Education for Sustainable Development in the National Curriculum

ESD enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way that we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future.’
The National Curriculum, 1999

1992: Education for sustainable development was first described by Chapter 36 of Agenda 21. It has developed from a mixture of environmental and development education ideas.

1998: The Government Sustainable Development Education Panel (SDEP) was formed to consider how schools could best actively promote ESD to ensure young people obtain the knowledge and skills to be ‘active citizens for the new millennium’.

2000: The revision of the National Curriculum recognised the work of the panel and the profile of ESD increased. ESD was made a statutory requirement in the subjects of geography, science, design and technology and citizenship, and opportunities were also identified in subjects across the curriculum. Schools were asked to promote sustainable development ensuring students develop an ‘awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secure their commitment to sustainable development on a personal, national and global level’.

In order for the complex underlying theory of ESD to be understood by both teachers and students it was broken down in to seven identifiable key interrelated concepts as proposed by the Government Sustainable Development Education Panel. These are:

  • Interdependence

  • Citizenship and stewardship

  • Needs and rights of future generations

  • Diversity

  • Quality of life

  • Sustainable change

  • Uncertainty and precaution

2002: The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) started to produce curriculum guidance for schools where each of these key concepts was explained. This can be viewed online at

2003: The government set out its long term aims for ESD in Learning to Last which was the culmination of the SDEP’s work to date. The strategy covers all aspects of education. The key objective with relation to the statutory education system is to ensure schools have ‘the professional capacity and the resources to develop knowledge, skills and aptitudes that enable all citizens to engage in the achievement of sustainable development’.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) published a report summarising findings from the inspection of a number of schools specifically focussing on ESD.
The report, Taking the first step forward: towards an education for sustainable development, used the seven key concepts identified by the SDEP as its focus and highlighted examples of good practice observed during inspections over an eleven month period (April 2002 to March 2003). The full report can be accessed at:

2005 to 2015: Has been declared the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development by the United Nations (UN).

Useful links for teachers

Department for Education and Skills (DfES)

The DfES sustainable development home page. Contains a wide range of information and resources for those stakeholders involved in education at all levels.

National Curriculum online

This site links every National Curriculum programme of study requirement to resources on the Curriculum Online

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

A series of web pages dedicated to explaining education for sustainable development, why and where it is embedded in the national curriculum and the importance of the subject in the today’s society.

Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)

Ofsted is a non-ministerial government department, whose main aim is to help improve the quality and standards of education and childcare through independent inspection and regulation.

Taking the first step forward…towards an education for sustainable development (full report)

A ‘good practice report on the positive contributions a number of primary and secondary schools have made to tackle a mixture of environmental and sustainable development issues within the curriculum’.


Developed by DfES as a resource to support the teaching profession the sustainable development pages contain a multitude of information and resources available to teachers to assist with sustainable development education.

Development Education Project (DEP)

The DEP is a registered charity which works with teachers to raise the awareness of global issues in, and through, the National Curriculum. It provides support, resources, information, project work, best practice frameworks and training.

Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit

This highly informative website contains a multitude of interesting, useful and up to date information specifically focused on education for sustainable development (ESD).

It provides practical advice to individuals and organisations from both the education and community sectors on how to deliver successful ESD and advocates the need for cooperation between educational system and communities in achieving sustainability goals.