications was created to inspire learners to engage with their learning, and create work they are proud to have produced. It aims to raise attainment for all learners and reduce the numbers of early school leavers.
Crossfields Institute lead a project to explore and develop a type of learning and assessment that focuses on the use of portfolio assessment, and evidence of achievement from formal, informal and non-formal learning, designed to increase inclusion. This project was recognised and funded by Erasmus+ 2015 Key Action 2, School Education Strategic Partnership Project1, and has informed the development of these qualifications.
More widely, this qualification was developed as a way to address concerns that education is increasingly politicised and centrally-controlled, vulnerable to the short-termism that our political system often engenders, and the ideological views of those currently in power. The Federation for Education Development’s survey also concluded that, “81% of respondents believe a long-term plan for education should be driven by a politically neutral and independent organisation.”
This qualification was therefore developed by looking closely at the evidence behind assessment, rather than being driven by ideologies or targets, and out of a desire to engage young people in their learning with renewed enthusiasm and joy.
The Times Education Commission concluded that, “high-stakes assessment has become the tail that wags the dog. Of course some exams are necessary, but the single-minded focus on grades has undermined the broad and balanced education that should be offered to all young people.”
An over-reliance on summative, exam-based assessment, in order to achieve a qualification, is not serving the needs of many school-age learners. There are over 2 million children currently not in school, and 416 students are being excluded from schools every single month.
The pressures to achieve in such a system inevitably devalue and reduce time spent on integrating other important non-formal or informal learning opportunities. A headteacher quoted in an Institute of Education (IoE) report stated, “With high stakes testing, the whole of the school’s activity is based around passing tests.”
Those learners whose learning styles and needs do not sit well with formal learning and summative exam assessments are at greater risk of becoming disillusioned, disengaged, stressed and even disruptive. Geoff Barton, the head of the Association of School and College Leaders argues against the “baked-in” system of failure, that sees one-third of children failing their Maths and English GCSEs each year, to keep to the correct ratios: “Our education system works well for about 70 per cent of children. The trouble is if you’re one of the 30 per cent it’s a national scandal.”
At Crossfields Institute, we aim to create qualifications that work for all students, that bring the very best out of each learner, and exclude no one from a lifelong love of learning and a sense of achievement. This is because students are not made to learn material for exams, but can instead engage with exciting and interesting projects that will inspire them.
An integrative approach
The Level 3 IE set of qualifications has been developed to be integrative, in recognition of the fact that life does not easily fit into siloed subjects.
For Crossfields Institute, there are three ways that education can be described as ‘integrative’. Integrative education:
- Engages the whole person – both teacher and student. They use and develop their mental, physical and emotional skills.
- Connects the learner and their learning to their daily life. Their own experiences become valuable in their learning; their learning is useful in their own lives, within their particular context. The student’s educational experience remains relevant for them, and continues to do so as they leave the educational setting and move out into the world.
- Connects or combines both different subjects and the skills those subjects seek to develop.
Education that is integrative will be more engaging, more enlightening, more meaningful. Students will have the chance to love what they learn and apply it wherever it is most needed in their lives.
Regenerative practice and sustainable development
The Integrative Education qualifications also focus on how to teach the next generation of learners, to live in the world in which we find ourselves. We now live in a new geological age, the Anthropocene, where humans dominate the planet’s ecology and geochemistry. Humans have become the single most influential species on the planet, causing significant global warming and other changes to land, environment, water, organisms and the atmosphere.
The coming years represent a vital window of time, in which humans need to drastically alter the way they interact with the world, and work towards a more sustainable way of life.
However, the world’s transformation to sustainable development is being impeded by the very way humanity currently functions, “at the core, we are the problem. The way we’re acting in the world, and the way we solve problems, is the problem.”
As humans, we currently, “lack the inner capacity to deal with our increasingly complex environment and challenges.” However, “modern research shows that the inner abilities we now all need can be developed.”
The Inner Development Goals are an identified list of transformative skills for sustainable development. They show us which qualities and skills we need to develop and nurture, in order to be able to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
That’s why this qualification includes a module that enables learners to recognise and work on their own inner development. As well as enhancing their own capabilities, it may also help them to face the challenges and anxieties that climate change and other crises bring to their lives. Based on the Inner Development Goals, the module focuses closely on what individuals can do to improve their own inner development, and take care of their mental wellbeing through challenging times.
The content of the qualification has also been informed by the Gaia Yes curriculum, which recognises that, “integrating knowledge and skills for sustainable development into schools is crucial for the future of our planet and, more specifically, for the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and EU sustainability policies. We are handing over to the next generation a planet that must face several serious environmental problems and the convergence of multiple crises. It is important to help young people develop the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours necessary for sustainable development.”
At this unprecedented time in history, the development of this qualification is a response to the urgent need for relevant learning, preparing young people for the ecological challenges around them.
In addition to the urgent need to address the climate crises, society needs to resolve a crisis of skills. According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), more than three-quarters of small UK businesses have struggled to recruit in the past 12 months, with 82% blaming a lack of candidates with the right experience,
Young people are acutely aware of this skills deficit. Research conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Accenture, and Hays10 found that almost 1 in 4 young people (aged 17-23) do not feel adequately prepared by their education for the world of work.
This qualification includes an emphasis on key knowledge and skills that are relevant to the world we live in, including communication skills and intercultural competence; systems-based thinking and economics; action-based research skills and awareness of global perspectives.
Moreover, the Gaia Yes programme, which inspired this qualification, clearly outlines how important it is to develop students’ sustainability “competencies, twenty-first century skills and the outcomes of their national curricula in an integrated manner…. The emphasis must shift from information to imagination and from imagination to practical application through learning from experience. These competencies are crucial in finding solutions to various serious environmental problems and crises.”
The CBI describes young people as ‘work ready’ when they have developed their knowledge, skills and character. The IE qualifications follow the same structure, working with the head (knowledge), hands (skills) and heart (character, or attributes), to enable the next generation of thinkers, leaders and citizens to thrive. Each module contains knowledge that the students will gain, skills they will develop and attributes they will carry forward.
Education needs to enthral, engage and bring joy to learners. The aim of the Level 3 qualification is to do just that. As the Nobel prizewinning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, said, “A curriculum needs to excite. It needs to create citizens as well as specialists.”