is difficult not to be disappointed by the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change
Summit. Expectations had been high for so long with the urgency and scale of
the issue and because, at long last, of the involvement of the
the agreement Obama worked on with
is depressing. However, although it’s taken over 30 years for the issue of
climate change to be seriously debated, I do think that
Last year the WEA we made ‘Promoting Sustainability’ one of nine strategic priorities for the period to the end of 2013. We’d made some small steps about it early this year but moved forward more quickly with a ‘Forum for the Future’ Masters Scholar placement attached to the WEA for four weeks in the early autumn. Steven Bland worked with us and, as part of a very busy month, gave us the impetus to sign the WEA up to the 10:10 Campaign. Steven surveyed the views of over 10,000 WEA members, 2700 tutors and 600 staff and we had an overwhelming confirmation of the importance of this issue to people involved with the WEA. Usefully, this survey (the biggest mass e-mail the WEA has undertaken to date) has led to 600 people asking to be part of an e-mail network on Promoting Sustainability across the WEA. Incidentally, it also makes you realise what can be done in four weeks by someone with energy and enthusiasm. Steven’s work had far more impact, resonance and reach into the organisation than an army of consultants could have brought.
So, we’re readying ourselves for 10:10; getting our benchmarks in place. The 10% reduction will be tough and that’s why we wanted to be confident it was something that colleagues across the organisation would support. The WEA is a very dispersed organisation using hundreds of venues in communities and neighbourhoods across the country, with thousands of tutors and tens of thousands of students (one reason why the dismal Framework for Excellence ‘learner views’ survey is difficult to promote). We still involve our students and partners in determining the courses we run. We don’t control the energy use of most of our venues and we do have tutors travelling by car some distance to where they teach. On the other hand, the students have shorter journeys because our provision is so local and our classes improve the utilisation (and viability) of many community venues.
The relationship to the curriculum is more tricky than the organisational energy issues. Over the year, I feel that the issue for the WEA is how to share ideas and gain encouragement from each other so that sustainability and the personal and organisational responsibility it involves become a permitted and evident part of the Association’s work.
In honesty, we are only beginning to look to ways that the small number of courses and activities the WEA already runs on these issues can be linked up and tutors who are involved can share and develop their practice and the WEA can learn from them. However, I’m pretty convinced that this can’t be a centralised, micro-managed initiative. We’ll need some measures for our organisational impact and we’ll need to monitor how we’re doing but, more than that, we need to make this a permitted, encouraged and – possibly - celebrated (but not in a marketing/PR/ ‘let’s look at the communication plan’ sort of way) thread of activity.
It’s been quite striking to see how difficult a fit this is for the WEA. I suppose that’s true for all 10:10 signatories. Our finance system isn’t set up to account for our CO2 ‘expenditure’ and Sector Subject Areas don’t generate the kind of data evidence for this work that we’ve been so encouraged to see as the measure of ‘success’ in the world of post 16 regulation and improvement. Moreover, the other stuff still keeps coming: new agencies, funding audits, procurement, ‘new professionalism’, revised inspection approaches - all the hyperactivity and churn of the last decade zooms past the collapse of part-time adult learning opportunities and the warming planet. Perhaps this issue can be the one where we say this is too important to leave to be directed from the superstructure to meet its ‘deliverables’.
In some ways, although I really hope we can progress with the development of the curriculum in a conventional sense, I’m more interested in the possibility that promoting sustainability can be a thread running through – and changing - all our provision. ‘Think Global, Act local’, is an idea that feels fairly modern and yet was coined by Patrick Geddes almost 100 years ago. He also talked of ‘place, work, folk’ and, in education, ‘head, hand, heart’. These ideas together seem a good basis for thinking and taking action for sustainable learning and local future.
I admire all the efforts being taken by people and communities taking action on sustainability and climate change through 10:10, transition towns etc. and I hope that the WEA can contribute to these actions in 2010 and beyond.