By Alexander Hellquist 

In Sweden, there have been relatively few political initiatives to support schools with the implementation of education related to sustainability during the UN decade for ESD. Therefore, schools have relied in part on non-governmental organizations. The Green Flag certification scheme is one prominent example. It is an interesting case as it has been successfully upscaled since its inception in 1996 and is now used in 2 700 schools (in preschools and at primary and secondary level). According to our experience, the number of school units that are certified according to the Green Flag standard is one of the most common indicators of ESD implementation among Swedish municipalities. Arguably, such a widely used tool has a substantial impact, and it is of interest to examine how it conveys ESD policy based on the understanding of practitioners involved in its design and development.

The aim of the study we introduce here is to examine how persons working with the Green Flag certification scheme at a strategic level understand conceptions of education, and of those being educated, in relation to their practice. One such conception is the one explored in the T-learning project – education as a transgressive process. More specifically, the study aims to i) elicit how frames of understanding among Green Flag project managers align with certain conceptions that are visible in ESD policy and in research debate; and ii) how the project managers perceive that tensions between these conceptions have been handled, or could be handled ahead, in the Green Flag initiative. Based on our findings, we hope to be able to discuss potential of handling ambiguities and incoherence between key conceptions in ESD policy at the implementation level. Particular attention will be paid to prospects of implementing transgressive learning ideals in contexts where other conceptions are also present.

Acknowledging research that shows how understanding of a policy among relevant practitioners is crucial for its implementation, we wish to contribute to knowledge on how ESD practitioners understand ESD policy. There is a substantial body of research dealing with how educators and school principals incorporate ESD in their practice, and also numerous studies on how the implementation of different ESD concepts plays out in terms of learning and change among target groups, including research on the effects of the Green Flag certification scheme. In contrast, less attention has been paid to the understanding of practitioners working with ESD certification schemes.

We will use frame analysis as a tool to first outline general (shared) frames capturing central concepts in educational theory and ESD policy, and then relate these to elicited frames among Green Flag strategists. We are still in an early stage, with semi-structured interviews with Green Flag staff booked for November and December. An initial desk study of Green Flag policy documents and promotion material has identified several potentially incoherent conceptions of ESD and the future societal role of students enrolled in Green Flag certified schools, including wording that aligns both with transgressive and more transmissive educational ideals respectively. This can be interpreted as a reflection of global and national ESD policy. It will be interesting to learn more about how the respondents understand these inconsistencies in relation to their practice.