In November 2021 the Department for Education released a draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. Read our response and recommendations here. We encourage organisations and individuals to get in touch with the DfE to give them their thoughts, so that the strategy can be improved before the final version is released in April 2022.

Feel free to copy bits or all of this, forward it on or give your own responses to: DFE.SUSTAINABILITY@education.gov.uk

At Green Schools Project, we welcome the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy as a step in the right direction after more than a decade of inaction. We appreciate the opportunity to review the strategy and provide feedback, with our Founder and Managing Director, Henry Greenwood, taking part in the Climate Education working group.

We consider there to be many good aspects to the strategy, but much will depend on the funding that will be made available to support schools to enact it. This response will not evaluate every aspect of the strategy, but instead focus on some key recommendations.

The claim to be putting climate change at the heart of the education system and the vision to make the United Kingdom the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030 are bold and commendable. We believe, however, that it falls short in certain areas and these recommendations, if included in the strategy, would help it to meet those aims.

Green Schools Project’s Recommendations:    

  1. All schools to have a climate and nature education lead teacher with an allowance so that some time off timetable is available to fulfil the role.
  2. All schools to have a senior leadership team member with responsibility for climate education and sustainability.

The first two recommendations are in response to the aim in the strategy that by 2022, the DfE will ‘explore with schools the best way to identify champions to provide leadership and co-ordination of climate change and sustainability activity.’

Green Schools Project’s experience of working with schools since 2015, and the personal experience of our founder and managing director, who worked as Sustainability Coordinator in his secondary school from 2010 to 2013, tells us that the task required is not to identify them, but to support and encourage them. We are confident that in every school there is a teacher (or more likely several teachers) who would like to lead and coordinate climate change and sustainability education.

Currently many schools have ‘Eco-leads’ or ‘Sustainability leads’ but in the vast majority of cases, this is an unpaid role that does not provide any time allocation to fulfil it. These teachers often run a school Eco-Team and do what they can to encourage climate education. However, the challenges of teaching a full timetable, marking, planning, dealing with parents, covid and the fallout from it, and other pressures associated with the job mean that it is impossible to dedicate enough time to fully carry out a role like this.

Providing schools with additional funding to enable this position to have a Teaching and Learning Responsibility Payment (TLR) with some associated time off timetable, would facilitate a highly motivated and dedicated teacher to become climate and nature education lead teacher.

The second recommendation highlights the fact that for leadership and coordination of climate change activity to be effective, there needs to be support and leadership from senior management at every school. A ‘middle leader’ climate and nature education lead teacher needs to have a senior leadership line manager to approve and support their initiatives. This does not require any additional funding, but it needs to be specified in the job description of someone in the senior leadership team at every school.

  1. Update the National Curriculum so that human-caused climate change is covered in sufficient depth and is taught through all subject areas.

This recommendation is in response to the paragraph that states ‘within schools, the science, geography and citizenship programmes in the National Curriculum at both primary (KS1-2) and secondary (KS3-4) cover key content which supports knowledge and understanding of sustainability and climate change. We introduced an Environmental Science A Level in 2017.’

This continues successive Education Ministers’ and the DfE’s longstanding response that climate change is adequately covered in the curriculum already, so no changes are needed. This is a huge failure at present and unless addressed makes a ‘world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change’ impossible.

The primary science curriculum removed direct reference to humans being the cause of climate change in 2013. Geography, which most teachers consider to be the main area that climate change is covered, is an optional subject from the age of 14. For pupils to rely solely on covering anthropogenic climate change through a few geography and science lessons at secondary school (and maybe some at primary if the school decides to) massively underplays the significance of a topic that will define the future of every young person.

Research in the UK and internationally shows that a large majority of teachers consider climate change to be relevant to all subject areas. The National Curriculum must be updated to reflect this.

  1. Provide an hour a week to all classes in all year groups for dedicated climate and nature education.
  1. Provide opportunities to all pupils to be actively involved in carbon reduction projects at their schools and in their local community.

Ensuring climate change is covered in all subject areas is the first priority. For the UK to be the World’s leading sector, however, this is not enough. Young people need dedicated time throughout their school career to explore issues around climate change and the natural world that will provide them with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to tackle the climate crisis and reverse the decline of the natural world. This would help to address the causes of rising eco-anxiety and improve health and wellbeing. We know that young people want to learn in and about nature and we need to respond to this.

For schools, this would provide the opportunity to use and explore different teaching pedagogies such as project-based and experiential learning. It would give them the chance to take pupils outside for lessons to connect with nature. It would allow schools to provide pupils with the chance to take climate action in their local communities, helping to reduce carbon emissions and encourage biodiversity.

Importantly, it would mean that all young people are given the opportunity to get involved, rather than just the pupils in an extra-curricular school Eco-Team who are likely already to be enthused and engaged.

Green Schools Project has direct experience of this, with our Zero Carbon Schools programme providing schools with a series of 30 sessions where pupils learn about climate change, explore and calculate an estimate of their school’s carbon emissions and run projects to reduce them. Integrating climate education and action into day to day life has been a positive experience for teachers and pupils alike.

  1. Continuing Professional Development programmes on climate and nature education to be made available to all schools for existing teachers and for it to be covered in Initial Teacher Training courses for all subjects.

Research has shown that a large majority of teachers believe there should be more teaching about climate change in schools, but an even larger majority don’t believe that they have received adequate training to educate students about it.

There are positive references to teacher training in the draft strategy, but there are few details. Much of the teacher training references mention science specifically, with a Primary Science Model Curriculum to be developed and access to high quality curriculum resources made available.

This is welcome, but a more comprehensive package needs to be offered so that training is provided to all teachers at all schools. This training should cover the essentials of climate change, how a school can respond and how all teachers can bring climate and nature into their lessons to enhance learning.

Continuing Professional Development sessions have been integrated into Green Schools Project’s Zero Carbon Schools programme, and in our pilot programme we started to demonstrate that access to this training improves outcomes for pupils.

  1. All schools to be zero carbon for energy use by 2030, significant reductions in carbon emissions for food, travel, and purchasing, and a plan for all schools to be fully zero carbon as soon as possible.

A target for all new school buildings to be zero carbon in operation by 2023 is excellent. More important, however, is for the 32,163 existing schools to reduce their carbon emissions as soon as possible. This requires urgent retrofitting of buildings and investing in zero carbon heating systems.

Beyond energy usage, to be truly zero carbon will require schools to have zero carbon emissions for their food, travel and purchasing. This will not be possible until the entire economy has reached zero carbon emissions. The current timeframe for that is 2050, which Green Schools Project considers much too late. However, within this framework, education settings need to be made a priority for encouraging decarbonisation in all areas.

Education about climate change is more effective when it is done in a school that sets a positive example. Schools where heating is used inefficiently, vegetarian options on the menu are substandard and active travel is not encouraged are not likely to convince young people that the adults who are teaching them about climate change are taking it seriously themselves.

Schools should be required to calculate their carbon emissions on an annual basis and create action plans to reduce them. This will provide an opportunity for young people to be involved with and lead some of these reductions. Young people need to see action being taken to tackle climate change. This will inspire them to take this behaviour home and into their communities, creating a virtuous cycle of carbon reduction that will help to drive the transition to a zero-carbon society.    

Conclusion

There are good aspects to the strategy, but much will depend on the support that schools receive to make it happen. There is considerable will and enthusiasm from school leaders, teachers, and pupils to do more to address climate change. To convert this into action, there will need to be funding, training and time allocated for schools to implement changes, underpinned by a curriculum that recognizes the importance of climate and nature education.

Green Schools Project’s Response to the DfE Draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy