Campaigners from environmental group Extinction Rebellion (XR) are protesting outside the headquarters of the Department for Education today, calling for teachers to be able to "tell the truth" about climate change in schools.
The campaigners, from XR's educators' wing, say a student could easily leave school having heard climate change mentioned in fewer than 10 lessons out of approximately 10,000 and, even then, “it is mentioned in passing as an unclear subtopic”.
More than 200 campaigners gathered outside the department's Westminster building today, including teachers on half-term, some from as far afield as Leeds. They were delivering a letter calling for “appropriate support to teach the reality of this crisis and to properly prepare young people for their future".
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Co-organiser and XR member Tim Jones, a former secondary school teacher who quit his job to work full-time for XR, said: "Climate and ecological breakdown will define the life of every child and student alive today. They and we are facing an unimaginable catastrophe. But it’s hard for students to take the issue seriously when it plays almost no part in the content of their curriculum."
Up to 1,000 protesters had been expected today, but organisers said some were deterred by the rainy weather, while others were "exhausted" after spending recent weeks joining the main XR protests in London at the end of the school day.
The group's letter states: “In the national curriculum, climate change is mentioned in passing now and then, a bullet point in a subtopic of the discrete curricula for science and geography. Despite the commitment to ‘enhance climate change education’ in the 2015 Paris Agreement, teachers and lecturers receive no training on how to talk about, let alone teach, the reality of climate breakdown.”
The letter highlights warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there are just 11 years to make “far-reaching changes to every aspect of society” in order to avoid the “catastrophic consequences of climate and ecological breakdown".
It states: “The warnings are no longer predictions for the future: we are already witnessing record temperatures, unprecedented droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, sea-level rise, melting ice that will trigger more rapid warming and the collapse of species and ecosystems.”
Three specific demands to the DfE include:
- Teachers must be supported to tell and teach the truth of climate and ecological breakdown.
- Teachers must teach (and learn) why net-zero emissions by 2025 and complete halt to biodiversity loss are both necessary and achievable.
- Policy must be informed and instructed by ordinary people via a citizens’ assembly and we must hear the voices of young people whose future now hangs in the balance.
XR is also giving its backing to the student-led Teach the Future campaign and its demands, which include:
- A government commissioned review into climate emergency education entitlement.
- Inclusion of climate and ecological crisis in teacher standards.
- A national climate emergency education act.
- A national climate emergency youth voice grant.
- A youth climate endowment fund.
- For all new state-funded educational buildings to have net-zero emissions by 2020 and all existing state-funded educational buildings to be net-zero by 2030.
A spokesperson for the DfE said: “It is important that pupils are taught about climate change, which is why it is included in the national curriculum for both primary and secondary schools.
“This government is a world leader in tackling climate change, and we are the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050 – a target recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.”