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Young people being let down by lack of effective education on climate change

Education unions and campaign groups call on government to update the curriculum

YOUNG people are being let down by a lack of effective education on climate change in the national curriculum, unions and campaign groups warned today.

In a joint letter to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the coalition, which includes the National Education Union, Unison and GMB, said teaching must “reflect the importance of sustainability and the effects of climate change.”

The letter, also signed by the University & College Union, NASUWT, NAHT, NUS, SOS-UK, the Edge and ThoughtBox, stressed that the government’s proposed changes do not go far enough and overlook key issues.

At the UN’s Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow last autumn, the Department for Education committed to publishing a final climate change strategy by April.

A draft text published in November featured plans for a model science curriculum, leader awards for young people and proposals to increase biodiversity in school grounds.

But in today’s letter the groups argue that the language about resource and finance is vague, while certain key targets are far less ambitious than required.

They also criticise current climate teaching as being too “confined to discrete subject areas rather than embedded holistically. 

Spreading green education throughout the whole curriculum alongside a push to tackle gender disparity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects is needed, the coalition says. 

Setting a target to retrofit and decarbonise the national school estate by 2030 must be another priority, the groups say, as should the development of a detailed green travel policy for students, staff and parents.

They wrote: “The commitment to sustainability and the net-zero transition requires deep change in every aspect of our lives, and world-leading education for sustainable livelihoods requires curriculum and pedagogical reform.

“Children and young people need to be able to make meaningful connections between all the disciplines and then to apply them in context in order to solve sustainability problems.

“They need to be able to develop their leadership, collaboration and creativity skills in the process.

“The purpose of climate education must be to bring about change in our world and our behaviour.

“Young people should be empowered to act on what they learn. The curriculum must enable this, and recognise the capacity of young people to act, innovate, and bring about change.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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