Isobel Cammish Teach the Future team & Patrick Kirwan Hammersmith Academy
Recent studies have shown that only 4% of pupils surveyed think they know a lot about climate change and the environment, 68% of students want to know more, but 75% of teachers feel that they have not received adequate training on the subject 1. That is why we have created Teach the Future, a youth-led campaign organised jointly by UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) and Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK), and supported by many organisations such as Greenpeace, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the University & College Union and the Green Schools Project.
We call on the government to reflect the climate and ecological crises in the English school curriculum so that we can change the course of history. Our six Policy Asks include an independent review of how the education system is preparing young people for the future, an English Climate Emergency Education Act, a Youth Climate Endowment Fund, and net-zero schools and colleges.
We take inspiration from many schools that are ahead on this. In this article you can read about two amazing examples, a primary near Manchester and a secondary in West London, as well as messages of support for Teach the Future from an experienced examiner and innovative school resource provider ThoughtBox.
“As a retired Head teacher in secondary schools, I am wholly behind young people having a proper introduction during their school time to the important issue of climate change and its consequences for society.” – Dr Peter Sainsbury
“Being a Child Psychiatrist I fully support your campaign. We need to start telling the truth.” – Kirsten Shukla
“As a new grandparent, the spirit, intelligence and commitment displayed by young people is an inspiration and a source of some optimism to me.” – Alan Leslie Hughes 2
Case Study 1: Canon Burrows Primary School
One school near Manchester – Canon Burrows CofE Primary, in Ashton-under-Lyne – is not waiting for the government to catch up with the dangers of the climate crisis. All the school’s environmental work – which they have been carrying out for 30 years – is incorporated into the classroom and through co-curricular activities. Lessons, trips to recycling plants, birdwatching, gardening, eco clubs and reading books such as Greta and the Giants, all teach their students how and why to fight for their planet. The actions of the school, led by school eco-coordinator Andy Clark, have also extended into their community: they plant trees, grow flowers, raise money for environmental charities through Green Fairs and run stalls promoting zero-carbon.
At this school, teaching students about the climate crisis is shown to have many benefits. Past pupils are better at combatting the effects of the climate crisis and have gone on to careers in the green sector, for example at Natural England, as educators and as a green councillor. The students are more likely to make environmentally friendly decisions and to hold governments and corporations accountable for their actions. One ex-pupil used her climate education at Cannon Burrows to start a long but successful campaign for the local authority to only use free-range eggs in schools and is now continuing to be a forceful agent of change at university.
For Andy Clark, he sees it as imperative that the students are taught now about the climate crisis: “They are our future. If we do not teach them today, there will be no tomorrow for them.” The facts of the climate crisis are real, and it is the younger generations who will need to deal with its effects in the future. They are the ones who can make a difference in the future, so need to be given the right tools to do it.
Despite the admirable work that the school is doing, with climate education not taught as the students progress into secondary school, many have little other teaching about the causes and devastating effects of the climate crisis. Unfortunately, teaching young people about the biggest issue of our time is still too controversial to be put on the broader curriculum beyond geography (not compulsory) and science (optional beyond GCSE), needing passionate educators and supportive schools to run it themselves. Andy Clark, and all of Cannon Burrows School’s environmental students and educators, hope that the current science on the climate will be so difficult to ignore that this will have to change.
Case Study 2: Environmental Leadership, Development Programme, Hammersmith Academy
We started a school garden in Hammersmith Academy four years ago to promote mental health, teach students about horticulture and food growing, and encourage students to appreciate and protect their environment. Soon after we rolled out a daily whole-school tutor time horticulture programme. Each week a new tutor group visits the garden and are paired with garden activity leaders aged 12-18. The leaders teach their groups to construct planters out of wooden pallets, look after our school chickens, grow and harvest produce for the local foodbank, construct living fences and lots more. In an evaluation of the students’ garden experience, learning, relaxation and sense of community, all scored 8-9 out of 10.
George, aged 18, reported that the garden:
“Provides a comparatively secluded area where one can take a break from the chaos […] It can also promote gardening itself, something that most in the school are unlikely to encounter in their day-to-day life. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment from seeing something that I have planted grow over the year and end up on someone’s dinner plate who needs it much more than me”.
In 2019 we launched SSAT’s student leadership accredited (SLA) qualification to empower the student leaders to take full responsibility for the tutor time horticulture programme. The effects were immediate. The students became more responsible, better organised, better at communicating and more invested in themselves and the programme, as confirmed by 16-year-old Nazifa:
“It has helped me to be more confident when speaking as I often have to talk to students and give them instructions on what to do. Also, I think it has improved my time management skills as I have to get certain tasks done in a small space of time.”
The student activity leaders make a highly positive, tangible contribution to school life. They are highly supportive of each other as a team and go to great lengths to ensure the wellbeing of the students taking part. In the words of one participant:
“I like it a lot. I feel as though it’s a fun and convenient way to help contribute to the school in some fashion. It’s also good for stress-relief, particularly during the spring when the plants start to come up.”
1. Green Schools Project / NUS pupil survey (3,000 responses, upper primary and secondary, England, Dec 18); UKSCN / Oxfam teachers survey (350 responses, primary and secondary, UK wide, May 19). Links to surveys available via tinyurl.com/y8qpo8ar
2. Public comments from backers of the Teach the Future crowdfunder for 26 February 2020 parliamentary reception (Dec 2019-Jan 2020) crowdfunder.co.uk/teach-the-future/comments#start
Isobel Cammish is a 15-year-old member of both the Teach the Future team and UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN). She interviewed Andy Clark, Eco-coordinator at Canon Burrows CofE Primary School, member of Manchester Environmental Education Network, workshop and seminar leader.
More information: canonburrows.co.uk
Patrick Kirwan teaches science and is Horticulture and Community Outreach Coordinator at Hammersmith Academy. He also manages a community garden which focuses on partnership work with primary and secondary schools.
More information: hammersmithacademy.org
This article was first published in 2019 in Vol 125 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members.