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Nearly three quarters of teachers lack training on climate change

Rachel Drayson
March 16, 2021

The 'Teaching the Future' research has also found (2):

  • 92% of teachers are concerned about climate change
  • 41% say climate change is rarely or never mentioned in their schools
  • Only 17% say climate change is mentioned in core subjects other than science and geography
  • Just 5% of teachers say climate change is integral to many different aspects of the curriculum and teaching in their school

The research shows that current teaching on climate change is generally limited to science and geography, or sometimes not present at all.  Young people leading the Teach the Future campaign say that this isn’t good enough and that climate change teaching should be across the whole curriculum.

This follows research in 2019 that discovered only 4% of English school students feel they know a lot about climate change. As the national curriculum has not changed since then, this indicates significant inadequacies in the way climate change is currently being taught.

Dr Meryl Batchelder, a Science Teacher at  Corbridge Middle School in Northumberland with a PhD in Environmental Geochemistry, said:

"It is critical that climate change is a common thread through the curriculum. Not just in science and geography but in Food Science, RE, Maths, English and Art. Therefore, climate education for teachers is essential, so they have the confidence to broach the subject accurately, avoid the pitfalls and support their students sensitively."

The research also suggests that climate change is taught in a limited way. When asked how they could frame climate change to interest their pupils, the majority (65%) of teachers say they could do this in terms of animals, nature and wildlife, but just 25% say they think they could cover the issue through careers and green jobs.

Earlier this month, Meg Baker, Director of Education at Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK), told the Environmental Audit Committee's Green Jobs Inquiry that improved education on climate change could help grow low carbon industries in the UK, as students could be equipped to make their future workplaces more sustainable.

Responding to the research, the Teach the Future campaign  highlighted the campaign recommendion that to prepare our country for climate change, all students should be taught about its impacts and how they can be addressed.

Dorothy Joddrell, a student campaigner at Teach the Future, said:

“The purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future - at the moment it’s failing to do so. Our lives will be significantly affected by climate change, and our education should therefore prepare us to adapt to the climate crisis, empower us to contribute to its solutions and enable us to achieve climate justice.”

“To ensure all students can benefit from climate education, the government needs to make it a key part of the whole curriculum, not brush most of it aside to an optional subject.”

Maria Hale, a geography teacher at Ivybridge Community College in Devon, said:

"This is the world they are growing up in, and they will inherit the challenges that come with that world. Being educated early on the issues and the solutions gives them a better understanding of the reality of those issues, but also empowers them to get involved with current solutions."

A secondary school Physical Education teacher who wants to remain anonymous, said:

"We all need to understand the importance that climate change has within our society, and should be comfortable speaking about the climate and the importance of certain choices and actions. I believe that teachers of any subject should receive training [on climate change] to help them guide and inform as well as promote students to take more ownership."

(1)  Source: Teacher Tapp, February 2021, sample of 7,682 UK teachers, weighted to reflect the national population of teachers in England.
More information on weighting.

(2) Source: Opinium, Oct - Nov 2020, sample of 503 UK teachers. Sample is representative of UK teachers, with a good split of Key Stages, school types and regions represented.