Tackling climate change through environmental education in a Scottish school

A case study of Lawthorn Primary school by Beth Christie and Pete Higgins, University of Edinburgh


  1. Overview

  2. This is the story of how Lawthorn Primary School in Scotland has encouraged young people to address climate change by reducing the global footprint of their school. This case study draws on three disciplines: environmental education, as the pedagogical approach; environmental psychology, in terms of the health and well-being benefits of learning outdoors; and, environmental governance, in terms of the current governmental and educational support structure that exists for Learning for Sustainability in Scotland.
  3. The term Learning for Sustainability is used within this case study for two reasons. First, Learning for Sustainability builds on environmental education, perhaps, a more familiar term, by offering a holistic approach to sustainability that encompasses complex and interconnected social, political, economic and spiritual and cultural perspectives. Second, it has particular relevance within Scotland, and the story of its development and implementation across and within the Scottish educational system will unfold as we progress through this case study.
  4. We will begin by considering the issue of climate change as both a local and global challenge, before documenting the way in which Lawthorn Primary School tackled this issue at a local level. We will then consider how Lawthorn Primary's approach and specific aspects of their project relates to two other disciplines, environmental psychology and environmental governance.
  5. Climate Change: A wicked problem

  6. Climate change is a widely recognised global challenge. It can be understood as a wicked problem as it is highly complex and the solution can remain elusive as the many factors that contribute to the problem can feel difficult to comprehend in their entirety, therefore difficult to address. Also, any move towards a solution often requires both individual and collective action at local, national and international levels. Therefore, as individuals, it can feel too big to tackle effectively and this can leave us feeling troubled yet unsure how to make a move towards positive action.
  7. We spoke to Professor Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, and asked him to provide an introduction to climate change and explain how it can be both a local and a global issue and how individuals could begin to take action.
  8. W 3 - Learning for Sustainability - Interview with Professor Dave Reay: Part 1
  9. The context: Lawthorn Primary School tackles climate change

  10. Lawthorn Primary school decided to tackle global climate change by considering the school's global footprint. They adopted a Learning for Sustainability approach and in doing so they encouraged the development of action competence amongst their learning community; staff, pupils and others in the local town and beyond. They also adopted an outdoor learning focus by working within their school grounds and local area, and by working with other people within their local community too.
  11. Education Scotland quite clearly state that:
  12. "Climate change is a complex moral, scientific, social and technological issue that is likely to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. It is essential that children and young people are given the opportunity to learn about this important issue and develop informed opinions and views as global citizens. In addition to being explicitly mentioned in many experiences and outcomes, climate change offers a stimulating, challenging and relevant context for learning across the curriculum" (Education Scotland website, 2015)
  13. This video below (click on the link to take you to it) was created by the pupils and teachers of Lawthorn School to document their approach and capture the learning and engagement from all involved.
  14. The specific approach adopted by Lawthorn School focused on identifying their Global Footprint. The link below holds some learning material and activities that you could implement if you wished to perform a similar activity.
  15. Lawthorn School adopted an action competence approach by encouraging pupils to consider their environmental impact before co-constructing and implementing local, community-linked and school-based solutions to this issue. This case study exemplifies one way in which a group can at a local level, and with the support of a specific national educational policy infrastructure, begin to address a more complex problem, in this case global climate change, and, at the same time, introduce greater opportunities for active citizenship and outdoor learning; key aspects of Scotland's Learning for Sustainability agenda.
  16. Schnack, (1993: 7) describes the concepts of action and competence and explains how they combine to form the term 'action competence':
  17. "Developing action competence becomes a formative ideal in a democratic perspective. At best, ‘competence’ should evoke associations to something about being able to (and wanting to?) be a competent participant. And ‘acting’ needs to be read into the entire complex of distinctions concerning behaviour, activities, habits – and hence actions. Strictly speaking, actions may well consist of the same movements as kinds of behaviour, yet are invariably characterised by being conscious, reflected, and targeted. Consequently, we also must understand and explain actions by referring to motives and arguments, rather than to mechanisms and causes (Schnack, 1977). Perhaps, this is expressed most succinctly by the term of intentionality. Actions are intentional." (Schnack, 1993: 7)
  18. In this case, the focus is grounded in the developing a capacity within the 'learner' to feel enabled and empowered to take some form of action, within their context. Learning for Sustainability is fundamentally action-oriented as it seeks to encourage learners to move towards action informed by the development of their personal ethics.
  19. Environmental Education, Learning for Sustainability and Lawthorn Primary School's approach.

  20. Environmental education and Learning for Sustainability
  21. Education Scotland, the National body supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education, describes Learning for Sustainability as "an approach to learning, life and work...[which] enables learners, educators, schools and their wider communities to build a socially-just, sustainable and equitable society"