Climate change in the National Curriculum in England: Submission to a consultation by the Department for Education


Headline issue

 This paper responds to a Department of Education consultation on proposed reforms to the National Curriculum in England and Wales, specifically in the context of climate change teaching in schools. It argues that proposed revisions to climate change teaching are insufficiently ambitious, incomplete and risk creating gaps in required core knowledge and understanding of climate change among younger generations. The paper states that climate change should continue to be taught within compulsory subjects pre-Key Stage 4. This will ensure that students understand established climate science, the impacts climate change could have and ways to respond to the risks of climate change.

Key points

  • Excluding climate change from the National Curriculum on the grounds that it is a ‘contemporary issue’, as reported by some media reports ahead of this formal consultation, would represent fundamentally flawed reasoning. The science of climate change is well established and has been documented by a significant body of scientific literature over the past 100 years. There is no justification for removing the teaching of climate change from the National Curriculum.
  • Climate change could profoundly affect the lives of current and future generations. As such, the National Curriculum should provide pupils with the essential knowledge, understanding and skills on the subject.
  • The proposed programmes of study outlined in the new Framework are insufficiently ambitious in relation to the teaching of climate change and do not recognise the value of teaching both the basic science of climate change and the associated issues of impacts, mitigation and adaptation.
  • The proposed programmes of study are incomplete and omit important knowledge about the potential impacts of unmitigated climate change and options for mitigation. They do not enable students to formulate a sufficient understanding of climate change. Freedom to teach does not equate with leaving key issues out of the curriculum.
  • Teaching of climate change must cover ways to reduce emissions (mitigation) and ways to respond and manage the risks of climate change (adaptation).
  • If core climate change teaching is not included as compulsory learning and some aspects are left to non-compulsory disciplines from Key Stage 4 onwards, there is a risk that some students would not acquire basic knowledge about climate change.
  • This could undermine the core knowledge base of younger generations, who will experience first-hand the impacts of climate change and the consequences of policy decisions made in response to climate change.
  • As such, climate change should continue to be taught in compulsory subjects and explicitly included in the National Curriculum pre Key-Stage 4, to ensure all pupils develop sufficient knowledge, understanding and skills on the subject.