Schools white paper needs to be greener

schools white paper

The UK government has this week unveiled its new schools white paper, the first for six years. It talks of “real action to level up education”. Levelling-up is the current government’s ‘big idea’, of course. There is lots about multi-academy trusts, support for SEND children, teacher training and development, and targets for English and maths. And there is yet another ride round the behaviour block. However, though curriculum design is mentioned briefly, there is nothing on wider curriculum reform. Indeed, the white paper explicitly rules out changes to the national curriculum for the remainder of this parliament. And despite promises made at COP26 in November 2021 about world-leading this and world-beating that, the white paper says nothing about putting climate change at the heart of education.

Government promises made at COP26

In November 2021 the UK education secretary talked about empowering young people to take action on the environment. In a speech at COP26 to launch a draft sustainability and climate change strategy document, Nadhim Zahawi set out his “vision for all children to be taught about the importance of conserving and protecting our planet”. He highlighted the following plans:

  • A “world-leading climate change education through a model science curriculum” in place by 2023
  • A virtual National Education Nature Park to encourage educational establishments to increase biodiversity in their grounds
  • A new Climate Leaders Award, similar to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, to recognise work to improve the environment

Move forward four months and the white paper, Opportunity for all: Strong schools with great teachers for your child talks of “a new arms-length curriculum body working with teachers across the country to co-create free, optional, adaptable digital curriculum resources to deliver a rigorous, high-quality curriculum.” However, it does not appear to refer directly to any of the promises noted above, even though the education secretary promised publication of the final sustainability and climate change strategy in April 2022. It seems odd that the strategy doesn’t even get a mention.

Embedding sustainability and climate change learning across the curriculum

We await, then, the final version of the strategy. Perhaps it will indeed appear, as promised, in the next few weeks. But the chances are that science, geography and citizenship programmes of study will continue to do the heavy lifting. There are no obvious signs that the government is considering embedding sustainability and climate change education across the curriculum.

The youth-led pressure group Teach the Future responded to the draft sustainability and climate change strategy by calling for “a commitment to integrating climate and ecology into non-STEM subjects at secondary level and plans for doing this in further or higher education.” 

Teach the Future is centred around the need for a broad climate education that is woven through all subject areas in an interdisciplinary way. It is dangerous for young people to think climate change is just the concern of geographers and scientists.

from the Teach the Future website

What Life-Based Learning aims to do

Life-Based Learning (LBL) focuses mainly on learning in pre-teenage years. Nevertheless, the issue identified by Teach the Future applies just as much at primary level as it does at secondary level and beyond. We blogged at the time that the government’s proposals were a step forward, but that “it is time for actions not words, outcomes not promises”.

Despite the government’s efforts to pick up on some modern-world challenges through PSHE and/or citizenship, the focus of the national curriculum is, frankly, too narrow – the core subjects and future employment needs. Its priority is not the urgent personal, social and environmental challenges facing humankind. We need to re-examine our list of key education priorities and how we achieve them.

An integrated approach moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next. Instead, LBL reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes. Subject content is respected – all of it – but it is delivered through nine life themes that directly address the challenges we face. In addition, LBL mobilises the entire resources of the school and the community to focus on life’s key priorities and challenges.

One of those is the whole area of nature, the environment, climate and sustainability. Children and young people need to be learning about the urgent problems that confront us now, about actions that we can all take to help alleviate those problems, and about the need to live sustainably to secure the long-term survival of the Earth’s resources on which humankind depends.

More About Green Education

Image at the head of this article by Barbara Grzebulska from Pixabay.

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