On July 3rd we ran a schools climate conference for students from Year 5 to 12 at UCL, bringing together almost 200 students from 13 schools. We didn’t have any funding for the idea and were conscious that it would take a fair bit of organising, but the timing seemed right. The school climate strikes had made a real impact on the public and politicians’ consciousness, and at the start of the year one of our pledges was to amplify the voices of young people on an issue that they care deeply about as it profoundly affects their future.
We assembled an excellent group of speakers. In the first session were Richard Dunne, Headteacher of Ashley Primary School, a shining example of how to shape a curriculum around the natural world. Next was Rupert Read, reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, who delivered a hard hitting talk highlighting the severity of the crisis. Last was Malini Mehra who spoke about the international situation and how it is everyone’s responsibility to take action.
Two workshops followed, one exploring how to communicate about the climate crisis and one which gave the school groups an opportunity to come up with ideas and an action plan to take back to their school. Students were encouraged to draw inspiration from Greta Thunberg and other young environmental activists and think big, as well as about action that they can take in their schools.
The afternoon session gave students the opportunity to feedback from their sessions before short talks and questions and answers with Caroline Russell, Green Party London Assembly member and Lola Fayokun, representative of UK Student Climate Network who has helped to organise the school climate strikes. Caroline Russell thanked the young people for their leadership which is helping to change an older generation of politicians’ minds, and 17 year old climate activist Lola Fayokun was a fantastic role model for the attendees who were not much younger than her.
There were some hard messages to deliver, and the conference had a different feel to the usual message of hope and focus on individual or school level action. What was most impressive was the response from the young people involved; their comprehension of the situation and understanding for the need for rapid and widespread action was evident.
There are lessons to be learned, but the format which brought a wide range of ages into a University setting brought the best out of the young people and the feedback from was positive at the end of the day. As one of the teachers that brought a group of students said: “It was amazing to have an event which shared so openly with students how big the challenges are which face society, and great to hear from such a variety of speakers and influential people.”
We will be keeping in touch with the schools that attended and are looking forward to hearing the outcome of their actions. We also hope to repeat the conference at Universities in other parts of the country to give schools outside London the opportunity to learn more about and take action on the defining issue of their generation.