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Blog Climate Change Curriculum Schools Teaching

Climate and Sustainability in the Curriculum – New Report

As the new UK government begins its stated mission to ‘rebuild Britain’, a group of education and climate experts is calling for sustainability and climate education to be at the heart of its priorities.

In its election manifesto, the Labour party committed to making Britain a clean energy superpower and to a new, modern educational curriculum.

Launched at the Royal Meteorological Society Annual Weather and Climate Conference today (Monday 8 July) in Reading, the National Climate Education Action Plan Curriculum Mapping report shows how these two missions could be linked. The report highlights the many opportunities to bring quality climate and sustainability education into the curriculum.

Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, of the University of Reading will launch the report today together with Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Professor Charlton-Perez said: “Including climate and sustainability within the curriculum review will be vital to ensuring that the new government delivers long-lasting reform that can prepare young people for the good green jobs of the future.”

Rich curriculum

The report highlights different options to improve climate education from the first week of the new government, and the pros and cons of each of these approaches.

There are opportunities for an expansion of current climate education by adjusting teaching within the current curriculum, or by making small but meaningful changes to current curriculum specifications.

It includes detailed mapping showing where and how climate can fit into the curriculum. These changes could be implemented quickly while a more comprehensive review takes place. The report also highlights how greater inclusion of climate education fits with the desire of the new government to make the curriculum rich, broad and inclusive.

In the foreword to the report, Lisa Hoerning, a recent school leaver, makes clear the desire amongst young people for the forthcoming curriculum review to incorporate climate and sustainability education as a theme that crosses subjects and educational levels.

She said: “The current curriculum studied by young people across England doesn’t educate us on the climate and ecological emergency, and, depending on your subject preferences, you can nearly skip the relevant content entirely.” 

She also expressed her hope that that in the near future climate education, as demonstrated in the report, would be integrated across all subjects.

Professor Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at RMetS, said, “Bringing together this report revealed the depth and diversity of work by organisations across the country, looking at ways to improve the climate literacy and green skills of our school leavers. Whilst recognising that curriculum reform could lead to the highest quality climate education, many opportunities already exist within the current curriculum or something very like it for teachers to deliver engaging, relevant, subject- and level-appropriate climate and sustainability teaching. The key to realising these opportunities will be teacher support, incentive and assessment.”

The report was produced by a group of authors from fourteen educational organisations led by Professor Sylvia Knight, of the Royal Meteorological Society, and science education expert Sean McQuaid of the TIDE community and is endorsed by a broad coalition of 60 organisations from schools, colleges, universities, climate charities and educational publishers.

The full National Climate Education Action Plan Curriculum Mapping report is published online today.

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Blog Climate Change Schools Teaching

What Is Climate Literacy And Why Do Pupils Need It?

What is climate literacy? Who needs it? When should people develop it and how? What role should climate education play in developing climate literacy, and what does high-quality climate education look like? In this article, for the Teaching Times, Prof. Sylvia Knight explores some of these questions.

Children looking at bark through magnifying glasses

The DfE’s recent report, ‘Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems’, put forth a vision that the United Kingdom will be the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030.

Climate education, green skills and careers are part of that vision, all covered by the concept of climate literacy. They also form part of the Climate Action Plans that all schools in England are being asked to create, as well as part of the Action for Climate Empowerment which all signatories to the Paris Agreement are required to report to the UN on a five-yearly basis.

In 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: ‘Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment’. There are many other significant issues facing the global community at the moment – some linked to the changing climate, some not, but mitigating and adapting to climate change is an issue which will remain significant well into the future. We therefore need to ensure current school leavers are well equipped to engage with it.

“At the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS), we believe that every student should leave school with the basic climate literacy that will 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 when it comes to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and also to equip them with the knowledge and skills required for the green careers of the future.”

Professor Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at RMetS

Defining climate literacy

But what is climate literacy? There are many and varied definitions available, but I would argue that it:

 

    • Is not just ‘climate science’ literacy;

    • Can be solutions- and action-focused;

    • Does not focus exclusively on personal wellbeing or anxiety, ignoring the need for concern about and understanding of the climate;

    • Does not focus exclusively on personal responsibility or action, ignoring the role of organisations or administrations;

    • Equips people to be local and global citizens.

Climate literacy is developed through climate education.

