Publication - Research and analysis

Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability: literature review

Published: 28 Jan 2020

Literature review exploring the impact of Learning for Sustainability on educational outcomes.

110 page PDF

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110 page PDF

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Contents
Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability: literature review
3. Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability

110 page PDF

908.9 kB

3. Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability

3.1 Impact on the personal development of learners

(Including impact on confidence and personal and social development of learners)

Summary of findings

The complex interdisciplinary and controversial nature of sustainability issues demands that effective Learning for Sustainability pedagogies adopt inclusive, values and personal action-based approaches. As such, LfS can help young people to explore, experience and come to know themselves, their connection to the world around them, and the contributions they can make to society now and for the future. It can engage them in local community issues which can help them to understand the interdependencies between 'their place' and the wider world, and their role within those relationships. Whilst this does not guarantee the personal development of the learner, the process of becoming competent to 'act in the world', and confident in doing so, is a core intended outcome of LfS and the essence of one of the 'four capacities' that CfE intends young people to develop – that of becoming 'confident individuals'. The literature reviewed highlights the importance of appropriate real- world and outdoor learning environments, and as LfS is congruent with these approaches, it may also have positive benefits for building knowledge and understanding related to academic attainment whilst providing opportunities for learners to flourish across different aspects of their lives.

Learning for Sustainability is predicated on an inclusive, values and personal action narrative; consequently, it is intended to involve everyone (teacher and learner, and indeed wider communities) in the learning process. It is premised on open-ended pedagogy which brings everyone into the learning process and values that engagement as a continual process of curiosity, exploration and community development; structured but often without specific outcomes or a targeted end-goal in sight. As the issues explored in sustainability are often complex, interdisciplinary, controversial, uncertain, and frequently referred to as 'wicked' (Rittel and Webber, 1973), the knowledge of a teacher or resource is, by definition, limited and perhaps even limiting; hence a pedagogy that recognises and expects active learner involvement is essential. Approaching student learning in this way recognises the potential for personal development through the process, and also the potential emotional hazards in highlighting seemingly intractable global problems (see Uzzell, Rutland and Whistance, 1995; Bixler et al, 1994 and Breuning et al, 2015 for discussions on biophobia, action-paralysis and ecophobia).

Kadji-Beltran et al (2017: 1027) highlight the issue of discussing controversial issues and their work reveals that 'conflicts of interest are an indispensable element of ESD that helps pupils make value judgements, engage in public debate, acquire action competence and take action'. They are quite clear that a marginalisation, taming or avoidance of these issues results in a weaker version of ESD and a superficial implementation, which ultimately does not lead to the same depth and quality of education. Hedefalk et al (2015) describe how one teacher wanted to give children the opportunity to experience situations that were 'troubling' (for example, seeing plastic in rivers where they know ducks are swimming, fish are living, frogs are breeding) so that children are able to say 'this is not good, how can we make a difference?' (2015: 983). The intention was not to cause distress but to afford an opportunity for young children to think critically, 'to make value judgements by comparing one way of acting with another way in which they want to act' (ibid: 983). This is a process of problem identification, decision–making and then encouragement to enable learners to consider how to make and, if possible to, make changes in society through meaningful projects that help them act on their considered value judgements.

In a significant review of the impact of 'development education' and ESD interventions in schools, O'Flaherty and Liddy (2018) highlighted a number of studies which report statistically significant outcomes, with others highlighting positive outcomes including knowledge, skills, attitudes, ethics, and actions arising, including both 'hard' and 'soft' measurement outputs, from exams and knowledge tests through to ethics and values measures. Whilst the academic attainment facets are discussed in Section 3.4, the findings on personal development (values) are significant here.

Whilst not a specific focus of the present review, it should be noted that outdoor learning has a long-standing claim to impact on personal development of learners, and this is increasingly supported by a growing literature which highlights the role of learner engagement, responsibility-taking, group and residential work and active pedagogy. Of particular relevance to 'closing the attainment gap' is a recent empirical study of Scottish high school pupils (Scrutton, 2015) which presented evidence that pupils who perceive themselves as having relatively poor personal and social skills appear to gain most benefit and then lose the least post-experience. This was a small-scale study but one that could be expanded to include greater diversity and geographical reach.

In contrast to the approaches that have positive impacts, there are warnings in the literature that whilst ESD, LfS and global citizenship education stress the importance of active and participatory learning methodologies, the approaches taken in schools often fail to employ these. For example, in their review of 44 papers, McCormack and O'Flaherty (2010) highlight that despite positive exceptions (research based in an NGO overseas volunteer programme, and an outdoor education setting) the majority reported on work completed in traditional learning environments such as lecture theatres and classrooms. The dependency on 'traditional learning sites' is contrary to the inclusion of active and participatory learning, which is central to developing learners' efficacy in relation to global issues, their action-competence and by extension their personal development. Similarly, Witoszek (2018) argues that a neo-liberal framework for ESD (with its emphasis on the 'three pillars' environmental, social and economic) lacks a strong positive narrative and inhibits the potential of ESD to a sense of empowerment amongst learners. This may in turn limit the potential of ESD taught in 'traditional learning sites' to impact positively on personal development.

