Image of Why schools need to make climate education a priority

Why schools need to make climate education a priority

The issue of an overloaded curriculum continues to be an emotive topic as schools ponder exactly how much they can shoehorn into the school day without compromising the quality of teaching and learning. It's certainly an issue raised in a recent survey* on sustainability and climate change education, sent to staff in education settings. Asked to name barriers to delivering sustainability and climate change education, one of the messages that came across loud and clear from respondents was that their curriculum is already fit to burst.

'Now or never’

But it’s a priority we can’t ignore. UNESCO underlines the crucial role of education in climate action in its ‘Education for sustainable development goals: learning objectives, describing education> as not only an integral part of sustainable development,but also a key enabler for it.”

Moreover, the UN climate report, published in April, written by hundreds of leading scientists and agreed by 195 countries, argues that “the world is on a ‘fast track’ to disaster”, and “it’s ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees”. 

Empowering young people as agents of change

The DfE’s Sustainability and climate change strategy for education and children’s services reinforces the importance of climate education, setting out the government’s vision for the UK to be “the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030”.

The strategy sets out 4 strategic aims for education and children’s services in England: excellence in education and skills for a changing world; net zero; resilience to climate change; and a better environment for future generations.

As the DfE highlights, climate adaptation and decarbonisation activity within the education estate brings children and young people powerful opportunities for practical, hands-on learning: “Seeing sustainability brought to life in the buildings around them will allow children and young people to gain experiences which will enhance and contextualise their learning”.

Cutting carbon emissions and energy costs

At the same time, of course, implementation of the government’s climate education plans will help cut schools’ and universities’ carbon emissions – which, it says, make up 36% of total UK public sector building emissions. Not least, it will also help educators address the urgent issue of spiralling energy costs.

What about Ofsted?

A preoccupation with other priorities, such as Ofsted expectations was cited as a barrier to implementation of climate education by some of the respondents in our survey. Whilst there are currently no explicit references to climate education in Ofsted’s Education inspection framework , the practical education described in the government strategy will certainly help educators meet Ofsted’s expectation that our children and young people are prepared for adulthood - that is, becoming “responsible, respectful, active citizens who contribute positively to society”. It will also help learners develop ‘soft skills’, such as teamworking, problem solving and public speaking, engage with nature, and – critically – help them prepare for future guardianship of the planet. 

Adjusting provision; enhancing attainment

The DfE strategy recognises the opportunity for cross-curricular climate education. It’s something we’ve embraced at The National College, with the launch of our market-leading, subject-specific climate education series, which offers advice and practical guidance on integrating climate education into discrete curriculum subjects, providing pupils with a much deeper insight into the truth about environmental issues, and their role as agents of change.

Rather than adding an extra subject to the curriculum, it’s more a question of adjusting existing provision, at the same time, bringing teaching and learning to life throughout the curriculum via exploration of issues of universal relevance and significance.  In this way, climate education will not detract from ‘the raising achievement agenda’, as one respondent in our survey suggested, but rather provide real-life context to teaching and learning in individual subjects, including maths and English.

Support to deliver climate education

As with the pandemic, climate education is another big ask of schools -  but we’re here to support you. Our full  CPD programme on climate education offers expert advice and guidance, to help you quickly identify what you need to know and do in response to government initiatives, start the journey to zero carbon and develop the role of the climate education lead. We also offer free primary and secondary webinars supporting a whole-school approach to sustainability, developed in collaboration with WWF-UK, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. 

You might also consider our School Membership package which represents unrivalled value for money, granting the whole school workforce instant and unlimited access to hundreds of webinars, courses and resources, including our full climate education programme, and school leaders full CPD management via our state-of-the-art online hub.

* Survey of 867 staff in education settings in the UK undertaken by YouGov on 6 September 2022 on behalf of The National College