In today’s post, Sue James reflects on the Westminster Education Forum policy conference held on 18th May 2022.  The focus was: Green and climate education in England – sustainability and action on climate change in the curriculum, outdoor learning, and priorities for further study and skills. As with all our blogs what is written does not necessarily represent the views of the Association.

These notes are written from the viewpoint of someone who fully supports the vital need for climate and ecological education to be integrated throughout the school curriculum from the earliest beginnings until completion.  Why?  Because of the very serious situation that we find ourselves in as a result of the impacts of human behaviour on both the world’s climate and biodiversity loss, we will require a huge change of understanding and mindset if we are to take the actions that we need to. 

Despite many years of scientific reporting, the COPs, many conferences and discussions and copious books, we are just not taking the actions required or moving at the speed needed.  We really must get on and do things differently and celebrate doing things differently rather than seeing the extent of change in terms of deprivation.  This change in the way we do things (or behaviour change) must start from the earliest years and schools are the situations in which groups come together in a way that they cannot in individual homes, and so schools, as well as parents, have a critical role in influencing attitudes and mindsets to embrace and welcome sustainability as a non-negotiable given.

A second reason is that we have a duty of care to ensure that our young people are well equipped for the kinds of challenges they will have to face and the work that they will need to do.  So, school education has a responsibility to ensure that all students are ‘climate, ecologically and sustainability literate’ as a basic preparation for going on to further study at a university or FE college or going straight into the workforce because all jobs will need to be ‘green jobs’ from now on.

What did the seminar offer?

Tim Smit enjoyed giving us what he called a ‘rant’ but his main concern was the need to take a systems approach with interconnectivity across all subjects.  He said that the Chinese have changed their education system over the last five years to reflect this approach and it would be interesting to know more about this.  He urged us to consider the teaching of thinking, not just ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ and reminded us that there is a difference between ‘qualification’ and ‘education’.  In truth, there was not a great deal discussed that hasn’t been discussed many times before, but then, perhaps this is the nature of achieving change.

A few comments stood out – 

The importance of ‘entanglement’ (Tim’s systems) and the need for the Strategy framework to embrace entanglement.

The need for a societal shift and a mind-set or mind-shift that is demonstrated in schools in everything that it does from the performance of the buildings to the integration of sustainability, climate change and ecology throughout the curriculum.  This was a key point made by the Chase School, Malvern

A question in the chat also raised this point: “Can I ask if you have had buy-in from parents?  Because the learnings and activities at school need to be embedded at home and in the wider community.”

Jobs for the coming generation will focus much more on resource management and the circular economy.

The need to promote role models (it had been the Wombles in one speaker’s day) that emphasised the importance of sustainable behaviour.

What had been promised at COP 26 was not reflected in the DfE Strategy as published.

Another issue raised in the chat was concern that we are not teaching students about forms of activism to achieve change and the different organisations and their approaches.  Friends of the Earth teach campaigning at FE level, how can this be extended to schools (in the light of the strategy!)?

Looking at international best practice, environment / sustainability is one of most articulated cross-curricular themes (China report in more than 45% of their curriculum; Japan 40%).

There needs to be much greater clarity about what ‘green jobs’ are but, as one student was quoted, “going green is more of an attitude and every job can be a green job.” So, careers advisers in schools have a key role to play here.

Skills for teachers are critical – 75% of primary and secondary teachers don’t feel equipped to teach climate change (NUS survey).

Sustainability must be embedded into the curriculum throughout all subjects so it makes it easier to understand the joined-up nature of how to act on it.

The DfE’s Jon Dewsbury was given the final word, but didn’t say anything beyond what is in the strategy and that the national curriculum will not be able to change within this parliament.


Sue James is an architect, a member of The Edge, and convenor of the Trees and Design Action Group.  She’s a member of the Teach the Future Adult Advisory Board, a knowledge programme advisor for Futurebuild, and a Senior Associate at Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge.  Sue can be contacted at:

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