Framing the whole curriculum through a sustainability lens

My name is Jodie Bailey-Ho, I’m 19 years old and I’m Jamie Burrell, I’m 17 years old. We are part of Teach the Future, a youth-led organisation aiming to embed integrated education on climate change into the curriculum.

Young people are struggling for an increasing number of reasons – climate change, cost of living , employability – but what is the root cause?

The English national curriculum has not been substantially or systematically reviewed since the government declared a climate emergency – so it’d be fair to say that it’s out of date. The limited and problem-centered way in which climate education is taught now is leaving us with increased climate anxiety and creating a low carbon skills gap in the UK.

Students like us want to know more about climate change – not just through geography and science – and even 90% of teachers agree climate change education should be integrated in schools and is relevant to their subject area.

This seems like an insurmountable problem, but the solution is actually very simple. So Jodie, how can we try and achieve change on this issue?

The current education system siloes climate change, but could be hugely enriched by framing the whole curriculum through a sustainability lens.

Teach the Future has commissioned academics to work with us to suggest where and how sustainability can be embedded within the existing curriculum, recognising a need not to overburden teachers by repurposing existing content using a sustainability lens, instead of adding more. For example, creating art using sustainably sourced natural materials or learning about climatic consequences of the industrial revolution in History.

Since we launched these reports in September, teachers have already shared with us how the resources are empowering and guiding them to teach climate education.

And so Jamie, this really could be the start. What do we want the government to do?

By shifting the educational lens to be more sustainable, all students will understand the relevance of the climate crisis, and be better prepared for the transition to a low carbon economy.

Most adults know young people, therefore small changes to curriculum framing would not only boost young people’s resilience and mental health, as they are prepared for the future, but also have a knock on effect in schools and families as young people are empowered and motivated to take the lead on climate action in their communities. It would spark new opportunities for conversations in the home, and so too lifestyle changes like recycling, less flying and eating less meat, which will help achieve the UK’s net-zero commitment.

And we hope that by showing how beneficial this approach is, the government will act to mandate integrated climate education as a core part of the curriculum going forward, which will have a significant impact in improving lives across the UK. We’ve shown that this has benefits on a small scale, in a few schools, but if this was in every school in the country the outcomes would be so much greater.

Our solution has limited cost to the government and can be implemented quickly in alignment with the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis.

It’s great to see the Heywood prize showing support for youth leadership. We hope they will be able to help us, and other young people, make life in the UK better through the education system.