Curriculum growth is not the answer to climate change education

We must avoid disposable policy responses and ensure teaching climate change is itself a sustainable activity

We must avoid disposable policy responses and ensure teaching climate change is itself a sustainable activity

8 Dec 2023, 5:00

With COP28 in full swing, so too are some very predictable conversations: climate change really matters to me, but what can I actually do to make a difference? 

Most people care about the environment and want to ‘do their bit’ but it’s often a classic case of being intention-rich and time-poor. We know that teachers face this same dilemma: they want to teach their students about climate change and sustainability, but how do you fit these critical topics into a curriculum already full of other priorities?

We also know how important this is to young people themselves. AQA’s student advisory group has given us extensive feedback; They tell us that they value learning about climate change and the science behind it, that outdoor learning enhances their learning about sustainability and that they feel better informed when teachers help them make sense of current affairs.In short, students care and want to learn about climate change and sustainability, and school is a great place for them to do that.

But while some have championed new qualifications or calls to change the curriculum, we want to ask: have we done enough with what is already there? Additional things might mean additional burden for teachers, so why not find a way to help schools and colleges use what they already have more effectively?

Many subjects already cover climate change and sustainability, but it takes time to explore those connections. So we want to bring together expertise in assessment and the world of work to support schools to make the most of their existing curricula.

For the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), this means drawing on the experience of the life sciences industry of putting sustainability at the heart of day-to-day operations. Across the pharmaceutical industry, many skilled people contribute to initiatives such as investing in renewable energy sources, developing low-carbon inhalers, and securing net zero buildings.

Climate change is everywhere in the curriculum

We have pooled a lot of that expertise to build a dedicated schools’ website with resources to supplement the existing curriculum, promote climate literacy and support teachers to manage climate anxiety. This includes story time for key stage 1 with Ellie the Climate Champion and Climate change and health factsheets specially designed to support the Extended Project Qualification.

For AQA, our support for teachers, schools and colleges comes in the form of a commitment to help them navigate through existing content more efficiently. We will be doing more of the heavy lifting to support teachers’ hard work, looking at what they are already teaching to identify opportunities for them to create their own ‘golden thread’ of climate change and sustainability throughout the curriculum.

We’ve worked with the Royal Meteorological Society who have produced a fascinating report that shows climate change is not just present in the obvious subjects. It is everywhere in the curriculum. In music, for example, students can explore Einaudi’s Elegy For The Arctic, composed in response to the environmental crisis. And in statistics, they can learn how the skewness of temperature data implies an abrupt change in the climate system between 1985 and 1991.

Ultimately, we will create a bespoke guide of all things climate change and sustainability across our specifications, which we’ll make available for teachers. Our guide will identify where climate change and sustainability can be covered, bring out links across suites of specifications (such as science), suggest ‘big questions’ teachers could use to stimulate discussion and signpost third-party resources to incorporate into their lessons.

So in the spirit of those conversations inspired by COP28, let’s not rush to add and create new work for school staff that risks ending up in some future education landfill. Instead, let’s fully explore and exploit the great content we already have in the curriculum and the many and varied opportunities to teach these important topics.

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