Warning over 'quasi-religious' teaching on climate

Rise in attempts to 'commandeer' school curriculum by 'worthy social issues' says Ofsted chief inspector

Tes Reporter

Climate change

Teaching about climate change without a grounding in science risks becoming a "morality tale" or "quasi-religious", the Ofsted chief inspector has warned.

Amanda Spielman said there has been a rise in efforts to "commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues" – including environmental causes and campaigns against racism.

Speaking at the launch of Ofsted's annual report today, Ms Spielman said climate change activists – who have called for new qualifications or alterations to the curriculum – can "forget the importance of grounding climate change within the wider body of learning" about science and geography.

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"They don't always notice how much schools already do in this space," the chief inspector said.

Ms Spielman added that the pressure on schools to teach more on the curriculum is growing, as schools are seen as "the go-to solution" by advocates who often launch petitions and social media campaigns.

"Treating schools as the great panacea of our time underlines the importance of education, but it doesn't make it any easier to run a school," she said.

Asked whether she believed more should be done to make pupils feel represented through a more diverse curriculum, Ms Spielman added: "I think my message would be don't revise the curriculum in the context of a single issue or purpose – make sure that periodic reviews take all purposes into account."

On teaching climate change in schools, she said: "I think if it is not grounded in science there is no real understanding underneath it, it becomes a morality tale or something quasi-religious.

"It is really important that people have a grounded understanding so that they can think about that in the context of career choices and in the context of their own personal behaviour. That helps people take rational decisions, not just emotional positions."

The annual report from Ofsted also warned that in some secondary schools, not all children were receiving a full and appropriate curriculum due to narrowing or misalignment.

The report also highlighted that primary schools judged as requiring improvement had focused extensively on teaching reading, writing and maths "at the expense of other subjects".

During the virtual launch, Ms Spielman said she did not expect graded inspections to resume in January, adding that an announcement from the government was due "very soon".

The chief inspector raised concerns about the "invisibility" of vulnerable children as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said their attendance remained "stubbornly low" and the number of child protection referrals made to councils had still not reached pre-Covid levels.

The report also warned of "lasting harm" to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) after they lost access to additional support and healthcare during the first national lockdown.

Local authorities are now more likely to be responding to "a legacy of abuse and neglect" after local safeguarding partners struggled to identify families in need of early support and protection amid the pandemic, it said.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: "The safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable children has always been our focus, which is why we kept nurseries, schools and colleges open for those children throughout the pandemic.

"We all owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers and support workers who have gone above and beyond to support vulnerable children since national restrictions were first introduced.

"It remains a national priority to keep full-time education open for all."

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