NEU on the DfE's draft strategy

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

These are the points made about curriculum in the National Education Union's response to the DfE's draft strategy which says:

Within schools, the science, geography and citizenship programmes in the National Curriculum at both primary (KS1-2) and secondary (KS3-4) cover key content which supports knowledge and understanding of sustainability and climate change. We introduced an Environmental Science A Level in 2017.

NEU write:

  1. This consigns climate to specific subjects, rather than weaving it through all subjects in the curriculum, which is our recommended approach. The current recommendation is better than having climate as an optional subject (which many students wouldn’t take), and incorporating it in science, a core subject, means all students will receive some climate education.
  2. The overall problem, however, is that climate breakdown is framed as an issue that can be siloed and/or added to an otherwise unchanged curriculum. This runs in parallel with the approach to skills - which is all about generating a green sector of the economy - seen as something distinct and separate from the rest of it - rather than having to rethink and retool the whole of society. The same applies to training. It should not be an add-on for those interested, rather it should be integrated into the core of everything we do.
  3. The fact that education will not be required to present climate change denial to provide balance is positive. It recognises that climate change denial is not a legitimate view to teach. We fully agree.
  4. Nevertheless, this implies that it may be considered "unbalanced" to discuss the values of society, and why we have our priorities so wrong. As we will be going through a very rapid transition, we will need the widest and most open discussion about how we do it - including in schools and colleges. There should be no perceived threat hanging over legitimate debate.  With this approach, confronted with a new Greta Thunberg in our classrooms, we appear to be being advised to try to discourage her.
  5. Knowledge and skills around climate change should not be the only things developed, but also values and attitudes leading to actions for positive change. It would appear that, under this draft strategy, this would count this as being 'political' and the product of biased teaching. There is also nothing mentioned about the promotion of critical thinking.
  6. Restricting climate education to science, geography and citizenship might preclude discussion about the way in which the climate emergency is impacting the Global South, and the historical actions of the Global North and industrial capitalism which have led to this.
  7. With regards to the resource, training and support to be provided to teachers, it is not clear if this is additional to existing training, or whether it is optional - ‘all teachers and school leaders will have free access to a new National Professional Qualification (NPQ) to prepare them for the next stage of their career.’ This could have negative implications for teacher workload unless incorporated into existing training arrangements. Additionally, the commitment to ‘review subject-specific training and support teachers of all levels, so they are equipped to deliver a knowledge-rich curriculum…” is unclear in terms of process and content.

Surely [1] and [2] ought to be uncontentious, but they are not it seems.

[3] is right.

As to [4], [5] and [6], these crop up when schools help students to think about [i] what we are currently doing about the climate emergency, and [ii] what we might do as well or differently.  As NAEE points out, these "bring a new level of difficulty, because they are both inherently political, and values are in play.  Although [i] might be thought of as factual, it will be impossible to focus sensibly on it without evaluating what is being done (and hence not done).  Exploring this carries risk for a school but it’s what groups of young people say they want. The national curriculum is silent on it."

There is going to be a big fight about all this.  The DfE is clearly scared witless about being seen to nudge schools into collaborating with what many might see as extremist groups and others as legitimate voices in the debate about all our futures.  It will be interesting to say the least.

As for [7], this seems like a standard NEU clause inserted into all curriculum responses.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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