Burnley College: Whole-organisation approach to ESD

Introduction by Charlotte Bonner, National Head of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
Welcome back to our series of case study blogs, drawn from the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) latest report: ‘Leadership for ESD in the Further Education Curriculum’. In our last blog, we heard from Redbridge Institute, and how they are incorporating education for sustainable development (ESD) into their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programme.

To continue the series, educators at Burnley College share how they are bringing sustainability to life for their learners through a range of scenario-based learning and cross-discipline projects. The college is dedicated to creating a whole-organisation approach to enhancing their ESD offer, with plans for a new sustainable campus that includes biodiverse areas and T Level facilities. It’s clear this college and its learners have an exciting sustainable-focused future ahead.

In this case study, we hear first-hand from construction and curriculum staff on how the college empowers learners with practical knowledge on environmental topics throughout their Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications.

Burnley College offers a Level 1 and 2 Award in Environmental Sustainability, a Level 2 Diploma in Construction Craft and a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment. In this blog, Gareth Jones and Solomon Whittaker, both Construction Curriculum Managers, and Sarah Condren, Staff Development Manager, discuss how ESD is an integral part of the curriculum.

At Burnley College, construction learners undertake the Ascentis Level 1 and 2 Award in Environmental Sustainability as part of their induction. The managers for the curriculum, Gareth Jones and Solomon Whittaker, see the use of this qualification as a means of setting the tone and establishing awareness of sustainable development within the construction industry early on in the learners’ programme. The learners then progress onto the City and Guilds Level 2 programme with an existing understanding of sustainable principles within the construction industry.

Bringing sustainability to life

Teachers take the learners on field trips to help bring sustainability to life so that learners start to recognise the tensions and challenges of sustainable practices within the construction industry. The teachers believe it is important to show learners how construction is changing with an increasing commitment to sustainable practices. Learners visit Howdens Joinery in Hull, where they have a tour of the facility and learn about waste output, ethical sourcing of materials and the move towards alternatives to fossil fuels for transport and logistics.

Teacher and student in a woodwork class at Burnley College

Throughout the construction courses delivered at Burnley College, teachers reinforce the links and relationship between timber technologies and locally and sustainably sourced timber. Learners also visit Hanson Cement, where they receive a tour and are shown how the company is committed to protecting the wildlife in the lake which was formed as a result of quarrying. The visit content includes how new fuel sources, many of which are recycled waste, are being used for the kilns, explaining how these have replaced coal as the primary fuel source.

Scenario-based learning

The college also delivers the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment which has sustainable construction units within it. The teaching team are increasingly relating the content to local contexts through the assignment briefs set for learners. Currently learners are able to access a new build development on the college’s site and learn about planning restrictions and considerations, such as tree protection, as part of the build project. Teachers use scenario-based learning so learners can better understand construction technologies. For example, learners take on the planning and site management role for a new carpark where they learn about urban drainage, its impact and how to mitigate this.

Using green technologies to embed ESD

The college embodies and reinforces the sustainability message through the green technologies that are embedded within the new physical estate, such as the solar panels and air source heat pumps that power and heat the buildings. Sarah Condren, Staff Development Manager, speaks positively about how the sustainability agenda is now being rolled out to all curriculum areas through targets and responsibilities. This encourages teachers to find new contextual ways of developing learners’ knowledge and understanding through subject-specific assignments, activities and tasks within schemes of work and lessons.

Cross-college enrichment

This is further supported through cross-college enrichment activity, led by the student services team, which have included a COP26-focused learner activity around the UN Sustainable Goals and the planned implementation of Carbon Literacy course for learners.

The Sustainability Group and cross-discipline projects

The college has an active Sustainability Group made up of a variety of staff from across various departments. This year, their main goal has been to raise awareness of the sustainability agenda across the organisation, as well as implementing sustainable practices through college staff development days and ongoing campaigns. Developments for the next academic year include introducing the learner voice to the Sustainability Group, which will have four sub-groups focusing on culture, curriculum, campus and community action. This structure will ensure that learners are able to harness the passion they have for environmental and sustainability issues and work collaboratively with staff to make an impact.

Green wall at Burnley College

To further reinforce the college’s strategy around sustainable development, Sarah outlines an approach where the college’s own employed apprentices design and implement sustainable development projects, working in cross-discipline groups, such as IT, business administration and facility support areas. Their projects focus on research, implementation and impact and have included paper reduction, cycle to work schemes, car pooling and Earth Day events for learners and staff.

These projects focus on reducing carbon emissions through behaviour changes towards electricity and introducing leaners to the ‘Burnley College Buy and Sell’ – a furniture recycling scheme. By combining apprentices from IT, business administration and carpentry and joinery standards, the project groups are able to fully implement and measure the impact of their projects to ensure sustainable practices into the workplace.

Skills Development Fund

The College has been successful, through The Lancashire Colleges’ partnership, to access support through the Government’s Skills Development Fund to create a Sustainability and Low Carbon Training Hub on Campus. Targeted at Lancashire’s SMEs, the hub will share expertise and best practice in Workforce and Management Training; Energy Management using the latest equipment and Technology and Monitoring Solutions. Going forward, learners from across all areas of the college will have access to the facilities so sustainability and understanding of low carbon technology can be included within the curriculum or as extra-curricular activities.

Sustainable transport options

Recognising the impact that travelling to and from the college can have on the environment, Burnley College has introduced a successful bike hire scheme for learners and staff alike and electric car charging points on Campus.

A sustainable future

Going forward, the college is planning a new campus development with a strong sustainability and ecological focus that will include a lake, woodland walks and a variety of other features to enhance the biodiversity of the area. The plans are that this site will include a construction, engineering and digital hub as part of future T Level delivery that will include new green technologies such as heat pumps, wind turbines, solar panels, and the latest in energy saving engineering and manufacturing technology.

Further information

Read the full case study and report.

For more information on ESD at the ETF, please visit the ETF website.