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Implementing Education for Sustainable Development in Physical Education in England

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Education for Sustainable Development (UNESCO, 2017) is an important framework and instrument in achieving goal four 'Quality Education' of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations (2015). Key to realizing this goal is the empowerment of young people to champion diversity and equality. Diversity within social-cultural groups is important for the success of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as an affinity towards diversity has been shown to promote empathy towards sustainability and pro-environmental issues (Corral-Verdugo et al, 2009). Initiatives using ESD principles such as, Engineers without Borders and Green Chemistry have been shown to increase opportunity and participation for underrepresented demographics in the fields of Science and Technology (Zimmerman et al, 2007).

Diversity in sports such as Cricket, Hockey and Rugby Union have been questioned recently in the English media with youth participation a particular area of focus (Turner, 2020; Grey, 2021; Rainford-Brent, 2021). A lack of diversity and inclusion has also been suggested in the English National Curriculum in Physical Education through the absence of diverse content and any real directive (Herold, 2020). This is supported by Dowling and Flintoff (2018) who suggest the Physical Education curriculum is ‘whitewashed’. In contrast, the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum (Ontario, 2015) contains a diverse range of content and instruction on mental health, healthy eating and even environmental education. This approach to Physical Education relates strongly to a capabilities approach to education which Wamsler (2020) believes may be better for implementing the principles of ESD. So what can be done in increase the presence of ESD in Physical Education in England? 

Firstly, promoting initiatives such as the African-Caribbean Engagement (ACE) programme launched by Surrey County Cricket Club and former female England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent are a good starting point as they are successful in creating opportunities for young African-Caribbean cricketers (Bull, 2020). This initiative has similar principles that champion diversity in the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum (Petherick, 2018). Moreover, introducing inclusive language into curriculum policy could not only increase diversity but also spark ecological and ethical ESD approaches in teacher pedagogy as shown in Australia and their use of an ecofeminist language framework (Olive and Enright, 2021).

Australia, Canada and New Zealand lead the way for ESD in Physical Education. It is time England caught up in one race worth winning. 


Corral-Verdugo et al. (2009) ‘Correlates of pro-sustainability orientation: The affinity towards diversity’, Journal of environmental psychology, 29(1), pp. 34–43[Online]. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S027249440800073X (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

Dowling, F., and Flintoff, A (2018) ‘A whitewashed curriculum? The construction of race in contemporary PE curriculum policy’, Sport, education and society, 23(1), pp. 1–13[Online]. Available at: https://www-tandfonline-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1080/13573322.2015.1122584 (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

Grey, B. (2021) ‘ Ugo Monye hopes new RFU group can help everyone feel rugby is 'for them'’ BBC Sport, 19 April [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/56709956 (Accessed: 24 April 2021)

Herold, F (2020) ‘‘There is new wording, but there is no real change in what we deliver’: Implementing the new National Curriculum for Physical Education in England’, European physical education review, 26(4), pp. 920–937[Online]. Available at: https://journals-sagepub-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1177/1356336X19892649 (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

Olive, R. and Enright, E., (2021) Sustainability in the Australian Health and Physical Education Curriculum: an ecofeminist analysis. Sport, Education and Society, 26(4), pp.389-402 [Online]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13573322.2021.1888709 (Accessed: 24 April 2021)

Ontario Ministry of Education (2015) The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 to 12 Health and Physical Education [Online]. Available at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/health9to12.pdf (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

Petherick, L (2018) ‘Race and culture in the secondary school health and physical education curriculum in Ontario, Canada’, Health education (Bradford, West Yorkshire, England), 118(2), pp. 144–158 [Online]. Available at: https://www-emerald-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/insight/content/doi/10.1108/HE-11-2016-0059/full/html ( Accessed: 6 April 2021)

Rainford-Brent, E. (2021) ‘ 'I know black people care about cricket. But cricket hasn't cared about them' Daily Mail, 20 April [Online]. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-9467441/Ebony-Rainford-Brent-games-diversity-problem-desire-faster-change.html (Accessed 24 April 2021)

Turner, A. (2020) ‘Why I want to stop hockey being just a ‘white, private school sport’, says GB’s Emily Defroand on her mission for diversity’ NewsChain, 21 July [Online]. Available at: https://www.newschainonline.com/news/why-i-want-stop-hockey-being-white-private-school-sport-says-gbs-emily-defroand-her-mission-diversity-18211 (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, [Online]. Available at:https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

UNESCO (2017) Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, [Online]. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000247444 (Accessed: 6 April 2021) 

Wamsler, C. (2020) ‘Education for sustainability’, International journal of sustainability in higher education, 21(1), pp. 112–130[Online]. Available at: https://www-emerald-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJSHE-04-2019-0152/full/html (Accessed: 6 April 2021) 

Zimmerman, J et al (2007) ‘Using Sustainability Education to Enable the Increase of Diversity in Science, Engineering and Technology-Related Disciplines’, The International journal of engineering education, 23(2), pp. 242–253[Online]. Available at: https://www-ijee-ie.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/latestissues/Vol23-2/05_ijee1921.pdf (Accessed: 6 April 2021)

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Activity 6.7 The English national curriculum

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The English national curriculum values types of knowledge viewed as propositional (Burnard, 1996), formal (Moon and Leach, 2008) and powerful (Husbands, 2015). Furthermore, Hirsch's (1993) idea of a core knowledge curriculum has influenced the development of content within the curriculum. The implication this has on teaching and learning is considerable. Teaching style's could shift towards a more instructional approach with learning focused on the memorisation and recalling of content deemed to be powerful knowledge. In addition, teachers would be required themselves to have high levels of specialised subject knowledge in order to contextualise the curriculum content and relate it to their learners (Young, 2011). The goal of developing the English national curriculum was to raise educational standards and to make the system fairer to pupils from a disadvantaged background, through increased subject specific content knowledge. These objectives and processes follow international trends across curriculum planning (Sinnema and Aitken, 2013).

