This research sets out to establish both the extent to which and the ways in which English Secondary schools have a school culture focusing upon sustainability. I visited three case study schools for six weeks each: these were carefully selected to represent a range of progress towards becoming sustainable schools. I visited two other ‘benchmark’ schools for two days each: these were chosen on the recommendations of school sustainability experts, and visiting them helped me judge the progress my case-study schools had made. I took an ethnographic approach to the research, conducting about 80 interviews with various members of my three case study schools, also consulting school documents and undertaking observations of lessons and other aspects of school life. I discovered that the case-study schools had generally made little progress on sustainability, with most school members unaware or uncertain of the basic principles of sustainability. The schools focused much more on students’ examination results and behaviour than sustainability. Leadership structures and formal student involvement in leadership at the case study schools were not conducive to sustainability. Links between campus operations and the taught curriculum were mostly absent, and where sustainability was included in lessons, it tended to be largely theoretical, with few references to its impact on the students and daily life. In the light of the case-study findings and a wide-ranging literature review, a series of recommendations are made, both for secondary schools and for national education policy. These relate, for example, to patterns of school leadership, to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of school leaders and teachers, to strengthening the role of sustainability in both the formal and informal curriculum, and to ensuring that students emerge better equipped for a world in which sustainability agendas will be of increasing importance.

Document Type


Publication Date