Climate Change in the Classroom

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on Apr 15, 13 • posted by

Climate Change in the Classroom

Photo of Tom StewardClimate Change in the Classroom

Tom Steward, IGov Team, 15th April, 2013

About Tom:



We all want the best for our children. Look forward but a few years and you will likely see a world that is a very different place to live – this is the legacy we leave to the next generation. I want my kids to enjoy a high quality of life, in a world free from the effects of unmitigated climate change. It seems however, that the Department of Education (DfE) is currently engaged in activities that may make that goal a little bit harder to reach.

In February of this year, The Department of Education released a consultation on draft-reforms to the National Curriculum for children aged 5-16, which features drastically cut-down requirements to teach our children about anthropogenic climate change. Currently, the effect mankind has on the environment features in a number of places across both the geography, and science syllabuses – with in-depth descriptions around exactly what must be understood (shown here, here, here and here). The proposed reforms cut climate change to one line in the curriculum outline ‘The production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate’, which appears at the end of Key Stage 3 Chemistry syllabus (children aged 11-14).

The Department for Education states that it is ‘committed to creating a world-class state education system’ which includes ‘[Reforming] the National Curriculum so that it reflects the best collective wisdom we have about how children learn, and what they should know.’ (Bold type added by author). Whilst I commend such aims, I propose that an almost-complete removal of climate change from the curriculum fails to represent a step towards ‘a world-class state education’ whilst leaving a sizeable hole in ‘what they should know’. I believe education is about preparing young people to be successful in the world that they will grow up to live and work in. At the moment that world is teetering on the edge of catastrophic climate change, and a failure to educate them of that, is failure to prepare them for it.

If we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, then ‘buy-in’ must be created across society. We need political leaders that understand the issues surrounding climate change, and how best that it might be avoided; we need businesses that understand how their activities may affect and be affected by climate change so they may alter their practices accordingly; and we need people in the street to understand what climate change is, and how the choices that they make will either drive it, or help to prevent it. If we don’t educate our children properly, we will get none of these.

In an ideal world, climate change would not be taught as a segment of a module within a subject, but be present throughout the whole curriculum. Anthropogenic climate change will shape the future of every facet of society – and should be taught as such. Just as climate change will weave its way through our daily lives, so it should be weaved into lessons across the curriculum. But one step at a time.

Beyond simple legislation dictating what must be taught, this is also a question of leadership. As Michael Gove drives more schools to become academies – bodies which are not required to follow the curriculum at all – its impact on what actually gets taught in the majority of classrooms is likely to weaken. Of course one would still hope that important areas within the curriculum are covered, but how can we expect teachers with free-reign on content to make time for climate change in their lessons if those in positions of leadership don’t consider it important?

It goes without saying that there are some excellent teachers out there, who understand the importance of climate change, and will continue to communicate it to their pupils whether it is in the curriculum or not. However an educational lottery, whereby some pupils will not learn about one of the most important issues shaping the 21st century, is not the hallmark of a world-class educational system.

The final nagging question for me is ‘why?’ – why take climate change out of curriculum at all? I suspect only Gove and a few select others know the answer, but I cannot help but notice that producing a generation that has little or no knowledge of climate change seems to fit well with the agendas of a number of climate-denying politicians. It is all I can do to hope I am just being cynical, and that our childrens’ futures would not be so easily gambled away in the name of politics.

Experience tells us that it is far easier to get something removed from policy, than it is to get it reinstated. I fear that if climate change is all-but-removed from the curriculum, we will be facing an uphill struggle to get it back in, and both our children and the environment, will end up paying the price.

Have your say:

The consultation for the draft curriculum closes on the 16th of April, so if anything is to be done, it must be done quickly. Official responses may be made online, or there are a number of online petitions speaking out to maintain climate change’s place in the curriculum. Your support will join the excess of 29,000 others who have already signed up, whose names sit alongside the like of Sir David Attenborough who, together with a multitude of chief executives, MPs, academics, teachers, and others, has in an open letter published in the Sunday Times called for Michael Gove to abandon the plans.

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