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Education unions call for urgent action to ensure climate change education becomes fully embedded in ​the system

Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi help plant bulbs in a garden at the Westbury-on-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol
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.@NASUWT, @NEUnion, @UCU and @Unisontheunion have written to @NadhimZahawi, Secretary of State for Education urging him to take action to ensure climate change education becomes fully embedded in ​the system. 

As chair of COP 26 it is essential for the UK to lead by example to bring about the changes needed for a more sustainable future, the education unions urge.  

The dire impact of climate change requires an emergency response, including from the education sector, because young people have most to lose from the current lack of direction, say the four unions.  

They say there is concern the government has yet to grasp the gravity of the situation and are calling for important measures to be embedded in the education system.

These are:

  • A comprehensive review of the entire curriculum, so that it is preparing and mobilising our whole society for a sustainable future.  
  • As an interim measure, the government should support Jim Knight’s Private Member​’s Bill, restoring sustainability as a pillar of the curriculum.  
  • A comprehensive plan to decarbonise the entire education 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.  

Dr Patrick Roach 100x100Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“Education has a critical contribution to make in educating for climate justice and helping to secure a more sustainable world for future generations. The UK Government needs to step up to ensure teachers have the resources and tools to provide access to curriculum entitlements that give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their understanding of environmental issues and to be responsible citizens. We also need to see much more action from the Government to deliver substantial improvements to the energy efficiency of existing school buildings which have suffered from significant under-investment over decades.”

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is the next generation that will bear the brunt of any inaction on climate change.

“We all need to play a part in ensuring a sustainable future for our young people. Schools and colleges can play their part and the UK Government needs to ensure that quality climate change education is embedded across the curriculum, as well as focusing on decarbonising the education estate by 2031.”

Jo Grady 100x100Jo Grady, General Secretary of UCU, said:

“The UK government is not taking the urgent action necessary to deal with the climate emergency. UCU, alongside our sister unions, is calling on the Secretary of State for Education to make sure that education for sustainable development is embedded into the work of schools, colleges and universities to empower students to build a fairer, greener future.

“This must include a comprehensive plan for decarbonisation of the education estate and urgent action on affordable green public transport for students and staff.”

Jon Richards Unison 100x100Jon Richards, Assistant General Secretary of UNISON, said:

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“Climate action has to be built into every part of our lives and that includes education.  Not only is it vital young people learn about a greener tomorrow but the government must ensure schools are able to practise what they teach.

“Classrooms and facilities need significant investment to ensure they reach net zero targets, and transport for pupils, staff and parents has to be sustainable.”

Full text of letter:

The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP

Secretary of State for Education Department for Education

20 Great Smith Street London

SW1P 3BT

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

  • Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary, NASUWT
  • Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
  • Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
  • Jo Grady, General Secretary, UCU
  • Jon Richards, Assistant General Secretary, UNISON 

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.
 
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