This blog is by Jen Baughan, CEO of Solutions for the Planet.

So Jen, you run Solutions for the Planet, an enterprise that involves thousands of young people identifying sustainability problems and working in teams, supported by business mentors, to devise solutions to them. What would be your policy recommendations around environment, education and the next generation?  Oh, in 1000 words please.

I’m confident this doesn’t cover the whole field but here are some ongoing challenges for Solutions for the Planet that just keep on giving… in 987 words!

a) Recruiting schools even though they don’t have time, freedom or flexibility in the curriculum.

The 2014 report ‘Enterprise for All’ said that “For many young people the fourth R in education is relevance – unless they see the relevance of their lessons to their future, they can switch off.” Solutions for the Planet (S4TP) participants overwhelmingly support applied project based learning, but should we argue for a new overarching ‘R’ – cReativity.

S4TP works with some phenomenal teachers. I have utmost respect for their dedicated, creative and passionate engagement with students. However, they repeatedly remind me that in order to impart the theoretical subject specific content required at Key Stage 4 for exams, GCSE teaching is bleeding down into Key Stage 3 and into practical lessons. Students are seeing the application of their learning being taken over by theory.  Sir Ken Robinson says “It’s the system – it’s too linear, if you live in a world where every lesson is 40 minutes, you immediately interrupt the flow of creativity”.  

Teachers don’t need encouraging to be creative and enterprising. They need space within the curriculum to deploy these pre-existing attributes. We have teachers using music to teach science, puppets to teach maths or drama to teach English, in their spare time!  In a 2015 Association of Teachers survey, 75% of teachers said their reason for joining the teaching professions was a desire to make a difference, what better role models for our young people?  Creativity in the classroom was the fifth most highly ranked thing that inspires young teachers. When asked what would improve their teaching, 47% wanted more freedom, and 70% called for time to reflect on their practice.  Over the recent years there have been significant changes to the curriculum, pay structures and GCSE and A-levels.  Teachers are not saying that change isn’t necessary but that there needs to be meaningful consultation and more staged implementation. With over 50% of teachers expecting to leave the professions within ten years, if these issues aren’t tackled, we are in danger of losing the very resource we need to nurture.

b) The absence of education for sustainable development, project based learning and enterprise education within the curriculum and the wider problem of silo-style education.

There is no doubt in my mind that the pressure teachers are under to deliver a bloated curriculum contributes to the sidelining of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).  However, the more pressing issue is the shear absence of ESD in the curriculum. We must prepare youngsters to handle sustainability issues racing towards us.  We desperately need active citizens and employees on local and global levels involved in transition initiatives and planning around sustainable development goals. So why is this not given more of a priority?

Sustainability and Environmental Education (SEEd) suggests educators who embed education for sustainable development into their learning practises will create “Critical thinking; systems thinking; futures thinking; socially critical thinking; collaboration; and creative problem solving.”  S4TP provides students with a sense of independence and self-direction, developing their competencies as they master skills and knowledge for their self-selected projects, and growing a sense of purpose as they build ‘solutions’ they have identified.  They become enterprising and engaged rather than compliant learners. These are all key skills and attributes that many school leavers currently lack.

Our silo-style education system, like silo business organisation, limits creativity, self-learning, problem solving, resilience, leadership and entrepreneurism.  The curriculum should be based “not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines … which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary”. I tend to here agree with Sir Ken Robinson.

c) Overcoming the philanthropic tradition in corporate life and helping companies realise the economic value of partnerships that deliver social value.

Companies and now, by law, public bodies require suppliers to demonstrate their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) credentials as part of tendering and sales processes (often described as Social Value).  S4TP encourages corporate partners to avoid any aspect of “CSR box ticking” rather we to strive to convey the social value added by the dynamic collaborative and creative, internal and external relationships that lie at the heart of their businesses. 

A preference for traditional forms of corporate philanthropy have, in some cases, are a steep hill for us to climb but our forward-thinking business partners have identified benefits such as:

· Growing a workforce for their future

· Developing employees mentoring, communication, collaboration and leadership skills

· Accessing innovative ideas and stimulating increased creativity within the company

· Stimulating sustainability solutions within their own daily operations

 These examples all have commercial benefits to them and we believe that social enterprises, including ourselves, need to be better educated in understanding the drivers and constraints that corporates have in procurement and maximising shareholder value. This will however include helping them to re-examine their definition of ‘value’ specially outside the short-term.

Phew, it’s an exciting and challenging time to be operating as a social enterprise working across environment, education and business spheres. So what do we do? Here are my policy recommendations:

1. Rethink the curriculum, with meaningful engagement from teachers, paying particular attention to creating time, freedom and flexibility.

2. Embed education for sustainable development, project based learning, enterprise education and integrated study within the curriculum: split between disciplines rather than subjects.

3. Develop ways of regulating Social Value in the private sector as well and the public sector.

4. Raise the profile and awareness of the commercial benefits of engaging with social enterprises delivering services.

>> Find out more about the work of Solutions for the Planet