3.2 Impact on understanding of citizenship

(Including relationships/care for human & non-human world, socio-ecological relationships, community relationships etc.)

Summary of findings

Developing the necessary competences and a positive orientation to becoming a 'responsible citizen' as expected by CfE, is closely related to personal development outcomes as it enables young people to think about themselves in relation to broader connections and dependencies between different aspects of life. This can include considering the relationships between people of different backgrounds, nationalities and cultures, and our collective and individual relationships with the natural world. In the context of this review, the literature highlighted the significance of 'systems' (ecological, social etc.) and 'systemic thinking' as core to sustainability, and that this may be a 'threshold concept' allowing deeper understanding and facilitating responsible actions (citizenship) with regard to the natural and social world and issues such as fairness, justice and equity. The value of building relationships with the natural world was prominent in developing understanding and empathy, and real- world contexts, particularly working with partners in the community, were regarded as being of great value in helping learners to address real-world sustainability and a wide range of complex interdisciplinary issues.

It is a given that the concept of citizenship, and indeed active participation, is core to the purposes of LfS. In the Scottish context this includes an expectation of discussion and development of relevant values, and a personal action orientation. This in turn necessarily relates to an ethic of care for others (including other species – even if solely from an instrumental 'ecosystems services' perspective), and the broader community. At the heart of such considerations is, as Sandri (2013) points out, that all such dimensions operate within 'systems' and that systems and systemic thinking are core to sustainability. This approach is partly based on Land and Meyer's (2010) notion of threshold concepts[7], and Sandri (2013) argues that 'seeing systems as the threshold concept for sustainability is useful for understanding the processes of Learning for Sustainability'. Further, teaching sustainability through systems helps address authentic issues, which may be an important additional mechanism that may impact on attainment and, perhaps equally significantly, help learners to address real-world sustainability and a wide range of complex interdisciplinary issues in the future.

Socio-ecological relationships with the natural world (also referred to as the non- human, more than human, other than human world) feature significantly in the literature. For example, Broom (2017) identifies relationships between early experiences in nature with values and actions as adults, and emphasises the significance of outdoor learning experiences being structured for sustainability and environmental awareness, which are nurtured through evidence of environmental care, discussions, reflection and critical thinking. Broom (2017: 41) indicates that it is important to acknowledge the depth of this relationship and cites the originator of the

'Biophilia Hypothesis', E. O. Wilson (1984), who suggested that "environmental ecological consciousness is theorized to connect to ecological identity and relates to an individual's deep reflection on, connection to, and engagement with the natural environment". The indications are that Wilson's concept – essentially that time in nature helps develop an ethic of care – may have a sound basis important in developing a sense of systemic understanding and global citizenship.

The broader benefits of socio-ecological relationships are increasingly widely reported; for example in an in-depth literature review of 35 papers, Tillmann et al (2018) found that time in nature influences mental health positively with over half the findings (53 of 100) confirming statistically significant positive benefits of time in nature (the remaining findings were positive but not significant, with the exception of one paper which reported a single finding suggesting nature had a negative effect on children's mental health) (Balseviciene et al, 2014).

Whilst these benefits are undoubtedly of value, they do not address the question of whether time in nature promotes academic learning. This has become an issue of growing international interest across several disciplines (e.g. education, psychology, health) with, for example, significant recent articles by Kuo et al (2018, 2019) and some evidence from Scotland (Higgins et al, 2018). The more recent of the articles, by Kuo and colleagues (2019), is a significant recent review in which they argue that there is 'converging evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship'. Whilst at present it is only possible to hypothesise mechanisms, the authors state with confidence that such benefits are evident and statistically valid. One indication, from Dieser & Bogner's (2016) comparative empirical study of cognitive knowledge and achievement (n=289), was that young people's cognitive achievement was fostered by 'hands-on-centred' environmental education. So, it may be that such practical learning experiences, which are widespread in the teaching of LfS and in outdoor environments, are significant in the success of this approach.

Returning to the notion of attainment as citizenship, Kadji-Beltran (2017: 1022) reinforces the role of partnerships and relationships with the community as 'an integral part of future-orientated education, as pupils should work with real challenges in a range of real-world contexts'. Further they suggest that civil capacity is built by developing and strengthening decision-making skills, critical thinking and exploration skills (2017: 1023).

3.3 Impact on academic attainment

(Relates to traditional understandings – linked to school subject areas etc.)

