Building a Sustainable Future: Challenges for Initial Teacher Training

Editor(s) Sally Inman and Maggie Rogers
Publisher WWF-UK
Published 2006
Pages 240
Price 12.99
ISBN 1858502195
Reviewed by Anthony Pickford
University of Chester
Review published 1 October 2009

Building a Sustainable Future: Challenges for Initial Teacher Training describes and reflects upon the 'Partners in Change' project carried out by three education departments in London: South Bank University, Goldsmiths University and the University of Greenwich. The project aimed to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes and was funded by WWF. 

The book is divided into four sections. Part 1 focuses on the context of the project in terms of ESD as an engine of social change and a product of policy initiatives in the UK and elsewhere. It also provides a useful outline of the project team’s analysis of the knowledge, skills and values implicit in ESD and the implications for teacher training in the context of wider policy frameworks, such as the Standards for QTS. Parts 2 and 3 describe and analyse the range of projects, programmes, modules and units that were developed in the three institutions as the project progressed and matured. Broadly, the examples in Part 2 concern awareness raising about ESD amongst trainees, whilst those in Part 3 describe more radical initiatives and developments, under the heading: 'Moving Forward'. Part 4 provides trainees' perspectives, staff perceptions and identifies next steps for the project.

The chapters are clearly structured. Each begins with a short abstract, highlighting key points, with the main content arranged under headings, such as 'Background', 'Context' and 'Case Studies'. The chapters are summarised by succinct conclusions and many end with suggestions for further reading. One of the most notable features of the book is the style of presentation. Symbols derived from Adrinka cloth, originating in Ghana, are used extensively as a design motif and the pages of the different sections are colour-coded using muted shades of blue, red and green.  The Adrinka symbols are not simply decorative, but feature prominently in a design technology-focused project described in Chapter 10 of the book. The quality of presentation, in many ways, sets the book apart from more conventionally designed books on similar themes and, perhaps, raises expectations about the innovative nature of the content.

Although ESD has been identified as a key element of curricula for nearly twenty years, it is still a term subject to many different interpretations and views. The authors recognise this and provide their own rationale, based on key publications in the field. The analysis is notable in its explicit recognition that the values and dispositions of trainees and teachers are fundamental to the successful implementation of ESD in institutions, whether they are HE ITT departments or schools and settings. Although multi-authored, the book maintains a coherent analysis of ESD as a framework characterised by certain concepts and skills, and a particular set of values.  From personal experience of editing a book with multiple authors on a similar theme, I can attest that this is no small feat and illustrates clearly that the project team must have spent some time developing their shared analysis of ESD, before implementing it in a consistent manner across three institutions.

If the book has any weakness, it is in the very varied nature of the chapters and the examples of ESD practice that they describe.  Content ranges from examples of short, apparently one-off activities to descriptions of detailed processes of programme development. Such a range is justifiable and reflects the progression of the project, but the structure of the book appears to give equal weighting to the examples and some far-reaching conclusions are drawn out from quite small-scale activities. For example, does the an email exchange link between student teachers in the UK and Chile, described in Chapter 3, justify the claims made for it in relation to ESD, science content, ICT skills and the articulation of values?

The disarming honesty of some of the chapters also raises a few questions. The legitimacy of programme developments and their implications, described in Chapter 9, for example, are a little undermined by the admission that a key activity in the new programme had to be abandoned with one student cohort because of “lack of consistency in attendance”.  Time constraints in the PGCE science programme, described in Chapter 6, are identified as a key factor in limiting some students’ subject knowledge about sustainability issues. Such points have value, however, in that they show clearly that this is a book located in the real world, where curriculum innovations do not always run smoothly and, sometimes, the practical implementation of new ideas can be problematic for very mundane reasons.

The values implicit in ESD provide a clear thread going through all of the examples of practice. Students’ reflections on learning and tutors’ perspectives clearly illustrate the transmission of these values and the transformative nature of some of the work.  As someone who has gone through similar processes of curriculum development for ESD in my own institution, I found Building a Sustainable Future: Challenges for Initial Teacher Training reassuring in its portrayal of change as a process and a journey.  There is an acknowledgement at the end of the book that, despite the innovations and initiatives described, the three institutions are not at the end of their journey. There is still much work to be done.