Three Cheers from the DfE

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

If you've seen NAEE's most recent weekly news round up, you'll have read about a synthesis report published by the Royal Meteorological Society [RMetS]. It  confirms what we all knew: that there are many opportunities for climate change education within the current secondary school curriculum in England.

The society asked "Expert Reviewers" from a wide range of subject disciplines (including climate science, economics, communication, and policy) to examine Key Stage 3 and GCSE specifications across all subjects and exam boards.  It says that this highlighted how many concepts already taught in schools are relevant to students’ understanding of climate change and its relevance to their future lives and careers.  Those familiar with NAEE's work know this, of course, as the Association has been ahead of the game in highlighting the opportunities that are available.

This is how the report begins:

The Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) believes that every student should leave school with the basic climate literacy that would enable them to engage with the messages put forward by the media or politicians, or to make informed decisions about their own opportunities and responsibilities. 

It is all too easy and really far too enjoyable to pick holes in such statements, so I'll indulge myself for a minute:

  • I note that 'basic climate literacy' isn't defined – is it about reading and writing the climate, or what?  And how basic is basic?  Did they mean foundational?  And anyway shouldn't it be 'climate change literacy'?  See below.
  • Nor it is clear what 'engaged with the messages' means.  For example, does it mean take note, follow instructions, or is critical scrutiny what is being called for?
  • And what about 'decisions about their own opportunities and responsibilities'? Is that just personal decisions (a bit more recycling and less littering: too much environmental education went down that route), or is social and political engagement being encouraged here?  The text which follows isn't clear how far engagement and involvement should go in seizing these opportunities and exercising responsibilities.  But this is understandable given how difficult it is for schools to navigate the legal and moral obstacles here.

I could go on, for example, by saying that the idea of "classroom ready resources" is deeply dismissive of teacher professionalism, but I won't.

This is the end summary:

As a result of this review, the RMetS is calling on subject associations, exam boards and all those involved in curriculum development and implementation to support teachers to make rapid use of some of these findings, through the development of teacher training and other support materials, high quality sample schemes of work, data sets, sample exam questions etc.

In the end, it's just underwhelming.

Hundreds of organisations do this already, all ploughing their furrows some of which are really innovative; others more quotidian.  And it's not new;  NAEE, for example, has been doing something very similar for 50 years.  Maybe RMetS thinks that (forgive me) the climate is now right for a final push so that teachers and schools everywhere should just get on with it.  If it does think this, it's not clear why.  If you want more details, RMetS has produced reports for the opportunities for climate change teaching linked to the specifications from each exam board and to the KS3 National Curriculum. For access to these, we need to contact .  I hope a lot of people do.

The boldest part of the report says this:

 The RMetS is not advocating for curriculum reform, a complicated and time-consuming process that may not achieve its stated aims. We strongly believe that significant improvements can be made on a much shorter timeframe by working with the current curriculum and exam specifications. 

I think I can hear the faint echo of the loud hussars that must have come out of the DfE when they read this as this is exactly what its curriculum team has been saying since 2010.  Maybe, from the Labour party as well as its election preparations show little enthusiasm for the sort of change being advocated by youth-led organisations, and many an NGO – in fact most of those that have an interest in environmental / sustainability / etc education.

I said it was bold, and I have sympathy with the view that the curriculum currently offers a lot of opportunities for schools to explore these existential issues if they are so minded.  In many respects they already do.  Andy Stables (of blessed memory) drew a distinction between foundational, cultural and critical literacy.[*]  In relation to climate, schools are already very good at the foundational aspects: what is climate, how is it determined, how does it differs from weather, etc.  This has been taught for years by geography teachers.  They do it well.

But schools do not do critical climate literacy well, and this, whether they know it or not, is what young people and NGOs are calling for; that is, an exploration of the social, economic and environmental implications of climate change, and what we might do about it.  This is more difficult, and is not mandated by the curriculum and the DfE hates the idea of it because it sees it as opening the school door to agitators and worse.  I wonder how much RMetS knows about all this.


*Andrew Stables (1998) Environmental Literacy: functional, cultural, critical. The case of the SCAA guidelines. Environmental Education Research 4(2) 155-164

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • Firstly, thank you for picking up on our report, and I’ve now tightened our statement about curriculum reform. The whole point is that we can achieve very rapid improvements in what is being taught through looking at the opportunities in the current curriculum, without waiting for curriculum reform. It’s not an ‘either/ or’ situation. In fact, it could be a ‘now’ (our recommendations), ‘soon’ (small changes to specifications such as those identified by the Track Changes report) and ‘later’ (full curriculum reform) approach.
    Whatever other organisations may have been doing in the past, the opportunities in the current specifications are not yet being taken and there is a real appetite for doing so – the evidence was missing, and we have now provided it to a wide range of stakeholders who needed it.
    We are happy closer to work closer with the NAEE or any other organisation to improve the climate literacy of our school leavers.