Summary of findings

There is evidence that LfS does have an 'impact' on attainment, through the nature of the issues studied (complex, interdisciplinary, consequential, 'real' etc.), the characteristic pedagogies employed, and the value of school community approaches that take sustainability seriously. This is particularly so through outdoor learning, where there is increasingly strong evidence that experiences in nature can boost academic learning, including in subject areas unrelated to the outdoor context. For example, the benefits of time spent outdoors in terms of health and wellbeing, stress reduction, improved mental health and confidence of young people were reported, all of which are known to support academic attainment. However, whilst impact on academic success is a primary concern of schools and education, many authors caution against a narrow view, arguing that this is one facet of learner development and should be considered in a broader context. This aligns closely with the emphasis in CfE on good health and wellbeing (alongside literacy and numeracy) as the foundation to all attainment, and as a responsibility of all school staff.

There are limited studies of the impact of LfS specifically on attainment. A particularly relevant study was the Education Scotland (2015b) study (as discussed previously), which found that schools that committed to LfS – and, where possible, capitalised on outdoor learning opportunities – found 'enhanced learning, motivation and readiness to learn' amongst pupils. This was reflected in the comparative study by Laurie et al (2016), which found similar results internationally, and noted that these attributes of the schools and learners 'coincide(d) with higher order skill levels in the PISA tests', and that consequently 'ESD and PISA are synergistic in many ways'.

There was a greater body of interesting and varied literature considering the topic of outdoor learning and attainment specifically. A particularly useful study conducted by Quibell et al (2017), stimulated by the increasing gap in educational attainment between high- and low-achieving children in primary schools, considered the link to social disadvantage and the often subsequent long-term detrimental effects on learning. Their study positioned outdoor learning (a central component of LfS) as a means of addressing this gap by 'providing a structured curriculum-based outdoor learning programme for primary school children: Wilderness schooling'[8] (2017: 572). They focused on attainment in terms of performance in English reading, English writing, and maths, and collected data at three time-points: pre-intervention, post- intervention and a 6-week follow up. They studied a sample of Wilderness-schooled (n=223) and conventionally schooled (n=217) students. Results showed that children in the Wilderness School increased attainment across all areas significantly. This correlates with previous studies by Christie et al, (2015), more reviews by Kou et al (2019) and elsewhere in this report.

Interestingly, Quibell et al (2017) suggest that attainment is one factor to be considered alongside or nested within a broader 'theory of change', and this is where LfS affords an opportunity to extend outdoor learning programmes to offer further opportunities to build on these immersive and sensitising experiences, and bring them into a curricular environment that supports positive change over the longer term. Such approaches provide a means of ensuring there is progression and coherence between and across outdoor experiences, whether longer-term residential overnight programmes, shorter day trips, or within rural or urban settings; and as young people progress through education from early years to secondary and tertiary settings. Such thinking challenges a more static conception of attainment as a level to be reached or a target to be achieved, and pushes us to imagine a more fluid, personalised notion that progresses throughout a learner's life-course at different rates and in response to different factors both within and beyond school. This is of course in close alignment with the philosophy and purposes of Curriculum for Excellence.

O'Flaherty and Liddy (2018: 1034) problematise the use of the term 'impact' and measures of impact, noting that a traditional understanding 'aligns with ideals of measurement and evidence to support the impact or effect of a particular treatment with a particular group', reflecting a more positivist epistemology. They suggest it needs to be conceptualised in a much broader way, suggesting impact 'as change in knowledge, skills, attitudes, ethics, actions arising, including both hard and soft measurement outputs, from exams and knowledge tests through to ethical/values measures' (2017: 1033).

A research study conducted by Breuning et al (2015: 279) provides compelling evidence to support the value of outdoor learning as a way to think critically; as their work found that there were 'potential connections between an open and supportive environment and the development of critical thinking and reflection in students'. This link to critical thinking is not new; Ernst (2014), McCloskey, (2016), Griffiths and Murray (2017) and others have raised similar issues. Griffiths and Murray (2017: 47) further suggested that critical thinking alongside other pedagogical strategies that 'require students to pay whole-hearted (or loving) attention to the world and to make engaged connections with it', were important alongside space to nurture these skills, so that we are not only thinking in terms of critiquing what exists but re-imagining what is possible. Further, they suggest that such 'responsive and proactive pedagogies' demand space; not just time within the school day but 'space for a response to what matters, and openness to minding about it', ultimately giving 'students the chance to participate in re-making the world with whole-hearted understanding' (2017: 47). Garrison et al (2015) echo this by stating that 'we cannot deal with the environmental problems through thinking patterns that have created them in the first place', rather we need to move beyond critical thinking that 'confines itself to simply choosing among pre-existing alternatives instead of imagining or creating new desirable values' (2015: 200).

Such future-orientated environments encourage dialogue between teacher and learner on important environmental, personal or controversial issues (Breuning et al, 2015) which builds on points raised in Section 3.1 on personal and social development, as well as Section 3.3 where the case was made for a school ethos that fosters open and honest conversation and a supportive culture.

