Ahead of next week’s parliamentary reception to promote attempts by Teach the Future to increase the effectiveness of climate change education,  the Department for Education is resisting.

A parliamentary question [ #4444 ] was asked by Darren Jones (Labour: Bristol North West) “To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of climate change on the work of his Department; and what steps he is taking in response to that effect.”

What follows is the written response (24th January) by the Rt Hon. Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State, Department for Education.  This is being quoted by MPs in responses to students and others who write to them about this:

“The Department of Education is supporting sustainability both through the content taught to students, and through supporting our schools to become more sustainable institutions.

It is important that young people are taught about climate change and sustainability.  Topics related to this are included in both the science and geography curriculum and qualifications.  For example, in primary science pupils are taught about how environments can change as a result of human actions.  In secondary science, pupils are taught about the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the effect this has on the climate.  This is expanded on in GCSE science where pupils will consider the evidence for additional anthropogenic causes of climate change.  As part of GCSE geography pupils will look at the causes, consequences of and responses to extreme weather conditions and natural weather hazards.  In 2017, we also introduced a new environmental science A level.  This will enable students to study topics that will support their understanding of climate change and how it can be tackled.

In addition, sustainability content will be included in T levels, new post-16 technical study programs (sic).  In setting outline content, the T level panels of employers and industry experts must consider the inclusion of sustainability as relevant to their sector.  For example, in Construction, T level students will be required to learn about renewable energy and emerging technologies to support energy efficiency.

The Department support sustainability through our capital funding and programmes, both to reduce carbon and save schools money on energy.  Schools can use their condition funding to invest in improving energy efficiency.  Furthermore, interest free loans for energy efficiency projects in maintained schools are available through the Government backed Salix finance scheme.  Salix loans have also been made available to academies through an annual application process.  More broadly, we are working with colleagues across the Government on carbon reduction and energy efficiency and developing thinking on how future capital programmes can contribute further.

During procurements, Department for Education considers how this might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area, where this is relevant to the subject matter of the contract.

From April, the Department will begin implementation of new government guidance on Social Value, which requires central Government Departments to take account of social impact as part of the award criteria where this is linked to the subject matter of the contract and proportionate.  This may include reducing environmental impacts.”

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All’s well, it seems, but it really isn’t.  Here are extracts from the response from Zamzam Ibrahim, the President of NUS and SoS_UK.  Her full text is on the Teach the Future blog page.

“For the record, yes, climate change is in the curriculum, but it is siloed in optional Geography GSCE and a woefully small part of science. Having the climate emergency and ecological crisis siloed in this way leads to it being perceived as something just for geographers and scientists, whereas the reality is it will shape the lives of every one of us.

Yes the [national] curriculum is important, but that is only part of the solution because it doesn’t cover about a half of all schools (all the multi-academy trusts), or any of our 140 universities. I studied finance at university and learnt almost nothing about the climate emergency, which is amazing given the crucial role of finance in transform our society to net-zero.

As it is there is no continuity of learning on the climate emergency between primary, secondary and tertiary education. Unlike sexual heath education, there is no educational pathway for the climate emergency. I believe that learning to live sustainability should be more like learning about equality – that is a principle woven through all subject areas, not stuck in subject silos. We need to liberate learning about the climate emergency, and mainstream it, and do it fast, as we are in a climate emergency

The facts are that 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change, and only 4% of students feel they know a lot about climate change. We have got to reverse these statistics.

I’m sorry, but we cannot accept that we are getting the education we need, and we certainly do not want just some tweak to the national curriculum. We need a climate emergency education plan to respond to all this. This is exactly what Teach the Future is calling for, as well as providing the outline for such a plan.

Through our asks we call for a Department for Education independent review of how the education system is preparing young people for the climate emergency and ecological crisis;, changes to teaching standards and a new professional qualification for teachers; funding for the retrofitting climate and ecological knowledge into existing teachers and lecturers; funding for youth-led climate social action in every school, college and university (because we need action now, and we learn when we lead); funding for net-zero educational buildings as a national infrastructure priority.

We really want to support the Government to reform the education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis, and to make the education system a core pillar of their climate change plans in the run up to COP26. We are doing this so we can ensure our generation does a better job of managing the planet the current lot have done to date. Reforming our education system is our best bet to securing our future.”

Thank you again for your support.  Zamzam Ibrahim, 25