Blog – Education and the Climate Emergency

Education and the Climate Emergency

Beki Aldam, Crossfields Learning

Traditional education 

There are changes afoot, even in the famously lumbering beast that is the National Curriculum. After years of lobbying, Natural History, a climate-emergency related GCSE, is now available for students taking mainstream exams. However, the curriculum overall is woefully lacking, even in passing references to the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, sustainable ways of living or green futures.  

Teach the Future, a student-led campaign group, says, “Current climate education is inadequate. Students aren’t being prepared to face the effects of climate change, or taught to understand the solutions.” 

It is currently left to individual teachers to shoe-horn this content into their classroom, according to how passionately they feel about it. Dr Alison Kitson, Associate Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, argues that, “Practice varies across the UK, but in England at least, climate change and sustainability education have a relatively low profile, with efforts tending to be driven by committed individuals.”i Moreover, a recent research blog on Reading University claims that the latest government sustainability and climate strategy does not go far enough to develop skills across the education sector.  

Across the country, that means millions of students are missing out on vital knowledge about the current situation, because teachers are not able to bring enough of this into their classroom – whether it’s because they are not well enough informed, over tired and too stressed to prepare any extra resources, or they simply don’t know enough to feel confident in teaching it. Arguably, heaping the climate emergency onto teachers’ shoulders is neither fair nor guarantees an equitable exposure to climate information for learners. Almost all teachers are worried about climate change, adding to the stress they already feel from an overwhelming workload. 

Political educational issues 

In addition to the lack of robust content about the climate emergency in the national curriculum, there is also the double-issue of the current political turmoil affecting education, coupled with the lack of decisive climate action coming from politicians both in power and in opposition. 

On welcoming the new Education Secretary, the Association of School and College Lecturers commented on the number of changes to that post in recent years: “Education matters more than this. It is a vital public service. Schools and colleges deserve stable political leadership which addresses the crucial issues of inadequate funding and severe staff shortages caused by a government which has undervalued the workforce and sapped its morale.” 

If our politicians are not tackling the urgent needs of the education, and they also are not taking the necessary decisive action needed over the climate emergency, are they best placed to make decisions over how the climate emergency is presented within the curriculum? 

Skills gap 

Whatever your level of acceptance of the current state of our environment, there is widespread acknowledgement that students of today don’t have the skills to fill the jobs that will be required in the future, to ensure society can adapt to a changing environment.  

The new Natural History GCSE aims to develop students’ skills, “to help them go into a future career in the natural world through field work, such as observation, description, recording and analysis.” However, this doesn’t cover the skills required in many occupations that are becoming necessary in the ‘green transition’. 

The Environmental Audit Committee warned this time last year that, “climate change and sustainability risked being seen as a ‘tick box exercise’ in education”, and that the definition of ‘Green Jobs’ was still yet to be finalised. 

The IEMA warned of a gap of 200,000 jobs that need to be filled if the UK is going to reach its net zero targets. 

Young people and eco-anxiety 

Another important aspect of the climate emergency and education, is how the climate emergency affects students. 

Half of teachers feel ill-equipped to deal with student anxiety around climate change. The journal Nature reported that in the largest survey of its kind, where 10,000 young people from across the world were asked about climate change, over half were worried or extremely worried, and nearly half said thoughts about climate change impacted their lives every day. 

What are the positives? 

It always feels disheartening to outline exactly where we are in terms of the climate emergency. But there are inspiring organisations and groups who are doing important work to forge positive roads into the future, through education. For example, the Ministry of Eco Education is working to pool resources and ideas on climate change, from teachers already working within the current curriculum framework. Not to forget young climate activists themselves, working tirelessly across the globe to enact positive change. 

The UN points to the power of education to catalyse action and to reframe the negativity: “knowing the facts helps eliminate the fear of an issue which is frequently colored [sic] by doom and gloom in the public arena.” 

Crossfields Institute 

Crossfields Institute seeks to promote environmental responsibility wherever possible, and works to be part of the exciting movement towards a climate-responsible, regenerative education. Regenerative education is about recognising the need for a fundamental change to the way people learn. Instead of engaging with the world in either a destructive, or sustainable way, regenerative education aims to enable learners to become a hugely positive force for good for themselves, their communities and the wider world. 

The forthcoming Integrative Education Level 3, which prepares learners for employment or for undergraduate university study, is inspired and informed by several international projects and frameworks that place regenerative education at the heart of the curriculum.  

