Today’s blog is by Richard Dunne, an experienced headteacher and now Leader of the Harmony Project. As ever with our blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Association.

As the DfE launches its Sustainability and Climate Change draft strategy document, it is a good time to ask whether this is really the solution to the major and urgent crises we face from climate change to biodiversity loss to the pandemic and major concerns around mental health.  If we are to properly address these challenges, surely we need a new way of learning, one that puts an understanding of the natural world and how it works at the heart of our work.  The current education system does not do that, and unless we rethink what we learn and how we learn, we are potentially likely to continue to create the problems we are trying to fix.

We need buildings to be carbon neutral within tight, but realistic timescales.  We need the climate emergency and ecological crisis to be taught in schools and these issues can, of course, be worked into the curriculum and in particular science.  

My concern is that what Nadhim Zahawi is proposing is a knee-jerk reaction to having something on climate education in the curriculum when we actually need a much deeper review around what we are educating for.  We surely now need to be rethinking the way we learn in order to create something much more holistic.  We will only properly address the issues highlighted with a much more coherent way of learning that frames the issues around projects that draw together subject skills and knowledge and apply them in relevant ways to the school and wider local / global context.  

The climate emergency has come about from a complete lack of understanding of what we need to do and how we need to be to live sustainably.  Yes, we need the practical elements of improving our buildings and introducing the climate emergency and sustainability into the curriculum, but I don’t think this is enough.  We have to rethink how we educate and what we are educating for.  This needs a much deeper conversation beyond the training of teachers and educators to provide a better education around the climate emergency, whilst acknowledging this is important.  I think this should be included or we will not change the way we educate for a sustainable future we are still so far from achieving.

We certainly need to fix the problems, but we also need to start talking about a different way of learning to live that doesn’t continue to create them!  At the moment, it feels as if we still view the problems as somehow separate from us, when we are an integral part of the systems we are destroying and need to reconnect to our place in nature if we are to achieve the goals we aspire to.


Richard can be contacted at

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