Today’s post is by Tessa Willy, who is Deputy Programme Lead for the Primary PGCE at the Institute of Education University College London. In this Tessa looks at the potential contained within the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change strategy and at some of the problems associated with it. As ever with NAEE blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Association.

The draft strategy for Sustainability and Climate Change published by the DfE in November 2021 has been welcomed and, although a long time in the coming, should still be seen as an important step forwards. Without going any further, I would urge you first, if you haven’t already, to read Justin Dillon’s write-up of his talk about the draft strategy and future plans for NAEE, as it outlines so succinctly what the strategy is about and what can be taken from it.  I am writing this blog from my personal perspective as a teacher educator in primary ITE. For me, the draft strategy provides lots of potential but also a few problems, and I outline some of these below. This is not an exhaustive list, just some standouts that provoked me.

Potential: The draft strategy is open to all for consultation, encouraging responses and contributions from diverse perspectives and telling different stories, something which is crucial in this highly complex context.  The strategy must remain open and transparent for all. 

Potential: There appears an understanding that the draft strategy’s success is dependent on its being a collaborative project that will involve young people. This is essential if it is to be inclusive. 

Potential: It is important that it refers to a wide range of significant, influential documents and initiatives such as the Dasgupta Review, the SDGs and the net zero environmental bill amongst others. It is essential that such reference informs developments and ways forwards and also carries an international and global narrative. 

Potential: Education is seen as the priority which is essential; without education and children attaining knowledge and subsequent understanding, little meaningful progress can be made. The ambition for children to develop sustainable literacy is positive and an essential goal if they are not only to understand the issues but find a way forward. 

Potential: The draft strategy is considered in relation to the economy, the built environment, jobs and vocations, all of which are important facets of the wider context and provide a more holistic picture. Including plans for ensuring that the school estate is increasingly sustainable, offers opportunities for problem solving and collaboration in children’s learning which are essential skills for the future. Going forwards, all aspects of this curriculum, including the education component need to be perceived in an equally holistic way, understanding, and appreciating the interconnectedness and interdependence of all the situations and systems involved. 

Potential: The draft strategy advocates learning from connecting with nature which is something that is vital if we are to have a truer understanding of the world that we inhabit. A clear appreciation of what is meant by ‘nature’ is similarly important alongside a shared understanding of the ‘natural world.’ So much of our knowledge has been lost, there are vast swathes of rich, indigenous knowledge to reconnect with and this could provide an opportunity to do so. The natural world has got it right for so long and as our elders and ancestors knew, we have everything to learn from the natural and more than human world, and we must learn to tap into this. It is also crucial that this happens from a young age, as is acknowledged in the strategy. 

Potential: In learning about nature there is the acknowledgment that this is not just learning more about nature as passive learners but that a need to take positive steps to redress some of the imbalance that has been created. Only then can we become active and participatory learners, and only then can knowledge and understanding be embedded and effectively applied. It is also positive to see mention of the importance of learning from play, essential for all children of all ages.

Potential: The vision for a National Education Park offers children opportunities for developing a sense of place, local and community input, connecting with nature, working with local and national groups on varied initiatives and developing local area studies to share with others. Such opportunity can help children to develop key skills in multiple subject areas, such as mapping in geography, data collection in maths, report writing in English, and so on. This can afford meaning to children’s learning, encourage their sustained interest, and provide opportunity for purposeful learning and progress. 

Potential: Stem subjects can be developed with real life examples and when engaging in climate education it is encouraging to see subjects such as science, geography and citizenship take centre stage, and it is crucial for children to understand the wider concepts and be empowered to engage as well as effect change. 

Potential: There are many opportunities for children to learn about and aspire to gaining technical skills and future employment in related fields, and numerous ways in which there can be cross-fertilisation of ideas.  Children can be involved from a young age and the understanding embedded, and it is positive to see the clear steer towards staff training and development to facilitate that. This must be realised with adequate funding and time to do so, and a clear costed plan devised and agreed.

Potential: There are some clear ‘next steps’ offering a guide as to what to do, involving different voices and stories.  The call to comment needs be followed, and we must all be involved. 