At COP 27, UNESCO’s Stefania Giannini said: ‘Education is the most transformational climate adaptation action’. Climate education is both formal and informal and lifelong, but the foundations need to be laid in schools. It is a field where understanding is advancing rapidly, particularly in matters of how to teach about the climate most effectively, how to assess climate education and when to teach it.

Personally, I think that for early years and the first years in primary education, we need to focus on showing children how to enjoy, respect and look after their local environment and developing an understanding of the current weather that affects them ‘here and now’. Later, we can start looking at global issues and longer timescale concepts like climate and climate change – things that are further away both in space and time.

It is very important to consider climate education as a distinct part of wider sustainability or green education. Many teachers favour other education for sustainable development topics such as waste management and biodiversity over climate change – maybe because they are perceived to be easier to teach, more accessible, or less controversial.

 

    • Climate change is a global environmental and social issue that underpins many of the Sustainability Development Goals;

    • There is a demand from young people;

    • We need a workforce that has the skills required for the green careers of the future;

    • There is a mandate from the UN to do so;

    • We currently have low climate literacy among the general public and young people.

In an annual survey of UK school leavers that the RMetS began in 2021, the data collected demonstrated that most 16-year-olds remembered having been taught about climate change, but that their understanding of basic concepts was very poor. In time, the impact of interventions in climate education on young people’s climate literacy should become apparent.

The question then becomes ‘What should all school leavers know and what should some school leavers know, which will give them the foundations that will enable them to be the climate economists, scientists, engineers and lawyers of the future?’

What should climate education be?

Climate education should not be repetitive, delivering the same message in several subjects and levels, but should be complementary – delivering age- and subject-appropriate understanding and skills in a way that, synoptically and progressively, leads to a broad and well-balanced understanding.

Climate education should not be all-encompassing, but we do need students to appreciate, where appropriate, the relevance of climate change to what they are learning (for example, migration in geography) and to appreciate that what they are learning is relevant to climate change. For example, in a lesson covering reflection in physics, one example (just one, not all) could be linked to the warming-amplifying impact of ice melt in the Arctic, or to the efforts being made to shade the Great Barrier Reef with clouds.

Climate education should be interdisciplinary, making use of opportunities for synoptic assessment or teaching sequencing to cross-reference learning across subjects – for example, photosynthesis in biology with the carbon cycle in chemistry.

Climate education could be cross-disciplinary – or, taking it one step further, could be taught as a separate subject. However, this would miss the opportunity to show students that what they are learning in all subjects is relevant to their understanding of climate change, demonstrating links between subjects without duplication of what they are hearing, where appropriate. It would also risk becoming an optional subject or topic. However, synoptic, cross-topic or cross-discipline assessment could provide real opportunities.

Climate education should be relevant to the lives, concerns and careers of students.

Climate education should be adaptive enough to be able to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Climate education should develop and balance concern and hope, avoiding fostering anxiety, hopelessness, indifference or boredom.

Where do things stand?

Many organisations have looked for opportunities for climate education in the curriculum. The National Climate Education Action Plan consortium (NCEAP) recently created a report (to be published in early July 2024) bringing together and providing an overview of these studies.

The report will loosely divide them into studies which have looked at where climate education features or could feature in the current curriculum (including work done, for example, in the Natural History Museum’s Rapid Evidence Review by the Education and Training Foundation or the RMetS report on Opportunities for Enhanced Climate Change Education), studies which have looked at where small changes to the curriculum could significantly improve climate education (such as work done by Teach the Future, the Ministry for Eco-Education and the Morecambe Bay Curriculum) or what climate education could look like in a completely new curriculum (such as the Greening Curriculum Guidance published in June 2024 by UNESCO’s Greening Education Partnership).

The NCEAP report concludes that ‘Although a substantive curriculum reform would be ‘gold standard’, significant and effective improvements could be achieved with either of the other approaches if teachers and schools were given support and incentive (including inspection and assessment) to implement them.’

So, if we did have a new, blank-sheet curriculum, what aspects of climate change should be covered? Climate change is a broad and diverse subject that goes beyond the science of how the Earth’s climate system works and how the climate is changing. So, what aspects of climate change should, could or are we teaching in schools?

These are questions relevant to those developing school Climate Action Plans or new curricula – whether at the level of individual schools, Academy trusts or nationally – or by those developing assessment questions.

