Working for Change: Education for sustainable development in the further education and skills sector

Submission deadline date: 31 July 2022

Overview of special issue

Education is a key enabler for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals which seek to address the climate crisis, create social justice and develop economic opportunities that deliver on a fairer, healthier and sustainable future. It is for this reason that national governments and key international bodies are committing to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

Education for sustainable development seeks to create opportunities for learners to understand sustainability issues, make informed decisions and support actions for a sustainable society (UNESCO, 2019). It is interpreted as a lifelong education process that is vital to the transition to a more sustainable planet.  

The role of the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector in this transition is particularly critical. The sector has a unique reach – with millions of learners, hundreds of thousands of staff, local and national employer partners as well as providers in every town and city. For learners it is seen as a pathway to the attainment of social mobility and social purpose; thus contributing to the levelling up and social justice agendas.

The FE and skills sector has the potential to significantly amplify the influence and impact of ESD given its emphasis on technical and vocational skills. The sector serves as a pipeline for the workforce of many industries, employers and sectors that have a critical role to play in sustainable development, including energy, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, catering and motoring. Further education also supports reskilling through certification and professional progression pathways needed by employees and sought by employers making it a great channel for extending change for sustainable practices and operating models across business and industry.

ESD is by no means a new concept (Scott & Vare, 2021). Further education has a long trajectory with sustainability and environmental management. Exemplary practices exist but these have not always been shared or scaled up so that there can be sector wide adoption. Equally, sector responses to ESD and the embedding of its learning principles in curricula, pedagogy, quality frameworks and learning spaces has been piecemeal and in some cases tokenistic with few leaders and change makers understanding the core approaches, narratives or redesign processes associated with this new frame of education.

Hosting COP26 has refocused attention in the UK on the sustainability agenda – over the last 12 months there has been significant new policy introduced by the government, for example the Environment Act and Net Zero Strategy (HM Government, 2021), often linking the sustainability agenda with Coronavirus recovery. Most recently the Department for Education has published a draft Climate Change and Sustainability strategy (Department for Education, 2021). This is complemented by calls from industry to fill green skills gaps and invest in green skills – both specialist technical skills and more general sustainability skills (for example Aldersgate Group (2020), CBI (2021) and Green Jobs Taskforce (2021). There’s also strong support for ESD uptake across the education system from the public (Citizens Assembly, 2020), learners (Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) UK, 2021) and the FE sector workforce (Education and Training Foundation, 2021).

The UK FE sector has responded with the inclusion of sustainability skills in the Skills Bill Local Skills Plan requirements, sustainability explicitly referenced within recently revised sector frameworks and a new groundswell of interest from sector bodies, leaders and practitioners. However, as has been argued when discussing ESD in the Higher Education landscape, it’s important that action doesn’t just provide learners with a sustainability narrative. Learners should be provided with first hand experiential opportunities to participate in creating change and providers can act as ‘social disruptors for sustainability’ – building sustainability practice into their business as usual (Tilbury, 2021).

This special issue has three aims: to inspire and inform further education and skills sector providers’ and practitioners’ ESD practice; to inform policy makers about the ESD needs of the further education and skills sector; and to provide a base for future research into ESD in the further education and skills sector.

We are interested in submissions that are based on rich, qualitative research rather than incremental theory development: research which has engaged learners, practitioners, educators and leaders in progressing ESD from which practical lessons about failure and success can be learned.  We also welcome well-evidenced opinion or critical frame pieces and case studies from the UK, Europe and internationally, which may inspire further ESD activity.

Indicative list of anticipated themes

  • ESD as an enabler for green jobs, decarbonisation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Learner experiences and outcomes of ESD
  • Opportunities for ESD in FE subject specialisms
  • Leadership, governance and change making for ESD
  • Effective industrial partnerships for ESD
  • Educator and workforce ESD competencies
  • ESD in the FE policy landscape
  • Opportunities for ESD and the FE estate
  • Developing ESD organisational culture within FE providers and the sector more broadly
  • Case studies of effective practice that identify key frames and lesson learnt

Submission details

Submissions to be made through the ScholarOne submission portal and authors are encouraged to check the Journal's author guidelines prior to submission.

Submission deadline date: 31 July 2022