Ann Finlayson, Executive Chair SEEd

I was thinking after the launch at the Natural History Museum for DfE’s Strategy for Sustainability and Climate Change that many, many people have views about this strategy. Some are views and some are disappointments – others verge on anxiety linked to Climate Change.

I have also noted the large number of blogs and think/opinion pieces being written and some of these we have collated for you. Many come from a position of long-term expertise and trying to enable young people to have access to sustainability or climate change education. Some are based on evidence and some are based on a philosophical approach or are based on what we know about transformative pedagogies. Some are very late to the game having been working on other agendas in education and realising this sustainability train is not just in the station but the young people are on board and in fact it is just leaving.

After 25 years of solid work on ESD, I had a momentary fit of pique about these late comers – if I am honest – but it was seconds! Now I am thrilled because so many people are interested and working out how to join in.

I am also thrilled that the DfE staff are doing so much stakeholder work – with young people, universities the sector who have been developing and delivering this agenda since the early 1990’s, and some teachers/schools and people who service schools. This is why they call it a whole systems approach. However, a ‘soft’ systems approach does require thinking about the purpose of education and the mission of your school and that has yet to be tackled. So, I am pleased that the DfE is now talking about whole settings approaches but we have still to make this statutory to get the whole system change that is required. This is how they have been consulting:

  • Process began last March with ESD/CC education experts panel. Produced draft ideas by August
  • Reworked for COP 26 – some ideas some people feel have been lost
  • Launch at COP26 as a Draft for consultation
  •  5 Working Groups were invited for a week in December to respond to the Strategy, plus a Youth Panel and the User Group.
  • The Working Groups (matched to the 5 Action Areas – not Nature Education Park, plus a Data group) and a Youth Panel and User Group – will continue and meet quarterly and help the Strategy to develop
  • Soft launch at the Natural History Museum 21st April 2022

The disappointments in the DfE seem to fall into:

  • a strategy that is quite functional, (times we are in!)
  • maybe does not seem to include a favoured approach or theme
  • the funding for this seems quite small but it may increase over time, (needs time to convince Treasury)
  • of course not everyone feels included yet (always a problem)
  • Professor Bill Scott was disappointed not everyone had read the strategy (good point).
  • I myself feel the systems approach needs further work as does the theory of change embedded in the diagram below. What do you think?

So below I have pulled out a quick overview (do read the whole strategy though!):

VISION: The United Kingdom is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change

Download Strategy here:

Education Secretary puts Climate Change at the Heart of Education

The key messages are:

  • Guiding Principles: Partnership and Collaboration, evidence and insight, Leadership and support 

“Sector representatives have called on the Department to provide greater leadership in sustainability. We will intervene where we add value (for example through sector-wide data gathering, reporting, funding and guidance), but wherever possible will facilitate autonomy and encourage innovation” 

The strategy is:

  • For DfE and its arms length bodies from early years, social care up to HE
  • Focus is on environmental sustainability
  • There are short, medium and long term actions – vision up to 2030 and where they can make the most impact
  • 4 strategic aims plus data – Excellence in education and skills for a changing world, Net Zero, Resilience to Climate Change, better environment for future generations
  • A whole system approach – sharing best practice, evidence and resources
  • Want innovative and transformative ideas
  • Are joining up with other work e.g. ‘Access to the Outdoors’ commission, Defra Environment Bill, Dasgupta Review of Economics of Biodiversity, Gov’s UK Net Zero Strategy.

Some initiatives are designed to drive the strategy and be world leading:

  • Increasing opportunities for climate education and access to nature
  • Driving opportunities to increase biodiversity and climate resilience e.g. National Education Park (2 cities the size of Birmingham!), Climate Leaders Award
  • Coordinating and leading a whole setting approach to climate change and sustainability – food, waste, circular economy and flooding focus (a sustainability lead in each school, water meters, smart meters with data back to DfE to help drive effective change, Green Skills Careers advice – linked to STEM)

Nature Park video on Twitter – with Professor Dasgupta: Watch the Video

Here is an example of the aims and goals for climate education as an example:

From 2022:

  • We will include climate change and sustainability in science teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure all young people receive high-quality teaching on the scientific facts about climate change and environmental degradation.
  • When DfE tenders new continuing professional development (CPD), we will include content on sustainability, where it is relevant to the subject area.
  • Through pilots delivered by the National Education Nature Park, we will test an approach for sharing university climate expertise and learning opportunities with colleges, schools and nurseries.
  • Share best practice demonstrating how sustainability and climate change has been incorporated into teaching (and how it has enriched the broader curriculum, where it is relevant) in early years settings, schools, colleges and universities, so teachers and leaders can consider how best to integrate within their own settings.
  • Consider where further steps could be taken to support the teaching of sustainability in relevant subjects, for example, the circular economy in design and technology, sustainable chemistry in the sciences, and through the learning initiatives being taken forward in the Government Food Strategy.
  • Continue to work with higher education to identify opportunities to work together to further enhance best practice in teacher training and the teaching of sustainability within university courses.
  • Promote and share relevant teaching resources from other government departments, including DEFRA, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Environment Agency.

By 2023:

  • Develop a Primary Science Model Curriculum, to include an emphasis on nature to ensure all children understand the world around them.
  • The development of an occupational standard for further education (FE) teaching which explicitly requires all new teachers to integrate sustainability into their teaching, through modelling sustainable practices and promoting sustainable development principles in relation to their subject specialism.
  • Support the Climate Education Action Plan Group8 in setting up an independent expert body (including members such as the Royal Meteorological Society, STEM Learning, Association of Science Teaching) for the validation and creation of climate education resources that support the delivery of the national curriculum.
  • The National Education Nature Park online hub will provide free access to high-quality curriculum resources, so that teachers in all settings and subjects can confidently choose those that will support the teaching of sustainability and climate change.
  • This will initially work in tandem while we build on the success of Oak National Academy’s work in the pandemic and establish a new arms-length national curriculum body. The national curriculum body will work with thousands of teachers to co-design, create and continually improve packages of optional, free, adaptable digital curriculum resources and video lessons that are effectively sequenced to help teachers deliver an evidence-based, high-quality curriculum.
  • Provide the opportunity for all staff (teaching, leadership and support) to build their understanding of climate change and sustainability by receiving shared Carbon Literacy Training through their sustainability leads within their setting (more information about sustainability leadership is set out in the Operations and Supply Chain Action Area).

I find the following table most useful to remember the shape of the strategy:

So how do you join in? As this is intended to be an evolving strategy up to 2030, and evidence based hopefully you can of course just write in. You could discover who is on various stakeholder groups and relay your thoughts, ideas etc to them to see if they will take them forward. As a membership organisation SEEd is very open to this – so please do read the strategy and send us your thoughts especially if you have evidence of how to build a resilience to climate change! You could join Our Shared World where we discuss this and other major global issues, share ideas and grow our expertise. SEEd are CoChairs of OSW so again we could represent your thoughts.

Finally, this is all sitting within a global context of education discussions: UNESCO have a roadmap to 2030; the UN have a summit on Education; COP 27 will have education in it again. Will this drive the type of change we need to prepare our young people for a future we have only an inkling of and will be experienced in many different ways around the world? I’d like to say “let’s wait and see” but I feel the time for waiting is over.