3.4 Impact on skills for life and work beyond formal education

Summary of findings

The impact of LfS on school attainment reveals the opportunity to develop skills relevant across the life course. Whilst there appears to be limited research into the impact on skills for life and work specifically, it does seem logical that skills developed in formal educational settings are not confined to that context; they translate into skills for life and work beyond formal education. For example, LfS can encourage the development of critical thinking skills. It can help young people to uncover and unpick complex interdisciplinary issues. It can also support creativity, allowing learners to imagine solutions to existing and emerging issues. Learning for Sustainability can therefore offer an opportunity to develop and practice skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly fast-paced, uncertain world.

At this point in the review it is clear that the impact and outcomes related to ESD extend beyond standardised assessment and relate to skills for life which, in turn, reach beyond formal education and apply across the life-course. These skills can be understood as relating to critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, resourcefulness, and inter- and intra-personal social skills. Many of these have been discussed already in previous sections and do not warrant further review here.

One point to note, however, is a more philosophical perspective to skills for life and work offered by Sandri (2013). Her research refers to threshold concepts and systems as outcomes or skills that are applicable across all ages, which, once considered, can influence worldviews from that point forward. She refers to Land and Meyer (2010) and their presentation of three aspects of the threshold framework which begins with: transformation – once you grasp the threshold concept you adopt another worldview and the process is largely irreversible; integration – the concepts are usually transversal and can allow you to cut across other disciplines and fields or at least view those disciplines differently too; troublesome – they can be tricky to understand at the outset but once understood they can challenge existing worldviews.

One of the ways in which teachers and learners can engage with sustainability issues and these threshold concepts is to adopt a systems-thinking approach. Systems thinking is based on the idea that to make sense of the complexity of the world, we need to look at issues holistically and in terms of relationships, rather than reducing it into its many parts which we consider in isolation (Ramage and Shipp, 2009; Capra, 1996). These more philosophical potential outcomes and impacts of LfS offer shifts in thinking that will inform an individual's life and work beyond formal education. Interdisciplinary learning and outdoor learning in particular offer logical opportunities to ground these approaches and engage young people in teaching and learning that emphasises transformative action rather than didactic transmissive approaches. For example, a recent doctoral study (Mattu, 2016) considered the role of interdisciplinary learning and outdoor learning within the context of Curriculum for Excellence. Her work focused on food and farming and, following a mixed-method study of school visits to farms (primary 2-3/children aged 6-7), she demonstrated that the visits afforded links to a range of experiences and outcomes such as: expressive arts, health and wellbeing, languages and literacy, mathematics and numeracy, religious and moral education, sciences, social studies and technologies.

Interestingly she noted that 'curricular links beyond those specified directly by teachers, such as with 'enjoyment' as a principle of curriculum design, were identified' (p. 261). This contextualised account demonstrates one way in which outdoor and interdisciplinary learning, alongside a creative and holistic approach to curriculum design and delivery, affords a rich and authentic educational experience that covers curricular learning and broader principles of curricular design.

3.5 Impact on closing the poverty-related attainment gap or reducing inequity within education.

Summary of findings

No literature was found that examined how LfS might specifically address the poverty-related attainment gap. However, it is clear that LfS affords an opportunity to do so indirectly by raising awareness of the relationship between a sustainable future and a more equal society. It can also offer opportunities to address issues of social justice and 'fairness' by enabling learners to engage with local, national and global issues as part of a wider community or as individuals. It is clear from the review that there is a need for more research and practice-informed literature to examine the relationship between LfS and its impact on closing the poverty-related attainment gap or reducing inequity within education.

There was limited literature covering closing the poverty-related attainment gap or reducing inequity within education as related to LfS specifically. As this review is primarily focused on LfS and its impact, there was no scope to include poverty- related attainment gap literature that did not include LfS. We did find literature rooted in LfS that linked to disadvantage and subsequent long-term effects on learning (see Quibell et al, 2017) and this has been discussed within Section 3.4 and related to the heading of attainment more generally.

One point to note here is that often LfS is misunderstood as being solely linked to an environmental agenda and the social justice, human-focused aspect of LfS is either assumed or indeed not surfaced. LfS offers a range of ways to engage, challenge and progress issues of inequity, disadvantage, justice and community cohesion by highlighting such issues at a local and global level and by offering ways to engage and take action within villages, towns and cities in which the school is located. This is linked to issues raised in Section 3.2 with regard to citizenship and working with and in respect of other communities. We recognise the need to produce literature to examine these issues and to continue to draw attention to and illustrate this often implicit aspect of LfS. To this end, authors of this report are involved in writing a forthcoming chapter for a revised edition of Arshad et al (2012) Social Justice Re- examined (see Leask et al, 2019).

3.6 Impact on overall school improvement

(Including whole-school/teacher leadership/ethos/school culture etc.)

