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Today is Earth Day.

On April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest about the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.  Earth Day is now a global event and probably more than 1 billion people in 192 countries will take part this year.

It’s a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures.  The Earth Day Network leads co-ordinates activities.  See here for more detail of a billion acts of green.

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Graham Frost, head of Robert Ferguson Primary School in Carlisle, will propose a motion at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference (May 3 to 5) to support plans for compulsory climate change lessons in primary and secondary schools.   Proposal 15 states:

Curriculum

Our pupils are inheriting a world beset with problems arising from humanity’s unsustainable exploitation of the world’s natural resources, with potentially catastrophic consequences.  Our pupils feel passionately about these and other issues and want their views to be heard.  School councils should be routinely consulted, including children in the primary age range, and their concerns acted on by government.  Conference encourages all school leaders to:

– incorporate information about the potential for global catastrophe into learning plans,

– help young people express their views without compromising their personal safety and

– give time in the school day for activity to pressurise policy-makers to take the issues that matter to young people seriously and act urgently.

– Conference asks national executive to provide guidance, materials and information for schools to assist with their planning.

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Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a non-violent movement which aims to avert climate catastrophe, halt biodiversity loss, and minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.  It was established in the UK in May 2018 and has been active on London’s streets in the past week, as you will have noticed.  Its aims are:

– the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.

– the Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.

– a national citizens assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

Click here to go to XR’s education page

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The DfE is accused of not enacting the Paris Agreement.  The XR website includes this comment:

A central plank of the protest is the fact that the Department for Education is not enacting the landmark Paris climate agreement – which the British Government signed up to – which states: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education.” (Article 12 Paris Climate Agreement) [4]

There is currently no requirement nor any guidance on how to teach children about the climate crisis.  Academies may not cover these topics at all, as they can be more selective about what they teach.  One of the very few mentions of climate change in the National Curriculum for Science refers to the “evidence, and uncertainties in evidence, for anthropogenic climate change.”

Safi Yule, a 16 year old student from North London said “I was lucky my parents told me about climate change but I should have got more information from my school, which didn’t teach this at all.  I wish schools would pay as much attention to issues like this, which will change my world as much as me getting my grades at exams.”

Tim Jones, a secondary school teacher and an organiser from Lewisham in London, said: “Climate and ecological breakdown will define the life of every child and student alive today.  They and we are facing an unimaginable catastrophe.  But when I tell my students, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when it plays almost no part in the content of their education.”

Ex-teacher and head of department, Oliver Hayes, said: “It is clear from scenes last Friday – with thousands of children taking to the streets in more than 60 towns and cities across the UK for the Youth Strike 4 Climate – that children are standing up and saying enough is enough. Worryingly, this emergency has been almost ignored in teaching, especially in state secondary schools.  It is taught as a difficult, peripheral and distant issue.  Students need to know not only the truth about what is happening to their planet but also what needs to be done about it.”

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Teachers for Climate Truth (part of XR) sent a letter to the Department for Education in February asking for three changes to the curriculum:

– that the ecological and climate crisis is immediately announced as an educational priority.

– that well-founded and evidence-based training is provided for teachers to convey this message, including the scientific and economic causes of the crisis, what governments and society need to do about it, and also on how to support young people when taking on this information.  This should be implemented by no later than September 2019.

– an immediate overhaul of the current curriculum, in the light of scientific evidence and without political interference, aimed at preparing children for the realities of their future on this planet.