Amongst all this significant potential, I did however feel some disquiet and perceive some potential problems. For example:

Problem: The draft strategy is focussed just on England (the remit of the DfE) and so is not a national, and certainly not a global mission, which due to the complexity and reach, it needs to be. 

Problem: Similarly, the Education Nature Park is English. But to understand what is happening, we must understand what is happening all around the world and how it is all connected. Starting with what is around is undoubtedly important but it can’t stop there, and it mustn’t become parochial and focussed on just ‘us’. Children need to see how they are linked to other places and people and nature. It is limiting to just look at ourselves as a separate entity, surrounded by ‘park boundaries’ as everything is interdependent and related to everything else. Children need opportunities to expand beyond the national. Take the recent global issue of the pandemic, we will never address such a monumental global issue until we can work closer together and solve the problems in a collaborative way or at least show the way to doing so. 

Problem: It is not clear how this will be incorporated into the ‘busyness’ of the school curriculum, where it will sit and how it will be managed and led. For as long as schools are judged by Ofsted in England, on the criteria as they currently are, there will not be the time nor the space for anything additional, and without a formal mandate and endorsement, this will become a bolt on.

Problem: The linking of all aspects of ‘education’ into just two or three subjects, notably science (a model science curriculum), geography and citizenship, fails to address the holistic approach that needs to be taken to begin to understand and eventually start addressing this most cross-curricular of issues. It does not belong to any one subject, but all subjects lend themselves to it, as they do to many issues of social and environmental justice and related understandings. Undoubtedly, children need the specialist scientific and geographical knowledge to understand the workings of climate and its patterns and processes, specialist geographical skills to apply that knowledge and, citizenship skills to appreciate how political and social systems can contribute to and potentially address the issues. But they also need expressive arts, language, and visualisation to tell the stories and to portray the diverse narratives. This crosses the artificial boundaries of subjects and children need to understand it, as they do the world around them, holistically, seeing intuitively the links that connect all things together through different lenses and perspectives.  The arts are just as essential in helping us all to see in different ways and tell different stories and perspectives. 

Problem: We are considering something much more fundamental than just preparing children to live in modern Britain, as we need to help them to live in the modern world, now and into the future. It is our responsibility to do that for future generations, other beings, and the more than human, and ultimately the planet. It concerned me personally therefore to see the potential silencing of different voices and hear that protest cannot be freely expressed. 

Problem: The curriculum cannot be just about adaptive technology, it is about shifting cultural perspectives, how we view consumption for example and how we can develop skills to become more self-sufficient, and less reliant. Of course we need data analysts and scientists, ‘steam’ drivers and model makers, but so too do we need story tellers to convey the messages in ways that are accessible to all and are inclusive.  

Problem: It is great to canvass opinion and garner comments as has been done, but we need to do that far and wide, to see comment and suggestions from others outside the UK and especially England on what has worked for them, perhaps through the establishment of focus groups and possibly a citizen’s assembly to discuss at all levels, to consider how best to take this forward in the most effective way.

Problem: A strategy that claims: Britain leads the world into the Green Industrial Revolution, suggests to me competitiveness and of ‘being the best’ tinged with a smattering of exceptionalism perhaps, that doesn’t seem to encourage a sharing and cross-fertilisation of ideas. As schools map their achievements in the nature park, it shouldn’t become a league table of who is doing the best job – awards for leadership can be inspiring and motivational but not at the cost of lost collaboration and effective sharing. Focus needs to be on what we can do best together, learning from and with others and sharing ideas and experiences and examples and seeing how they may be best adapted to different settings. It is admirable to have high aspirations and striving for excellence is crucial, but there is a need to be wary of a competitive rhetoric, because if we are the best then other countries can’t be and with something so global, so fundamental and so more than human, it’s essential that we all need to be the very best. There won’t be anyone to give out the prizes for being the best if we get this wrong. This is an issue knows no boundaries and recognises no borders.

My list of potentials and problems is a very personal one and is not in any way exhaustive, we will all have our different interpretations of what is potential and what are problems and with a glass half full, I recognise more potential than problem but am also realistic that without the resolution of the problems, the potential cannot be realised as it should.


Tessa can be contacted at

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