Summary of findings

There is a substantial literature on the impact of school culture, management and related internal and external conditions on the efficacy of at least the ESD dimension of LfS. Much of this relates to efforts in general to improve schools and schooling, particularly with attainment in mind. The review highlighted factors which included the significance of approaches to learning and teaching that respected and engaged learners with the complexity of sustainability issues; the allocation of adequate time and resources to properly engage with and address such complex issues; and the relationships between schools and community, including their learning potential. There was also support for the need for teachers to learn through supportive, collaborative professional learning environments that recognise that they too have to address the complexity of sustainability issues in order to teach them. However, time and resources are required to ensure that LfS is meaningfully embedded; ensuring everyone has space to fully explore some of the complex issues covered by LfS and consider how they apply in their local contexts.

Few of the articles reviewed focused on the impact of LfS on school improvement; however, a significant international 18-nations study reported the positive transformational potential of such a commitment on teaching and learning. Given the ostensibly accommodating aspirations of CfE (for example the delivery of flexible, personalised and relevant learning experiences that place learners as active participants in the educational experience), it is clear that LfS offers an excellent context for such a commitment to flourish. Further, an LfS-based whole-setting approach offers a way to build a 'learning community', where it is encouraged, supported and expected that teachers and pupils alike are learning and acting towards a sustainable future, whilst motivating and inspiring learners to take greater responsibility for their learning.

Whilst much of the literature focused on the impact of the school, teacher attitudes and competence on the development of learners' knowledge, skills, attitudes and values relating to and through LfS, there are indications that LfS can have positive effects on school culture. Of particular significance here are two articles. The first is the Education Scotland (2015b) 'Conversations about Learning for Sustainability' report which, although essentially an informal study of schools (at all levels) that had made a commitment to LfS, found the approach was aligned with pupil attainment, school culture, staff satisfaction, and reputation in the community. The second is the UNESCO-commissioned 18-nations report to which the Scottish study (Education Scotland, 2015b) contributed, conducted by Laurie et al (2016) which found that: 'ESD contributes in many ways to quality education in primary and secondary schools. Teaching and learning transforms in all contexts when the curriculum includes sustainability content.' It also reinforces points raised earlier (see Section 3.4) where we highlight that sustainability education offers a holistic approach that encourages personal and social skills, qualities and capacities to flourish. This aligns with Laurie et al (2016: 1) who found that sustainability education 'promotes the learning of skills, perspectives and values necessary to foster sustainable societies'. The UNESCO report also signals alignment between LfS and interdisciplinary learning as they identified a 'need to integrate ESD across all subjects' and that to do so it was important to 'provide professional development for teachers to ensure ESD policy implementation and to adopt ESD management practices to support ESD in 29 the curriculum'. Given the holistic philosophy of LfS and the emphasis on whole- school approaches to embedding and enacting these principles, it seems clear that LfS offers a way to implement and move forward the action points arising from this important UNESCO 18-nations study (Laurie et al, 2016).

In terms of LfS delivery, the majority of research on sustainability education focuses on implementation and student outcomes, and limited attention has been given to school leadership and school organisation. To address this gap Mogren and Gericke (2017a, b) conducted a two-part empirical mixed-methods study of existing practices in 10 highly 'ESD-active' (their term) upper secondary schools in Sweden. The study revealed 26 quality criteria used to guide effective sustainability education. These criteria distilled into four main principles: collaborative interaction and school development; student-centred education; co-operation with local society and pro- active leadership and continuity. They also highlight three important areas of work (drawn from the ESI [Environment and Schools Initiative] Network) based on work by Breiting, Mayer and Mogensen, 2005):

1. learning and teaching – which relates to the way education is organised by teachers to create a school culture that promotes student engagement with complex issues from multiple perspectives;

2. school policy and organisation – which relates to the allocation of adequate time and resources to ensure that sustainability education is adopted in ways that build on student and teacher engagement; and

3. the external relations of schools – which concerns the school's collaborations with society.

Of these three 'areas of work' and the four principles they distilled from their original 26, the two features which relate most clearly to school culture and ethos, and this section of the report in particular, are those to do with 'school policy and organisation', 'external relations and pro-active leadership'. The criterion for pro- active leadership was described in the study by the following remark that, 'far- reaching plans promote the establishment of common ground, which makes us good role models' (p. 984). This suggests a form of leadership based on principles of 'collective learning and implemented through the gradual progression' in a way that brings everyone along through consensus, sharing and understanding (p. 984). Mogren and Gericke go on to describe this as a process of collective learning where solutions are found among the employed teachers and other staff rather than being 30 sought from outside the school organisation (2017a: 985). Whilst this is a fair approach we would draw on other studies here (for example Smith, 2016; Aguayo and Eames, 2017) that show the value in working in partnership with organisations for development, knowledge and specific training to support and reinforce the leadership and progress of a school. Fundamental to any development work is having a clear vision and common goal, which in the case of LfS means having a solid understanding across and throughout the school of its policy context, purpose and significance. It has been noted that a clear understanding of LfS is not consistent across education, in Initial Teacher Education or schools (Nicol et al, 2019; Christie et al, 2019), and this is not unique to Scotland. Mogren and Gericke's (2017a: 987) findings reveal that 'shared understanding can be hard to implement; with some school leaders [in Sweden] highlighting overcoming resistance to ESD as an essential quality criterion'. There is a danger of failure here, as leadership may become overly strong in an attempt to ensure LfS is taken forward (likely encountering resistance), and tight adherence to the values of shared leadership which does not manage to overcome the resistance or tension exerted by those who do not see the value in LfS. For further discussion on these issues of developing shared understanding and the barriers and opportunities that exist in terms of moving LfS from policy into practice, see the LfS-focused special issue of Scottish Educational Review (2019).

