Jan 6, 2022
The 4th International Day of Education falls on the 24 January 2022. This year the UN have stated the theme is “Changing Course, Transforming Education”. Following COP26 and other recent developments, Meryl Batchelder considers some of the changes in environmental education in England which are likely to transform school life over the next few years.
Changing Course, Transforming Education
For any advocates of environmental education in England this could indeed be a Happy New Year. At COP26 last November the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, finally announced that all children will be taught about the importance of conserving and protecting our planet with teachers supported to deliver world-leading climate change education. This is the biggest change in environmental education in England since Michael Gove removed almost all references to sustainability and climate change from the National Curriculum in 2013. At this point, it is worth mentioning that each devolved UK nation has separate curricula; teachers in Scotland for example have been incorporating sustainability into their Curriculum for Excellence since 2016.
Lifelong learning opportunities
Rather than be bitter about a lost decade in England, let us consider the future. The aim of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) by 2030 is to ensure inclusive, equitable and quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Specifically, to encourage action and prepare young people for the future, Target 4.7 of SDG4 states that we must “ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”.
The lives of children today are going to be shaped by climate change, so we really need to give them relevant ‘lifelong learning opportunities’. Global warming is likely to rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate. Even to limit global heating to below 2°C, CO2 emissions need to decline by 25% by 2030 and by 100% by 2075. Whichever way you look at it, over the coming decades our way of life is going to change dramatically. We must view education as an opportunity to make urgent changes both at the individual level and across society to encourage people to live more sustainably as the climate clock is ticking and the alarm bells are already ringing.
Proposals from the Department of Education
The Department of Education’s vision announced at COP26 is that the United Kingdom will be the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. "Sustainability & Climate Change: A draft strategy for the education & children’s services systems” was produced by the Department’s new Sustainability and Climate Change Unit in consultation with other stakeholders including teacher unions and youth associations. The final version should be released in April 2022. Kit Rackley, a geographer and science communicator, has produced a useful review of the strategy and David Dixon, an education consultant, has described what the changes could mean for schools in a TES article. In brief, the strategy is based around five ‘Action Areas’:
· Climate Education: to ensure young people have a better understanding of the climate and a greater appreciation of, and contact with, nature. It does not appear the Department intends to change the curriculum but aims for a more consistent approach in every school.
· Green Skills and Careers: to prepare the rapid expansion in the area of "green jobs" and teaching the skills of the future, to develop research and drive innovation to develop solutions and nurture future leaders. Schools at all levels will also be expected to place more emphasis on STEM and engage in the proposed ‘Climate Leaders Award’ scheme and ‘National Education Nature Park’.
· The Education Estate: to move schools towards a zero-carbon state, by implementing retrofits (e.g., LED lighting or insulation) and increasing biodiversity around the school buildings.
· Operations & Supply Chains: to manage procurement and the production and disposal of waste to reduce the carbon footprints of schools.
· Data: to assess how well the education sector responds to the climate crisis and the movement towards zero carbon by flagging case studies of good practice and evaluating pilot projects.
Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill
The Department of Education’s strategy is a step in the right direction, but we really need changes in legislation to ensure that all pupils have a solid environmental education within the curriculum. The Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords in May 2021. It is a private member’s bill sponsored by Lord Knight of Weymouth. The bill would amend the Education Act 2002 so that the national curriculum includes education on the environment and sustainable citizenship. A general provision would apply throughout key stages 1–4. Explaining the rationale for the proposed measure, Lord Knight said “In order for Britain to meet its commitments to reduce our carbon consumption, we need significant behaviour change by the general public. Schools are the best place to start this work because young people and their teachers are especially motivated to want to take action to safeguard their futures. They are then significant influencers on their parents and grandparents.”
The Bill would amend section 78 of the 2002 Act to include a general provision for education on the environment and sustainable citizenship. It would require maintained schools and nursery schools to follow a curriculum that “instills an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations”. The Bill is due its 3rd reading in the House of Lords in 2022 before going on to the House of Commons.
