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Linking environmental science to the curriculum for Excellence on an initial teacher training programme

Bethan Wood

The focus of Scottish initial teacher training programmes on numeracy, literacy and child development has undergone change over the last few decades, primarily due to the requirements set out in the report Teaching Scotland’s Future (Donaldson 2011). Donaldson made many recommendations, including that teachers should have a ‘deep knowledge of what they are teaching’, and that

  ‘…the traditional BEd degree should be phased out and replaced with degrees which combine in-depth academic study in areas beyond education… These new degrees should involve staff and departments beyond those in schools of education.’ (Ibid: 84–88)

Our initial teacher education programme consequently requires its students to undertake optional courses in different subjects, including environmental science.

Primary education students can take optional environmental courses in levels 1–3. These courses were developed to link all lecture topics to the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Experiences and Outcomes (E&Os) (Scottish Executive 2004) to enable students to understand the relevance of the subject to the primary curriculum. These included E&Os from social sciences (SOC), health and wellbeing (HWB), and sciences (SCN). For example, an environmental health lecture considered global diseases, and was linked to the science E&Os for the first level.

I know the symptoms of some common diseases caused by germs. I can explain how they are spread and discuss how some methods of preventing and treating disease benefit society.’ (SCN 1-13a)

(Note: the three primary levels in the CfE are: early (0), pre-school to primary 1; first (1), to the end of primary; second (2), to the end of primary 7).

Afternoon workshop activities, and assessments, were also linked to the CfE.


An assessment was included on eco-schools (students had to write a five-year plan to achieve Green Flag status); this was linked to social science:

  • I explore and appreciate the wonder of nature within different environments and have played a part in caring for the environment. (0-08a)
  • I can consider ways of looking after my school or community and can encourage others to care for their environment. (1-08a)

A poster assessment with an oral presentation was part of another course, and CfE topics included food miles, farm visits, outdoor learning, and so on. These were linked to social sciences and health and wellbeing:

  • Having explored the variety of foods produced in Scotland, I can discuss the importance of different types of agriculture in the production of these foods. (SOC 1-09a)
  • I explore and discover where foods come from as I choose, prepare and taste different foods. (HWB 0–35a)
  • When preparing and cooking a variety of foods, I am becoming aware of the journeys which foods make from source to consumer, their seasonality, their local availability and their sustainability. (HWB 1-35a / HWB 2-35a)


The students were given opportunities to write lesson plans for the three primary levels from the science E&Os:

  • Through creative play, I explore different materials and can share my reasoning for selecting materials for different purposes. (SCN 0-15a)
  • Through exploring properties and sources of materials, I can choose appropriate materials to solve practical challenges. (SCN 1-15a)
  • By contributing to investigations into familiar changes in substances to produce other substances, I can describe how their characteristics have changed. (SCN 2-15a)

A genetics workshop compared different karyotypes to identify common genetic anomalies and was linked to:

    • I recognise that we have similarities and differences but are all unique. (HWB 0-47a)
    • By comparing generations of families of humans, plants and animals, I can begin to understand how characteristics are inherited. (SCN 1-14a)
    • By exploring the characteristics offspring inherit when living things reproduce, I can distinguish between inherited and non-inherited characteristics. (SCN 2-14b)

The outcome?

These students are taught by environmental staff (different subject area), and they do graduate with a deeper knowledge of environmental issues – both recommended by Donaldson (2011); this is evidenced through:

  • • students using environmental course content during tutor visits while on school placement – reported back by colleagues
  • students using environmental topics on their education courses and borrowing environmental equipment for visuals – from meetings with the students
  • students undertaking environmentally-focused honours projects such as farm visits – from personal supervision.

    Making the students see how they can use the information and experiences from these optional courses in their primary teaching is key to improving the student experience of these new programmes.


Donaldson G (2011) Teaching Scotland’s Future: Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland, Edinburgh: Scottish Government: 84–88

Scottish Executive (2004) A curriculum for excellence: Purposes and principles for the curriculum 3–18, Edinburgh.