Green and Somerville (2015: 832) reinforce these points stating that sustainability education is 'constituted in the relationship between teachers, students and community members and the immaterialities of local places, and partnerships extended into communities and places beyond the school'. Therefore, a whole- school approach draws on relationships within and beyond the school. However, challenging existing architectures and structures within school culture and organisation is not easy, as often they are embedded and held in situ due to 'material-economic or social-political arrangements and orders', and, as Green and Somerville note, the 'overarching argument is that until the architectures that hold existing practices in place are changed, teachers will remain reluctant to engage in sustainability education' (2015: 834). This highlights the need to work with teachers as well as educational leaders to develop opportunities that encourage and enable teachers to understand, develop and enact the LfS policy that exists, and also the need to work with teachers 'where they are', in the sites and spaces in which they teach; and indeed to work with curricula, to understand the possibilities and 31 opportunities these afford alongside the challenges they experience. This argument has been comprehensively supported by Laurie et al (2016: 1) as their study indicated the need 'to provide professional development for teachers to ensure the ESD policy implementation, and to adopt ESD management practices to support ESD in the curriculum'.

There is concern amongst teachers regarding increasing workloads, changing policy contexts and a range of other demands. Consequently there is a danger that LfS becomes 'content to be delivered' rather than an approach that underpins all aspects of education (Christie et al, 2019; Nicol et al, 2019), leading to superficial engagement and a sanitised introduction to some of the key challenges and controversial issues of our time (as noted by Kadji-Beltran et al, 2017, and others). Recent research (D'Souza, 2012; Atkinson and Wade, 2013; Wade, 2015; Mogren et al, 2018) has researched whole-school approaches that help and support teachers to better understand and therefore be better positioned to introduce political and cultural dimensions of sustainable development issues, and to help in developing collaborations with local communities. Most notably, Mogren et al (2018) highlight that 'the implementation of a holistic vision is the most important quality criterion' and that this vision needs to be recognised in the 'evaluation, planning and execution of teaching (p. 18). This notion of a praxis-orientated, interdisciplinary, holistic approach to implementation, rather than an awards-based system that fell into the hands of one or two individuals, was key to success. They note clearly that 'all individuals at all levels are important catalysts for ESD action and progress' (p. 18).

Core to bringing all school staff (and pupils) on board is the cultivation of an ethos that supports each individual to develop the confidence, skills, knowledge and understanding necessary to engage. Kadji-Beltan et al (2017: 1028) note the importance of developing a mentoring system for those teachers who are more experienced to work alongside those who need to develop confidence in these areas. Clearly this is an important aspect of any form of professional development for teachers, but particularly so in the context of new areas of knowledge and understanding introduced as professional responsibilities resulting from policy commitments – as is the case with LfS in Scotland. Following Kadji-Beltan et al's (2017) approach, it is evident that whilst there may be a need for more formal skills and knowledge development, this should be developed within an ethos and culture that supports, nurtures and coaches others across the school to share in the development of these practices and approaches. It is not a quick-fix or a short-term solution; the development of LfS needs thoughtful care to enable people to engage with it, to work through vulnerability in these spaces, and to find the confidence to bring it into their everyday practice as a way of thinking, being and doing.

3.7 Additional Notes

The analytical framework for this review was based on the research questions as provided in the tender document (See Appendix G), however as we engaged with the literature we entered into a more iterative process whereby notable issues arose from the data which did not fit neatly into these pre-determined categories. Notes on these are included in this section to ensure we represent, as far as is possible, the literature as reviewed.

3.7.1 A note on the role of outdoor learning

The focus of this review has been LfS as underpinned by education for sustainable development, global citizenship, and outdoor learning. We have woven in literature that perhaps favoured, or was written from, the disciplinary perspective of any one of these three components; we did not privilege any one aspect, reflecting the LfS philosophy. However, during the literature review process it became clear that there is a distinct and increasing wealth of information related to the sensory immersive experiences afforded by learning out-of-doors, across a range of contexts (cities, parks, local and rural spaces) and from a range of disciplines, for example health and wellbeing, psychology, physical activity, greenspace, landscape architecture and design – as noted in Section 2. Whilst some of that work has been woven into this review there remains a wealth of evidence that distinctly relates to the unique affordances of learning outdoors. Of further and specific relevance to the review is the growing evidence that learning outdoors, even if this is not relevant to the subject being studied, is beneficial for academic learning and hence likely to be of benefit in academic attainment. This is discussed briefly in Sections 2 and 3.3.

