Signs of interest from the education unions

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Here's a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Education (England) by four education unions (NEU  NASUWT  UCU  UNISON) the other day.  Two of the unions represent teachers in English schools:

Dear Mr Zahawi

Quality Climate Education

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report makes plain, we need a code red response to a code red emergency, and that applies to the education sector too.

We believe that, as Chair of COP26 it is incumbent on the UK to lead by example, and as general secretaries of education unions we are calling for the UK Government to work up to the vision outlined by Education International in its Manifesto for climate education, so that Climate Change Education is fully embedded in our system.

As you can see from the Report Card that Education International has just produced, based on its analysis of 73 updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) presented for the COP, no country is doing enough to meet the criteria and the UK comes in 42nd out of 73. We are sure that you agree that that is a poor result in both respects. We believe that the Report provides an agenda to inform overall Government thinking between now and the next COP, to make sure that education is firmly integrated into the plans of all Government departments; and with the education profession fully involved in the development of those plans.

We are pleased that the DFE Sustainability Unit will be announcing its strategy going forward on November 5th, in the middle of the COP, and the Secretary of State will be taking part in an Education Ministers round table alongside UNESCO, the Italian Education Ministry and Teach the Future. This is an opportunity to take world changing steps if the message is clear enough.

We believe that there are four key announcements that should be made before the COP or at it by the UK government, without which any other initiative, however good in itself, will be seen as window dressing for a lack of strategic urgency.

  • A comprehensive review of the entire curriculum, so that it is preparing and mobilising our whole society for a sustainable future. The “asks” from Teach the Future (see below) summarise how this could be done.
  • As an interim measure, the government should support Jim Knight’s Private Members Bill, restoring sustainability as a pillar of the curriculum.
  • A comprehensive plan to decarbonise the entire school estate by 2030, as part of an overdue refurbishment and repair programme.
  • A detailed policy on green travel for students, staff, and parents should be developed.

We look forward to hearing from you in response to these points and would like to explore them with you before the COP, either in correspondence or in a meeting.

Yours sincerely

Appendix: We believe that the following actions would make an important contribution to addressing the concerns set out in this letter.

  • Establishment of a practitioner-led review group for integrating sustainability into the curriculum
  • Amending the teacher training standards to include learning about the climate emergency, ecological crisis and climate justice
  • Creation of a new professional qualification for teachers on climate
  • Creation of comprehensive learning programme for existing teachers and lecturers, and other key educational institution staff, on the science of the climate emergency and ecological crisis, the systems changes required to abate them
  • A national Climate Education Information Institute to disseminate scientific information to educators about climate change, its effects and measures of prevention. This will include teaching resources as well as continuous professional development materials so schools can maintain up to date knowledge on the issues;
  • A national programme of vocational training through the development of national centres of excellence to promote the reskilling of the workforce in line with the green skills requirements of industrial strategy;
  • A national programme for research into the impact and outcomes of sustainability learning in terms of learning outcomes, attainment, resilience and wellbeing;
  • A national programme of outdoor education and connection to nature linked to learning about the climate emergency and ecological crisis;
  • An English climate emergency youth voice grant fund, so that youth voice climate boards can be established in all education providers.
  • Establishment of a Youth Climate Endowment Fund to fund youth-led climate and environmental social action enabling students in every educational institution to engage their peers, teachers and parents in practical, local action to abate the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
  • Amending the Education Act to impose a new duty on schools to ensure they designate a senior member of staff as a climate co-ordinator, responsible for implementing their new duties, and create a general duty on the Office for Students with regard to teaching and learning about the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
  • New funding secured to put educational buildings to the front of the queue to be retrofitted to net-zero standards through the national infrastructure plan, ensuring all new state-funded educational buildings are net-zero from 2022; all existing state-funded educational buildings retrofitted to net-zero by 2030.
This shopping list owes a lot to the work of Teach the Future over the past couple of years.  As is usually the case with such submissions, there is a failure to acknowledge two aspects of current practice: [i] that the national curriculum already contains much relating to both climate and the wider environmental crisis, and that this could be built on rather than having to be completely reinvented – see the "brilliant" analysis done by NAEE on this; and [ii] some schools already go well beyond what the curriculum currently mandates showing what is possible within the current arrangements and resources, no matter how inadequate these might be.  Together, these might suggest that one problem with the provision of climate change education in schools is low levels of motivation and application by school leaders and governors, and teachers.*
If there is any merit in this argument, it is easy to understand why education unions find it hard to accept.
NB * This was a point made (albeit implicitly) by the new Minister of State for School Standards in a Westminster Hall debate last week.

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