Children to Be Taught Subjects Through the Lens of Climate Change: UK Education Secretary

Plans criticised as an 'ideological free pass' that aim at 'moulding citizens'
By Owen Evans
Owen Evans
Owen Evans
November 11, 2021 Updated: November 11, 2021

Children can look forward to plant-based school dinners, climate activism, and “sustainability” baked into every subject specialism, according to new plans drawn up by the Department for Education.

On Nov. 5, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi mulled radical new changes to education in England, during a speech at the United Nations climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow.

Climate change is already on the curriculum and taught in science, citizenship, and geography from Key Stage 3 (the beginning of secondary school) onwards. But in the new plan, environmentalism will be central to learning, with teachers required to teach all subjects through the lens of sustainable development. Furthermore, climate change education through a model science curriculum will be in place by 2023 to teach children about nature and its impact on the world around them.

“We want to deliver a better, safer, greener world for future generations of young people, and education is one of our key weapons in the fight against climate change,” said Zahawi.

“Empowering teachers in every school to deliver world-leading climate change education will not only raise awareness and understanding of the problem, but also equips young people with the skills and knowledge to build a sustainable future,” he added.

In the report titled “Sustainability and Climate Change: A draft strategy for the education and children’s services systems strategy” (pdf), the department wrote that the scientific facts and evidence behind climate change do “not constitute teaching about a political issue.” Furthermore, schools do not need to present “misinformation or unsubstantiated claims to provide balance,” it added.

The Department for Education said that from December 2021, all further education teachers trained via an apprenticeship will be required to integrate sustainability into their teaching, through modelling sustainable practices and promoting sustainable development principles in relation to their subject specialism.

Other goals include reviewing the school food standards to consider the impact of food emissions on the environment, and providing “more plant-based and meat-free options.”

school childrenn England UK
Students take a break between classes at Park Lane Academy in Halifax, northwest England on March 17, 2021. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Children and young people are to be encouraged to take small steps like installing bird feeders. Other new measures include “energy pods” to “decarbonise heat in existing buildings,” net-zero schools, a new national awards ceremony, as well as an initiative where students will be able to progress through different levels of the award—bronze, silver, and gold—in a similar way to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Examples for the latter include “helping to deliver experiences for younger children to explore nature and local woodland.”

The new plans will encourage nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities to think of all of England’s school grounds—an area over twice the size of Birmingham—as one whole “park” called the virtual National Education Nature Park. Children will upload their progress to the park’s digital mapping services. This is aimed at developing skills such as biodiversity mapping, data collection, and analysis.

The changes are in line with the UK government’s support of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global agreement to address issues including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and social justice.

Zahawi has been championed by Italian Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi, who said that “if other countries do the same as us, the UK, and other G-20 nations then we stand a better chance of winning this fight.” After reporting the story, the BBC children’s news programme “Newsround” completed a poll that showed 78 percent of its viewers wanted schools to focus more on climate education.

But environmentalism skeptic Ben Pile, co-founder of the Climate Resistance blog, told The Epoch Times that he believes the strategy is more about “moulding citizens” rather than providing children with an education that “gives them an independent ability to study.”

Pile has criticised some of the UK government’s upcoming net-zero policies. These include a ban on the sale of gas boilers by 2025 and a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030. According to a report published by Oxford University and Imperial College London, by ​​2030 and 2049 beef and lamb will also be “phased out.”

“I wonder what a student who is studying maths is going to make of the sustainability agenda being put into the curriculum?” said Pile, who is also a contributor for the political magazine Spiked. “It’s an ideological free pass. You can say anything for the sake of the planet, you can say any intervention is necessary. If you examine that claim and compare it to the arguments under ideological tyrannies of the past that’s exactly what they said in communism for the good of the people.”

“People can always find a seemingly environmental reason for their policies but that’s for debate, not for moral absolutes,” he added.

The draft report will be used for engagement and will be under review from November 2021 until March 2022, the government said. A final strategy will be published in April 2022.

Owen Evans