Recommendation: A separate review of literature is required to tease out the unique and mutually reinforcing benefits of outdoor learning experiences identified in the literature (learning for sustainability, academic attainment, health and wellbeing, interdisciplinary learning etc.).

3.7.2 A note on appropriate pedagogies for quality education

As noted in Section 3.1 and as raised by other authors such as in the 18-nations UNESCO study by Laurie et al (2016), by Nikel and Lowe (2010) and others, there is a need to develop appropriate pedagogies to ensure quality education. Nikel and Lowe devised a model of quality education which 'identified seven conceptual dimensions; which are effectiveness, efficiency, equity, responsiveness, relevance, reflexivity, and sustainability' (2010: 595). Whilst in the present review we have not developed an explicit relationship to their model, we were guided by their thinking in terms of broader notions of quality that go beyond a linear, input-output model of education, that quality should be considered as 'process rather than product', and the need for contextual relevance that recognises the tensions between different dimensions on different systemic levels (Nikel and Lowe, 2010: 594). In terms of LfS there is no standardised, universal approach; rather, teaching and learning should be rooted in appropriate pedagogies guided by quality education. Further, we recognise that whilst this review focuses on attainment, quality education is fundamental to this, however 'attainment' is understood, so we must proceed with quality in mind. Further, in terms of both global agreements and Scottish Government policy, it is important to note that quality education is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4. Quality Education) which aligns with the philosophy, structure and purpose of the LfS implementation report – Vision 2030+ (Scottish Government, 2016). Whilst the importance of 'quality education' is widely acknowledged as a core driver, we feel a clearer exploration of what this means in terms of LfS at a national level (particularly given its centrality to the UN SDGs) and what might be the appropriate pedagogies required to ensure its successful delivery.

Recommendation: Further exploration of appropriate pedagogies is required to determine the drivers of quality education within the context of LfS practice within and across Scotland.

3.7.3 A note on national and contextual differences

This review focused primarily on national literature but the scope was extended to include international literature to ensure the most relevant studies were included. The majority of individual studies took place within a single country, whilst a number compared case studies across a range of national contexts. However, the literature reviews we consulted generally did not highlight the specific locations of each study considered. Our intention was never to provide a country-by-country, or region-by- region analysis; rather we were looking for pedagogical principles, approaches and broad educational outcomes surfacing across a range of contexts. Nonetheless, we believe there is value in working at a national level specifically to consider the nuances and individual structural, socio-economic, indigenous and cultural aspects that undoubtedly exert an influence on those teaching, leading and learning. We also recognise the subtle difference between geographical regions, between schools and within classrooms. We are reminded of the 'educational architectures' raised in Section 3.3 (Green and Somerville, 2015) that exist and how we must work in accordance with those implicit or explicit frameworks to challenge, discuss and collaborate as to embed LfS across and within these systems.

As we finalised this report a major study was published by UNESCO (2019), which addressed the issue we raise above – namely that comparative national studies would shed light on the potential of LfS to support a range of important learning outcomes. Th​e UNESCO study investigated the degree to which three dimensions – cognitive, social and emotional, and behavioural learning – are 'prioritised in commitments to ESD and GC education' (p. 8) throughout formal education in 10 countries selected from UNESCO's five key regions of the world. The review presents detailed findings across developmental stages in each nation studied, and whilst there were national differences, there were similarities, such as the emphasis on social and emotional development through GC, and a greater emphasis on the cognitive dimension through ESD. The report concludes (p. 37) by stating the importance of holistic learning and whole-school approaches, including extra-curricular activities, the opportunities within the immediate learning environment beyond school and the need for close linkages between school and community'. Whilst the study did not explore the third dimension of LfS, outdoor learning per se, these statements point to the significance of such out of school experiences in supporting the learning dimensions which were the focus of the 10-country study.

Recommendation: There needs to be sensitive understanding of the educational architecture of each school, cluster and region before moving to embed LfS within those systems, so that LfS underpins existing structures or helps to reveal constraining or problematic structures.

3.7.4 A note on age differences

Similar to the note above on national and contextual differences, we did not divide the review into age-appropriate sections, nor did we discuss LfS in terms of early years, primary or secondary education settings specifically. We were keen to keep the review focused on pedagogical approaches more generally and we were interested in the outcomes and impact rather than the specifics of delivery. It is when we move from the broad principles to the specifics of delivery that differentiation becomes more relevant. However, we do want to add a cautionary note that irrespective of age and stage there is the potential to overwhelm young people when introducing and discussing 'wicked' problems, especially when the story conveyed is bleak, and disaster appears to be looming. It is clear that the full story needs to be told, however there may be more or less appropriate ways to convey information, promote awareness, engage learners and move to action that does not paralyse or generate despair in young people. We raised this in Section 3, and it is discussed by others such as Bixler et al (1994) and Strife (2012).

Recommendation: Care must be taken to nuance LfS approaches for children given their age and developmental stage; failure to do so risks demotivating – and indeed depressing – learners and may inhibit willingness to review personal values and take appropriate actions.

