This is the text of a letter that the (now ex-) Secretary of State for Education – Gavin Williamson – sent to Teach the Future's campaign co-ordinator, Tess Corcoran:
7 September 2021
Thank you for your letter of 21 July, regarding climate change education and the Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill.
I am sorry not to have previously had the opportunity to meet with you, and for the postponement of the planned meeting with your colleagues. I would like to propose a roundtable meeting with Teach the Future and other climate youth organisations on 13 September. My office will be in touch with further details in the coming days.
In response to the points you raise in your letter, I would like to reassure you that we are indeed serious about climate education, and I recognise the role of my department in preparing young people for a changing world.
While my department does not support the Bill proposed by Lord Knight of Weymouth, we do agree with the sentiment, as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, Baroness Berridge, stated in her speech in response to the reading of the Bill in the House of Lords.
We feel that a curriculum, based on knowledge, that covers climate change in science and geography lessons will best equip pupils with a thorough understanding of the issues. Pupils will then be able to apply this knowledge, contextually, when in the workforce and as part of their wider lives. Many schools have excellent approaches to teaching climate change within these subjects, and teachers can access continuing professional development (CPD) as part of the nationwide network of Science Learning Partnerships. We are investigating how this best practice might be shared.
I welcome the interest in climate education at the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP). As part of the Global Education Summit, I recently convened a meeting with international education ministers to discuss our shared priorities and challenges with regard to climate change and education, and the resilience of the education sector. I look forward to leading and participating in further conversations in the preparation of, and at, COP26.
I understand that you are in close contact with officials in my department concerning an event that would bring together education and environment ministers at COP26 and I look forward to hearing more about those plans as they progress.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and engagement with the Sustainability and Climate Change Unit within the department. A key aim of the sustainability and climate change strategy currently under development is ‘excellence in education and skills for a changing world’. Your views on how we best prepare young people for a changing world and ensure they are equipped with the right knowledge, understanding and skills, will be most welcome.
Thank you for writing on this important matter.
The positive tone of this is striking and is quite a contrast with DfE actions over many years. I hear that this positivity this came through in the meeting that Williamson had with the Teach the Future team a couple of days before he was sacked. Now that the S of S has gone the way of all politicians (here today and gone already), I wonder what the new one will have to say about all this – especially now that Nick Gibb has also gone.
With COP26 coming up, the temptation to say something positive instead of just warm words will be surely significant. With that in mind, I also hear that there has been considerable recent collaboration between Department officials and the Teach the Future team over what will be happening at the COP. In particular, there is the Education Ministers' summit on November 5th. This, which is an innovation, is a joint UK / Italy / Unesco affair where, I hear (with a heavy heart) that pledges will be brought and exchanged.
We shall need more than pledges.