The Climate Emergency Education Bill
In parallel with the Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill, the youth-led organisation Teach the Future are pushing for an English Climate Emergency Education Bill which is the first education bill written by students. If passed into legislation, it would require all students to learn about the climate and ecological emergency regardless of the subjects they choose and that sustainability should be treated as a key principle in education (like Equality), woven as a golden thread throughout all subject areas and not limited to the subject silos of geography or science. Nadia Whittome MP introduced the 10 minute rule bill in the House of Commons in November 2021 and it is due to have its second reading in 2022.
The Climate Emergency Education Bill calls for:
· All education providers to teach the truth about the climate and ecological emergency;
· Teachers and lecturers to be retrained to do so;
· Help for educators in supporting pupils suffering from eco-anxiety;
· Increased outdoor education for students;
· Funding for youth-led climate and environmental social action and youth voice;
· Creation of more green vocational training;
· Retrofitting of all educational buildings to net-zero emissions by 2030.
Schools as Community Hubs
Away from Parliament, the Manifesto from the BERA-funded research commission on environmental sustainability calls for sustainability to become a key feature of the curriculum, inspections and other accountability systems in order to enable schools to make environmentally friendly choices. The manifesto is the culmination of the commission’s work which involved online workshops with more than 200 young people, teachers and teacher educators. The co-creators, Dr Lynda Dunlop and Dr Elizabeth Rushton, believe education has a key role to play in creating long-term responses to the social and environmental consequences of the climate crisis. They focus on four areas:
· Classroom; covering curricular changes, extra-curricular opportunities, sustainability focused CPD and encouraging student action.
· School; including identifying ways to feature sustainability in school-level decision making bodies and policies from food to paper, tracking and rewarding sustainability actions, nurturing the link between the quality of the school environment and mental and physical health and placing student voice at the core of school sustainability action.
· Community; including valuing schools as local hubs for sustainability where people from across the community can take part in and lead education and activities, and build networks and creating no-cost, external, accredited awards for students and teachers which have an environmental sustainability focus.
· Policy; including identifying ways that sustainability can feature in existing accountability regimes and policies and creating educational policies which focus on valuing collective, equitable action and positive problem solving.
UNESCO’s recent global Futures of Education report on transforming the future states we require “an urgent rebalancing or our relationships with each other, with nature as well as with technology that permeates our lives, bearing breakthrough opportunities while raising serious concerns for equity, inclusion and democratic participation”. They hope this year’s International Day of Education will generate debate around how to strengthen education as a public endeavour and common good, how to steer the digital transformation, support teachers, safeguard the planet and unlock the potential in every person to contribute to collective well-being and our shared home. The Learning Planet Festival, which runs from the 22 to 29th January, celebrates learning in all contexts and share innovations that fulfil the potential of every learner, no matter what their circumstances. The Festival unites a diverse community of passionate learners of all ages and countries. Dream lessons, submitted by educators around the world, will be showcased during the Festival.
A new course to reconnect young people to nature
The proposed OCR GCSE in Natural History also looks like a real step in the right direction. Mary Coldwell, environmentalist and author involved in the proposal, stated “A GCSE in Natural History would reconnect our young people with the natural world around them. Not just because it’s fascinating, not just because it’s got benefits for mental health, but because we’ll need these young people to create a world we can all live in, a vibrant and healthy planet.” Department of Education have been sitting on the OCR GCSE proposal since autumn 2020, apparently they have been a little too busy to process the application.
Be the Change
Despite the number of potential reforms in the pipeline, the real concern is the time it can take to make formal changes to our education system. Every day, every week and every year of delay in which we are not providing our children with an education that truly prepares them for the future is a moment lost.
Although the education sector is still rolling with the punches of the Covid-19 pandemic, maybe 2022 is the time teachers should independently start to change course and transform education in their own classrooms to, quoting SDG Target 4.7, “ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” whilst we impatiently wait for the Department of Education to implement any formal or legislative changes over the next few years.
To get a head start:
· Paul Turner, an environmental educational consultant, has produced a report on the current landscape of environmental education in England and gives some really useful links and ideas on how schools can move forward. Paul also works with the Ministry of Eco-Education, a free cross-curricular approach to place sustainability at the heart of education.