3.7.5 A note on LfS and sustainability attitudes and behaviours

As noted in Section 2, it is to be expected that literature searches with the parameters employed would produce a high number of papers that discussed the efficacy of approaches to LfS on attitudes, values and behaviours related to sustainability. These have been subject to numerous international reviews (e.g. see articles cited here by Hedefalk et al, 2015; O'Flaherty and Liddy, 2018), and it is not our purpose to summarise these here. However, as has been noted in most of the sections above, there is general agreement that the pedagogies appropriate to LfS and that are successful in stimulating reflections on and orientations towards personal actions, are those identified as significant in raising attainment.

Recommendation: There is value in further exploration of the long-term impact of LfS on sustainability attitudes and behaviours in terms of the broader understanding of attainment identified in this review.

3.7.6 A note on the reporting of negative findings

One of the common observations regarding literature searches is that they tend not to uncover negative findings. This is primarily the result of an unwillingness amongst researchers to report such findings in the first place, and then for journals to publish them. We encountered no papers that specifically highlighted negative results, though within a number of the articles, particularly the empirical ones, there were some examples.

So, one question we asked ourselves was, is there a valid hypothesis that LfS could have a negative impact on attainment? There is no suggestion of this in the literature surveyed, and in terms of broad attainment outcomes such as development of personal qualities to act as an informed citizen etc. it seems unlikely that there would be. However, it seems reasonable to conclude that if schools place great emphasis on attainment in formal exams which do not reflect the value of or focus on LfS, then, given the generally positive findings and associations with attainment etc. outlined above, learners may be disadvantaged. This argument aligns closely with that of Kuo et al (2019) where they issue the challenge, that given its demonstrable efficacy, why education does not generally take place outdoors. Whilst it is beyond the scope of the present review to delve too deeply into this, it is important to recognise that national qualifications and the formal assessments they depend on are drivers for syllabus content as much as the other way round. Whilst we have not reviewed the national qualifications for content, it is at least reasonable to ask if this may be a real limitation on the capacity of LfS to be recognised as attainment. Whilst we are not advocating LfS as a specific qualification, put simply, if LfS were woven into and assessed through national qualifications it would clearly contribute directly to attainment. This is at least something to consider with regard to the status of LfS as an approach to learning with cross-curricular applicability, and an entitlement for all learners in Scotland, and yet, as we have found in a recent study, it is not universally perceived as a priority (see Christie et al, 2019).

Recommendation: Whilst there were no negative outcomes of LfS identified in our review, as we embed LfS within and across Scottish education it is important to maintain a transparent and honest account of this process, to acknowledge that this may be a possibility and that researchers and practitioners should be willing to highlight any such findings. In terms of formal attainment, the status of LfS may, as an approach to teaching and learning woven throughout all curricular areas, usefully be reviewed as a potential driver for change, which in turn may lead to greater recognition.

3.7.7. A note on current and forthcoming LfS Research into Action Briefings At the time of writing we are concurrently developing a series of LfS Research (and Knowledge) into Action Briefings with colleagues across Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh and LfS Scotland. The forthcoming briefings update an earlier series published in 2016 [9] which relate to, support and underpin much of the content covered within this literature review.

The 2016 published set of LfS Research into Action Briefings are:

  • Learning for Sustainability and Attainment in Schools [LfS Research Briefings No. 1, Christie, B; Higgins, P. (2016)]
  • The Impact of Outdoor Learning on Learning for Sustainability in Schools. [LfS Research Briefings No. 2, Christie, B; Higgins P. (2016)]
  • The Impact of Outdoor Learning on Attainment and Behaviour in Schools. [LfS Research Briefings No. 3, Christie, B; Higgins P.(2016)]
  • Learning for Sustainability – Effective Pedagogies. [LfS Research Briefings No. 4, Christie B; Higgins P. (2016)]
  • The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) 2005-‐ 2014 and Beyond. A Retrospective Review [LfS Research BriefingsNo. 5, Christie, B; Higgins P. (2016)]

The forthcoming briefings, at this stage, are expected to include:

  • Learning for Sustainability and Attainment in Schools
  • The Impact of Outdoor Learning on Learning for Sustainability in Schools
  • The Impact of Outdoor Learning on Attainment and Behaviour in Schools
  • Learning for Sustainability – Effective Pedagogies
  • Learning for Sustainability – Developing Young Workforce
  • Learning for Sustainability and Food
  • Learning for Sustainability and STEM (STEAM) [10]
  • Exploring controversial issues (in relation to Learning for Sustainability)
  • Interdisciplinary approaches and Learning for Sustainability
  • Learning for Sustainability – Pedagogy of Buildings and Grounds
  • Learning for Sustainability – Whole School Approach

Recommendation: Publicise and widely disseminate forthcoming Learning for Sustainability Knowledge into Action Briefings.


Contact

Email: Heather.Tibbetts@gov.scot