Morgan Phillips Thoughts on Schools Sustainability Survey

Morgan Phillips, Associate Director of Green Schools Project gives his thoughts on the NUS and Green Schools Project Schools Sustainability Survey.

The report acknowledges this limitation: ‘It is likely that those schools that did respond [to the survey questionnaire] are those at the more engaged end of the spectrum when it comes to environmental sustainability often with specific staff members with a responsibility for the issue within the school or college who were able to drive participation in the research within the school.’ (There were 2,990 respondents, aged 9 – 18, mostly state educated)

The results are therefore interesting when the nature of the sample is taken into account – they are the views of pupils in schools that are engaged in environmental education already so we’d hope that they are having a greater than average environmental education experience.

So, with that context, 56% seems quite low for this (esp. the figures for ‘learnt lots’)…. and as the report says 42% saying that they have learnt only a little, hardly anything or nothing is high.


There is interest in ‘learning more about the environment’ (68% are ‘really or quite interested’), but of the 28% who are not interested, the majority are boys… how can this insight be taken account of in programme design? There’s a big Primary / Secondary split too.


This is a bit depressing, but not unexpected. If a school gets any free environmental education, it is usually funded by a Local Authority recycling team. That funding has been in rapid decline for a few years now though, but there is bound to be lag. Teachers will still push this message for a while yet.



This result: “The majority of respondents overall agree that all schools and colleges should be doing things to help the environment (86%)” is powerful; but it would be REALLY interesting to compare this to a more representative sample. Would it be higher or lower?

The report shows a gap exists here: “10% of respondents say they ARE PART OF a team or club that gives them a chance to be involved in improving the impact their school or college has on the environment.” but loads more “(49%) say they WOULD LIKE TO BE” so are there barriers to joining clubs? Is the idea of being in a club more attractive than the actual club that’s available to them at their school? Do we need to design different types of clubs, to attract different audience segments?

Depending when this Question was asked in the survey (or how the entire survey was framed) there’s a chance that a ‘priming’ effect might have created a bit of bias here*. However, the top three issues overlap hugely, arguably the top four.
*This finding should be used with care.



Again, remembering the nature of the sample, this is worrying. Look at how few pupils feel they know ‘a lot’ about climate change, even at sixth form. There’s a clear lack of in-depth study of climate change going on in school (or maybe the pupils are being modest?!) It would be good to test this.



I feel like I know ‘a lot’ about climate change, and I would say I’m ‘very worried’; ‘extremely worried’ might be more accurate. Only 22% of students are ‘very worried’; concerning! If schools taught more about climate change (especially the undiluted truth) this figure might rocket.



This figure might rocket too. Interesting that sixth formers stand out here though… do children become more astute about how power works as they get older? Is this a Greta Thunberg effect? Are younger pupils less aware of the influence political leaders have over their lives?



This is woefully bad news for the Global Goals, word is not spreading, despite the money poured into it. Some pupils have heard of it, but does it excite them? Are they telling their friends? This suggests they’re not. (Again, remember nature of the survey sample).



There is a lot to unpick here. Overall, it is encouraging in terms of what children would like to be doing, but a bit depressing to see what their ‘lifeworlds’ are actually like. Is there an educational opportunity to help them explore what shapes their ‘lifeworld’?



Overall, it’s fascinating stuff. I hope the report gets picked up by folk working and campaigning on environmental education in England.

Download the report slides here:

Here’s Bill Scott’s take on this, I’m sure there’ll be more to follow from him on it:

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