Today’s post is the first in a number of reactions to the NAEE Manifesto. It is by Ben Ballin who writes regularly here. As ever, the views set out are not necessarily shared by the Association.

The following are some thoughts that came freely to mind following the launch of NAEE-UK’s excellent Young People’s Learning and the Environment Manifesto.  They are intended to be a constructive provocation to further reflection and dialogue and are very much the author’s own work-in-progress thinking, rather than representing any organisational (or indeed, any fully-formed) point of view.

It is increasingly striking me as delusional to believe that schools and schoolchildren are going to solve the climate crisis (and the various associated crises).  That will generally be a matter of dirty politics and ugly economics: as someone said the other day (and I have repeated since), Vladimir Putin may (unintentionally) have done more to advance European decarbonisation than any well-intended NGO or government department ever has, while the cost-of-energy crisis will probably wean many schools off oil and gas in a fairly speedy and efficient manner (no doubt colleagues engaged in initiatives such as Let’s Go Zero have already recognised this and will be doing their admirable best to respond to a sudden surge in interest). However, adjectival educationalists are not as a rule the ones that can set the agenda on such a grand scale.  

Schools do however have a role (or roles) to play.  They are, as Jerome Bruner once brilliantly stated, ‘part of the continent of culture’, and that relationship need not be a passive or a subordinate one.  Schoolchildren themselves have been especially active in pushing for meaningful change, and not just at a school level.  When they have done so, they have also been remarkably clearheaded that it is education that they want schools to be focusing on: they want a full, meaningful rounded education about the climate crisis etc.  And after all, education is the core business of schools (as opposed to other agendas, no matter how worthy).  I think they are right in emphasising this, and indeed in stressing that such education should include both learning about and learning for the environment and climate/environmental justice.  To that, borrowing from Scott and Vare (2008), I would add criticality and creativity: learning as sustainability praxis.  Increasingly, too, I think that fostering imagination needs to be a key part of that process.

None of this is to neglect schools’ roles as key focal points in their communities (indeed, in some places, they are pretty well the last remaining institutions that can play such a role).  Nor indeed to argue that campus and especially community are not matters of legitimate concern and responsibility, or should be disconnected from learning: the great value of both is a point that the NAEE’s Manifesto makes very clear.  But some of these aspects – for example, managing spaces so as to promote biodiversity, carbon reduction and human wellbeing – are not unique to schools; nor is it necessarily the case that schools (often quite conservative institutions) will generally be in the vanguard of any such transformation. 

Indeed, to come full circle, my reason for unexpectedly being available for the Manifesto launch was that a CPD session on climate education had just been cancelled due to lack of interest: believe you me, this does not happen to Geography (rather than climate) courses these days.  If the NAEE’s Manifesto (and maybe, just maybe, DfE’s rather feeble efforts at a strategy) manages to give schools and teachers the sense of permission that climate, environment and sustainability are legitimate areas to spend time and budgets on, then that is certainly something.

Ben Ballin is a freelance education consultant and a NAEE Fellow. He can be contacted at These emergent views are his own.



Vare, P., & Scott, W. (2008). Education for sustainable development: two sides and an edge.  London: Development Education Association.

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