Preparing the next generation: Sustainability Pathway at St Edward’s School, Oxford

Hugh Stephens

Director of Teaching and Learning, St Edward’s School, Oxford

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As we consider the issues around climate change during COP28, pupils in Year 10 at St Edward’s School, Oxford, are finishing their first term studying the newly introduced Sustainability Pathway, a Middle Years course launched this September as part of the accredited Pathways and Perspectives courses offered alongside GCSEs.

The Sustainability Pathway has been developed with support from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. The interdisciplinary course explores the world around us through the study of evolution, ecosystems and environmental issues. It explores the philosophical background to sustainability and examines human society and behaviours, as well as engaging stakeholders – both locally and further afield – in pupil projects designed to consider ways to build a more sustainable future.

So far, the course has focused on giving pupils first-hand experience of engaging with nature and reflecting on the importance of conservation and care for the natural world. The pupils’ perceptions have been challenged by studying insects, which, rather unfortunately, might be thought of as ‘creepy crawlies’. This fails to recognise the fundamental role they play in supporting ecosystems worldwide. The pupils have considered how this perception may have led to biodiversity policy inaction by governments across the world, which sparked discussions in lessons around what leaders at COP28 might be able to achieve in this area.

The Sustainability Pathway includes the study of the impact on the planet of resource exploitation, as well as looking critically at solutions to climate change in the context of global inequality, ways of life, and underlying power structures. Pupils engage directly in contemporary global issues within a curriculum which evolves constantly and responds to pupils’ interests and international developments. This approach is intended to equip our pupils with the skills and knowledge to participate meaningfully in driving sustainability issues forward, both as young people and as adults in the future.

Since 2020, Pathways and Perspectives have offered pupils a new form of learning and assessment alongside their GCSE courses. The bespoke courses are graded using the same scale criteria as GCSEs and pupils add them to their university applications. They have been developed alongside universities, employers and teachers following extensive consultation to arrive at the most relevant and exciting aspects of subjects. All Pathways and Perspectives courses are accredited by the University of Buckingham.

Pupils at St Edward’s can take up to two Pathways and Perspectives courses alongside their GCSEs. Pathways courses are based in the domains of science and technology, and include Music Technology, and Design and Entrepreneurship. Perspectives courses are based in the humanities, and International Relations will be added from 2024 alongside the Ancient World course introduced in 2020. We have designed the Pathways and Perspectives courses specifically to address the skills and knowledge needed not only to succeed at IB and A Level, but also in the pupils’ lives beyond school.

As Director of Teaching and Learning at St Edward’s School, I am excited to see the journey that our first cohort on the Sustainability Pathway will take through education and into employment. I hope that whatever field our Year 10 pupils go on to work in, their experience studying Sustainability at this formative stage will inspire them to contribute actively throughout their lifetime. And ultimately, as we reflect on COP28, we all hope for the informed and positive impact our young people will have on the future of our planet.


7 December 2023