Climate change: still a hot topic?

Climate Change | Curriculum

Jennifer Mark, | 03/04/13 | London

Michael Gove may not think so, but the government’s plan to withdraw climate change from the national curriculum for under-14s have sparked public outcry. More than 12,000 protesters have signed an online petition opposing the plan, which is now open for public consultation. What are the consequences of this move? Will rewording the curriculum really prevent teachers from addressing such as important subject?

The petition’s author fears it will. The new curriculum “takes away the potential in the adults of tomorrow to take a stand to cease the loss of their future” writes pupil Esha Marwaha.  Geography teacher Margaret Hunter agrees, pointing out that in 2012, only 27% of students chose Geography at GCSE. This, she warns, will be the small proportion of pupils who will leave school knowing anything about climate change if Gove’s changes go ahead. However, the new curriculum may not be as restrictive as it first appears.

Those who can, teach

Along with recycling and global warming, climate change is now a household phrase. However, despite mounting evidence of the environmental damage that is being caused by carbon emissions, the chemical and physical processes behind it are only beginning to be widely understood. To the less-informed older generation, the words are as likely to conjure up rosy images of December suntans as the droughts, rising sea levels, food-security problems and extinctions they really herald.

In light of this, a modern Geography curriculum which does not even contain the words “climate change” might seem like a failure. However, loose wording could be its saving grace. By replacing the current prescriptive curriculum with broader guidelines, the document ensures that pupils still receive a necessary grounding in geographical concepts while leaving the specifics at the discretion of the teachers themselves.

According to the Geographical Association, which facilitates communication between teachers and the Government’s Department of Education, this is the plan. They intend the new curriculum to give teachers freedom to “identify local curriculum opportunities, preferences and priorities, as well as select their own methods for teaching the content.”

Can we afford to leave climate change education up to teacher prerogative? The fact that the proposal has triggered such an outcry suggests that neither teachers nor current pupils want climate change to be removed from the classroom. Margaret Hunter is a case in point, asserting “...nothing I’ve ever taught my students has been so important as what I teach them about climate change now”.

Sometimes though, passion isn’t enough. Freedom in the classroom is all very well in theory, but teachers will be required to give priority to topics covered in exams.  Those who want to focus on climate change will need government support, and in the midst of shifting guidelines, unreached targets and fair-weather political stances, it can be difficult to foresee the future of UK education. One thing is certain: climate change is not going to go away if we don’t talk about it, and the next generation will need to be well-equipped to deal with the fallout. At the very least, this means educating all UK children about the scientific and social issues involved.

Make a difference

Get involved in the public consultation on the draft National Curriculum here. Consultation closes 16th April. First though, read the UK’s current Geography curriculum for Key Stage 1 & 2 and Key Stage 3 and a draft of the new proposals online, along with the petitions by Esha Marwaha and Margaret Hunter. See also this comment by Annette Smith at


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