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Reading, writing and recycling

Youd have to live on Mars to have misunderstood the pressures that are placed on our seemingly beleaguered state education system. Not a day goes by without media comment on the state of the infrastructure, the behaviour of the children and the consequences of value-added league tables. Whether youre a parent or not, you can be in little doubt that the national curriculum leaves little time for the likes of sport, music and other non-core subjects. So where, if at all, does waste fit into a system that is already stretched to breaking point?

The good news is that there is provision for sustainable development, waste management and recycling to be taught within the national curriculum. And the Government, through its ongoing Education for Sustainable Development programme, is attempting to ensure that these areas are taught in a co-ordinated and cohesive manner.

The bad news, however, is that waste management and recycling are part of an extremely wide group of subjects and whether or not specific aspects are taught depends on the individual school and teacher.

Education for Sustainable Development is not a new concept. In 1998 the Government set up the Sustainable Development Education Panel which had a remit to cover schools, further and higher education bodies, and education in work, recreation and the home. Jointly sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the panels five-year term came to an end in 2003 and has been succeeded by the announcement that DEFRA and DfES are now working towards the creation of a Sustainable Development Action Plan for the education sector. This will build on the foundation of the panels draft Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in England.

This Action Plan was launched in September last year and addresses many of the recommendations made by the Environmental Audit Committee in its recent report Learning the Sustainability Lesson. The Action Plan aims to encourage wider participation in sustainable development in all education and skills sectors.

To achieve this, Sustainable Development is being introduced, not as a core subject like citizenship, but as a cross-curriculum topic which can permeate teaching within a number of subjects in much the same way as literacy and numeracy. This means that Sustainable Development, although not a core subject, will be taught within the framework of science, citizenship, design and technology and geography.

The DfESs National Curriculum Handbook for Teachers says that schools should develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way that we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future. Prime Minister Tony Blair explains the situation more graphically: When my parents were growing up the worlds population was under three billion. During my childrens lifetime, it is likely to exceed nine billion. You dont need to be an expert to realise that sustainable development is going to become the greatest challenge we face this century.

But, while Sustainable Development will become a classroom feature, waste and recycling might not make it into lesson plans. The problem faced by the waste management industry at this juncture is that recycling is just one part of this huge subject area, fighting for classroom time with similarly important topics such as energy and water. The Governments ESD programme alone, it seems, will not be enough to ensure that the waste message is heard by future generations.

While it is clear that schools have a vital role to play, local government has been working to raise awareness of recycling at this level for a number of years. Waste reduction teams, recycling officers, even recycling doctors; all authorities have teams dedicated to this task. Success depends on the schemes used, their take-up and the follow-up activitie

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