Teaching unions in England reacted negativity to the development of this curriculum (Vasagar, 2012) as they feel it singled out teachers as the main cause for perceived decreases in educational standards in England. Moreover, a leading think tank suggests the curriculum was developed void of input from leading educational experts. Overall, the changes seem to question the quality and role of teachers within the English education system (Bell, 2014).


Bell, D. (2014) Michael Gove must stop fighting ‘The Blob’ and listen to the education experts [Online]. Available at https://theconversation.com/michael-gove-must-stop-fighting-the-blob-and-listen-to-the-education-experts-22659 (Accessed 10 January 2021).

Burnard, P. (1996) Acquiring Interpersonal Skills: A Handbook of Experiential Learning for Health Professionals, 2nd edn, London, Chapman & Hall.

Husbands, C. (2015) ‘Which Knowledge Matters Most?’, in Simons, J., Porter, N. (eds) Knowledge and the Curriculum A Collection of Essays to Accompany E. D. Hirsch’s Lecture at Policy Exchange, London, Policy Exchange, pp. 43–50.

Moon, B. and Leach, J. (2008) The Power of Pedagogy, London: Sage.

Sinnema, C. and Aitken, G. (2013) ‘Emerging International Trends in the Curriculum’, in Priestley, M. and Biesta, G. (eds) Reinventing the Curriculum: Emerging International Trends in the Curriculum, London, Bloomsbury.

Young, M. (2011) ‘What are schools for?’, Educação, Sociedade & Culturas, vol. 32, pp. 145-155.

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Activity 5.13 What do I think about knowledge and curriculum?

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My personal view of knowledge is just that, it is personal. I believe all definitions of knowledge can be viewed and valued differently by individual learners due to the social interaction of the teaching and learning process as well as their individual interactions with the world around them. Furthermore, I believe knowledge defined as propositional/formal and procedural knowledge (Burnard, 1996; Leach and Moon, 2008) should be conceptualized by learners that builds upon their knowledge in a social contextCobb (1994) provides an example of how this can be applied in mathematics, using a social pedagogical approach to promote knowledge building in leaners. This acknowledges the need for collaboration to answer some of the issues raised by two of the of drivers for change in education, sustainability and changes in demographic. Social constructivism and Sociocultural approach to conceptualizing knowledge can be defined as knowledge building approaches according to Leach and Moon. They suggest twelve principles of knowledge building that adopt such a social participatory approach. 

Moreover, this social approach to conceptualizing knowledge relates to three out of the four aims of schooling (Sterling, 2001; Bunting2004) and a capabilities approach to education (Robeyns, 2006). This approach aims to support learners to realize their individual potential so they may be able to function and flourish as part of a wider community. Similarly, Bruner (2002) proposes a set of nine beliefs on the purpose of education that overall suggest education should aim to support learners in making sense of the cultural world around them and for teachers to facilitate learners in their own understanding and interpretation of this cultural context. Both these ideas strongly correlate to Grant (2012) and their view that education should promote social justice, something I now strongly believe in from studying section 1 and completing TMA1 (Open University, 2020). Therefore, greater emphasis should be placed on personal and tacit knowledge to support learners in developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills required for the 21st century. 

In summary, I believe it is not the definition or type of knowledge that is important but how it is transferred and conceptualized. As Hogan (2014) writes, knowledge building pedagogies value established formal knowledge, but also allow students to understand and use the knowledge to work for them and their cultural/social setting.  


Bruner, J. (2002) ‘Tenets to understand cultural perspective on learning’, in Moon, B., Shelton-Mayes, A., Hutchinson, S. (eds), Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in Secondary Schools, London, RoutledgeFalmer, pp. 10–24. 

Bunting, A. (2004) ‘Secondary school design for purpose – but which one?’ OECD Conference: Creating 21 Century Learning Environments, London, 28 May [Online], Available at http://www.oecd.org/education/innovation-education/21stcenturylearningenvironments.htm (Accessed 03 January 2021). 

Burnard, P. (1996) Acquiring Interpersonal Skills: A Handbook of Experiential Learning for Health Professionals, 2nd edn, London, Chapman & Hall. 

Cobb, C. (1994) ‘Where Is the Mind? Constructivist and Sociocultural Perspectives on Mathematical Development’, Educational Researcher, vol. 23, no. 7. pp. 13–20. 

Hogan, D (2014) ‘Why is Singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the West?’, The Conversation, 11 February [Online]. Available at http://theconversation.com/ why-is-singapores-school-system-so-successful-and-is-it-a-model-for-the-west-22917 (Accessed 03 January 2021). 

Moon, B. and Leach, J. (2008) The Power of Pedagogy, London: Sage. 

Moon, B., Shelton-Mayes, A., Hutchinson, S. (2002) Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in Secondary Schools. London, RoutledgeFalmer. 

Robeyns, I. (2006) ‘Three models of education: Rights, capabilities and human capital’, Theory and Research in Education, vol 4, issue 1, pp. 69–8.4. 

Sterling, S. (2001) Sustainable Education: Re-Visioning Learning and Change. Foxhole, Dartington, Green Books. 

The Open University (2020) ‘Unit 3, Global Drivers for Change’, EE830-20J Learning and Teaching :Educating the Next Generation [Online]. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1627854 (Accessed 28 November 2020). 


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