The RMetS Climate Change Concept Association Tool provides an opportunity to explore and evaluate the coverage of various aspects of climate change. It enables curriculum developers to identify gaps, missed links, duplication, or inadequate progression in their approach to teaching the subject across different subjects and levels.

RMetS Climate Change Concept Association Tool, a "spider's web" of climate terms indicated by different colour dots and linked by white lines

 

RMetS Climate Change Concept Association Tool

“Education systems are particularly well positioned to equip learners with a foundation of scientific understanding related to climate change. This foundation also should include an understanding of how society is and can respond to climate challenges, integrating a justice-focused approach, fostering constructive coping strategies, and building leadership skills for transformed futures.”

Greening Curriculum Guidance, 2024

Resources for teachers

There are many, many classroom resources already available to teachers, particularly for subjects such as geography or the sciences, or for primary-level teaching. However, many of these promote misconceptions (a common one being ‘greenhouse gases absorb the sun’s heat’), are out of date, or don’t follow best practice in climate education pedagogy (for example, through fostering anxiety). How should a non-expert, time-pressured teacher identify a high-quality resource?

To aid in this, the NCEAP developed a Quality Control framework which could be used by individual teachers to assess the quality of a source, by resource developers as a reference when creating a new resource or revising an existing one, or by experts asked to assess a given resource against the framework. Teachers can look for the associated quality mark which will be carried, for example, by all the resources on the National Education Nature Park website.

Secondary geography teachers probably have the best opportunities for climate education currently and, with several of the exam boards in the process of reviewing the climate content of their GCSE specifications, this will only improve.

In science – surprisingly, given the fundamental nature of climate science to our understanding of the climate system, projections of the future and opportunities for adaptation and mitigation – there are currently far fewer explicit opportunities in the English curriculum. However, the opportunities are there, and they are embodied through a choice of examples and questions that we are beginning to see exemplified by AQA for their trilogy science specification and by Isaac Physics, to name two examples. The same applies to maths, with examples being provided by MEI and Dr Frost Learning.

However, all teachers have the opportunity to deliver high-quality, high-level and subject-specific climate education – given training, incentive and capacity.

Article written by Prof. Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) and a Visiting Professor at the University of Reading in the Schools of Education and of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences.

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Blog Climate Change Curriculum Schools Teaching

Greening Curriculum Guidance Published

UNESCO’s Greening Education Partnership has published this extremely comprehensive report.

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Blog Climate Change Teaching

5 Common Climate Misconceptions

Paul Turner from the Ministry of Eco Education asked Sylvia Knight from the RMetS about some of the misconceptions that frequently appear in teaching resources and conversations. 

The interview covers:

  • ‘Greenhouse gases absorb the Sun’s energy’
  • Greenhouse gases form a layer high in the atmosphere
  • Local emissions of greenhouse gases have local impacts
  • Tree planting will solve climate change
  • Carbon footprints are useful to explore personal impacts.
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Climate Climate Change CPD Geography Microclimates Schools Secondary Teaching Weather

Weather and Climate: updated Teachers’ CPD

weather and climate teachers guideWe have just updated and extended the ‘More for Teachers’ information associated with our award-winning Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide. These information sheets are designed to provide CPD for teachers of geography who would like to improve or update their weather and climate subject knowledge. 

The teachers’ guide and the accompanying online teaching resources, aim to give UK geography teachers all that they need to deliver relevant, engaging and thorough weather and climate lessons to 11–14+ year old students. They are not linked to any specific curriculum but should be easily adaptable to all.

There are 20 topics or chapters. Across these, there are three threads or paths which can be taken through the online resources, depending on the teaching time available:

Basic weather: Weather in our lives, weather measurements, weather and climate, global atmospheric circulation, global climate zones, air masses, pressure and wind and water in the atmosphere

Climate: Weather and climate, global atmospheric circulation, global climate zones, past climate change, polar climate, hot deserts, changing global climate, UK climate, changing UK climate, the climate crisis

Extending weather: Anticyclones, depressions, microclimates, urban weather, tropical cyclones.

The Royal Meteorological Society believes that:

  • all students should leave school with basic weather literacy that allows them to understand the weather that affects them, their leisure activities and the careers they choose to follow
  • every student should leave school with basic climate literacy that would enable them to engage with the messages put forward by the media or politicians and to make informed decisions about their own opportunities and responsibilities.

