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Teach the Future's Climate Education Bill heads for its second reading

Jamie Agombar
January 26, 2022
Teach the Future, a campaign composed of students from all four nations of the UK and supported by SOS-UK, is calling for the rapid reorientation of the education system around the climate emergency, social justice, and sustainability. Their Climate Education Bill, written by students and led by Scarlett Westbrook, 17, is preparing for its second reading in the House of Commons on the 28th of January. 

The campaign argues that current climate education is inadequate, and students are not being prepared to face the effects of climate change, nor taught to understand the solutions. Teach the Future has recently surveyed 4,690 teachers in England to assess whether the curriculum is fit to equip future generations with the necessary tools to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Just one third (33%) of secondary teachers agreed that climate change is embedded in their school’s curriculum, in their subject, in a meaningful and relevant way. Despite this absence, most teachers (89%) reported that issues regarding climate change were relevant to their subject area.

The Climate Education Bill was introduced to Parliament in November 2021 by Labour’s Nadia Whittome, the UK’s youngest-sitting MP. The Bill seeks to transform the education system to empower teachers and students alike to prepare for the effects of climate change, from the upskilling of existing teachers and lecturers to the development of adequate teaching resources to establishing support with eco-anxiety. 

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, said that: 

“Our education system is failing to prepare young people to face the biggest challenge of their lifetimes. The Climate Education Bill would ensure that learning about the climate and ecological crises is woven through every subject, for every student in primary and secondary school and those on vocational courses. It would also guarantee that teachers have the time and resources to integrate these issues across the curriculum, which the new data reveals they lack.”

In its call for climate change and sustainability to be integrated through the UK curriculum in primary and secondary schools and in vocational training courses, the Bill has garnered a unique range of cross-party support.  Its co-sponsors include Conservative MPs and chairs of the Environmental Audit Committee and of the Education Select Committee, Sir Philip Dunne, and Robert Halfon, as well as chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones. 

Other co-sponsors include Green MP Caroline Lucas, Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, SNP MP Mhairi Black and Jeremy Corbyn MP. Other Labour MPs include  Stella Creasy, Clive Lewis, Zarah Sultana, and Rebecca Long-Bailey. Support for the Bill also extends beyond Parliament, with actress Emma Watson sharing the campaign on Instagram last week. 

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, remarked that: 

"When the climate emergency is the greatest challenge facing us and future generations, it is vital that it has a central role in the curriculum, so I warmly welcome this Bill. We also need to teach young people about what can be done about it, not just replacing the burning of fossil fuels with renewables and energy efficiency but protecting and restoring nature as well.

This would reconnect our children with the natural world and give them some of the knowledge and skills to repair the damage that’s been done to both the climate and the environment.  This is central to the Green New Deal, which is increasingly being supported worldwide."

The new survey, conducted by Teacher Tapp, reveals that 43% of teachers are in favour of more time and capacity to dedicate to developing climate change curriculum content. To help educators to prepare students for the climate and ecological crises, Teach the Future calls for integrated, mandatory, and assessed climate education across all subjects in the school curriculum, rather than being limited to just science and geography. 

The data reveals that 98% of religious studies teachers, 83% of history teachers, and 82% of maths teachers, feel that the climate crisis is relevant to their subject and one-third (39%) would like cross-subject collaboration to help embed climate change within the curriculum. 

Rachel Musson, Former Secondary English teacher, now Founding Director of ThoughtBox Education, stated that: 

“Climate change, the ecological crisis, and the impacts these already have – and will continue to have - on young people’s lives relate to all aspects of learning, and must be integrated into schools in a relevant way. Teachers are wanting to include this sort of learning into their subjects – but currently lack the time and training to embed the knowledge, skills and practices into lessons.”

Previous Teach the Future research released in 2021 found that 70% of teachers felt they hadn’t received adequate training to educate students on climate change. Nonetheless, the Department for Education’s draft Climate and Sustainability Strategy does not commit to amendments to the national curriculum for secondary education.

The Climate Education Bill presents the opportunity to address these concerns from teachers, by ensuring that there is specific time dedicated to developing content related to the climate emergency and ecological crisis and by integrating these issues across the whole of the UK curriculum. 

Charlie Sweetman, aged 15, volunteer, Teach the Future, commented: 

“Education is fundamental in shaping our future. At the moment, that future is one drastically impacted by climate change, and so our learning must be focused on that. The Climate Education Bill will give us the skills, knowledge, and resources we need to build a society to deal with the climate emergency we face.”

Teach the Future is a youth-led campaign by students from all four UK nations and has a broad vision for climate education in the UK. You can support their work here

The full survey results may be found here.