To this end, we have embedded a climate change thread throughout the online resources, showing its relevance to both weather and climate. An understanding of weather and climate is fundamental to an understanding of climate change.

There is a progression of knowledge through the topics, supported by review and assessment activities. The resources also progressively develop key geographical skills such as data, mapwork, GIS, fieldwork and critical thinking.

We also include common misconceptions which should be challenged in the classroom.

Many of the online teaching resources are available with standard or easier versions, as well as extension or alternative activities.

Find the scheme of work, teaching resources, background information for teachers, as well as the Teachers’ Guide here

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Blog Climate Change Curriculum maths Teaching

New Maths Lesson with Climate Context

We are delighted to have collaborated with the resource team at Dr Frost Learning to add a new maths lesson with a climate change context to the set we published earlier this year.

The new resource, which focusses on “changing the subject of a linear formula involving brackets and fractions” has a question in the context of 2023 being confirmed as the hottest year on record.

Dr Frost Learning are working to explicitly interweave the applications of various mathematical ideas to climate change in order that students gain a better understanding from their studies.

This work follows research we published in 2022  in partnership with Ipsos, showing the need and want for better climate education in schools. The study revealed that just under half of pupils in Year 11 could not recall being taught about climate change in the past year, with 20% believing that they have never been taught about it. Over 60% of students stated they feel very concerned about the impact of climate change in their lifetimes, but many of them showed limited understanding of the science and its impacts.

Our 2023 report demonstrated the opportunities for including climate change across the secondary  school curriculum in England and we are delighted to have worked with Dr Frost Learning to turn some of the recommendations from this report into classroom resources.

The resources demonstrate to students that the maths skills they are learning are relevant to their understanding of climate change, without increasing curriculum load.

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Blog Climate Change Curriculum Teaching

Quality Control of Climate Education Resoures

Paul Turner from the Ministry of Eco Education asked Sylvia Knight from the RMetS about why it’s important to consider the quality of a climate education resource, and how the NCEAP quality control framework is being used. 

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Article Blog Climate Change Curriculum Teaching

A new Climate for Design Education?

Last year, Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at the RMetS, talked to a Technology teacher on behalf of Pearson. 

The teachers we worked with on our project stressed that what they needed was support, particularly in rapidly-evolving areas like D&T. They mentioned wanting things like CPD resources for themselves, case studies, data, sample assessment questions and high-quality, adaptable lesson resources. In your opinion, within the constraints of the current specifications and national curriculum, what would help you improve the climate literacy of your students without increasing workload for you and your colleagues, or information overload for your learners?

Read the full article here.

 

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Blog Climate Change Curriculum maths Teaching

New Maths Lessons with Climate Contexts

We are delighted to have collaborated with the resource team at Dr Frost Learning to create new maths lessons which include contexts such as weather, climate science, and renewable energy. 

Dr Frost Learning are working to explicitly interweave the applications of various mathematical ideas to climate change in order that students gain a better understanding from their studies.

This work follows research we published in 2022  in partnership with Ipsos, showing the need and want for better climate education in schools. The study revealed that just under half of pupils in Year 11 could not recall being taught about climate change in the past year, with 20% believing that they have never been taught about it. Over 60% of students stated they feel very concerned about the impact of climate change in their lifetimes, but many of them showed limited understanding of the science and its impacts.

Our 2023 report demonstrated the opportunities for including climate change across the secondary  school curriculum in England and we are delighted to have worked with Dr Frost Learning to turn some of the recommendations from this report into classroom resources. 

The resources demonstrate to students that the maths skills they are learning are relevant to their understanding of climate change, without increasing curriculum load. 

Categories
Article Blog Climate Change Curriculum Teaching

Climate Change and the Natural History GCSE

Last month, Sylvia Knight, Head of Education at the RMetS, talked to the OCR about the proposed Natural History GCSE. 

“Whilst the Natural History GCSE is not and should not be a ‘climate change GCSE’ (in my opinion, the Statistics GCSE is actually best placed to be delivered entirely within a context of climate change), the inherent and intrinsic links between climate change and the natural world, in terms of impacts, adaptation and mitigation, are too numerous for climate change not to be near the core of the new qualification.”

Read the full article here