By doing this qualification, learners will engage positively with the communities around them, gaining essential action research skills and learning how to implement their research to provoke positive change. 

It aims to ensure learners are prepared for a changed and rapidly-changing world, and equipped with skills that will enable them to take a proactive role in improving the communities and societies in which they participate. 

To find out more, contact our Learning Team: 

Crossfields Institute also supports qualifications which address the skills gaps and provide education on important restorative practices, such as regenerative land-based practices. Find out more about our qualifications. 


Image credits - Jeanne Menjoulet & DeGust

The Taboo of Mental Health in Education

Photograph: Beau Lark/Corbis, via


According to a survey, staff and students in universities are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems. The Guardian’s Clare Shaw finds that they are worried about being treated differently if they reveal that they have been suffering from mental illness.

You can read the full article on The Guardian’s website:

Can an Autistic Brain be “Retrained”?

Image source:


Although we tend to think of autism as a lifelong condition, one scientist is challenging this belief by studying how people with autism can “retrain” their brain to overcome the condition. Dr James Cusack, himself diagnosed with autism at age 12 and told he would never lead a normal independent life, is now a married father with a PhD.

Concern About the Reduction in Number of Pupils Doing Creative Subjects

Image source: Artist Bob and Roberta Smith: ‘We must totally overhaul the importance of art, design, dance, craft and drama.’ Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

According to Mark Brown at the Guardian, the creative side of education has been systematically pushed aside, resulting in fewer pupils taking up creative subjects at GCSE level. A recent study into the topic, the Warwick commission report, estimates that the creative arts sector is valued at £76,9bn, or to put it another way: 5% of the British economy.

Dr. Kenneth Gibson, Head of Academic Engagement for Crossfields Institute, had this to say:

“One of the major findings from the Warwick Report, as reported here by Mark Brown, states that white middle-class adults continue to make up the bulk of the audience for the arts and culture which they have produced themselves and which ultimately is a reflection of their own values. It also tells us implicitly that the humanities and arts subjects in our education systems do not matter to those in government and this is one of the reasons for the downward trend in the participation of the bulk of the population in most cultural and artistic activities. As the report says: ‘Creativity, culture and the arts are being systematically removed from the education system.’

One of the reasons for this, as Sarah Churchwell says in a recent article, is the widely view held ‘among the instrumentalists and technocrats who decide our society’s priorities’ that the arts are of no value and because of their constant questioning of ‘what are the arts for’ there is a gradual diminishing of their importance for society as a whole. It is possible to suggest that these individuals have little or no understanding for a creative education and need to consider that everything from poetry, painting, literature and all arts and humanities based subjects are the basis for a balanced and enlightened education and its positive impact on society as a whole.

As many past and present educators have argued, the creative arts and humanities should be firmly anchored in the curriculum at all levels of the education system from birth to death. In his report for the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, Ken Robinson suggests that a creative education should contain, among other things the cultivation of imagination where ‘imaginative activity is the process of generating something original: providing an alternative to the expected, the conventional, or the routine’. Thus it should be innovative and encourage individuals to think and act in creative and imaginative ways to solve problems and view the world from many different perspectives. Therefore if we value the enrichment of lives; want to give new insights into everything including business models and politics; foster social justice and equality; teach people to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions and develop empathy then art, literature, music and all forms of creativity need to be deeply embedded in all our education systems and not be just for the select few.”

Research into Children’s Use of Mobile Internet Technology


As more and more children are accessing the internet with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, this raises various questions regarding the risks versus the benefits. Of course, access to useful educational information is of tremendous value, but there are potential dangers involved if children have access to everything that the internet offers. A new project called Net Children Go Mobile, a project supported by the London School of Economics and co-funded by the European Commision’s Safe Internet Programme, has been set up to study this subject in great detail, with the aim of more fully understanding children’s use of mobile technology and the impact it has on their lives.

Big Businesses Need to Do More to Support Education

Image source: BBC News

It is common sense that the key to bright and brilliant future generations is education. Yet a recent analysis of the top 500 global businesses revealed that only a small amount of their philanthropic and social investment budget was channelled into education. If these businesses were to provide extra funding, we could begin to tackle such severe global concerns as the fact that 58 million children in developing countries do not have access to primary schools.

You can read the full story on the BBC website…

What Happens When We Give Students More Freedom?

In her article on the, journalist Eleanor Ross writes that many students struggle with the enforced structure of the traditional educational approach. Could it be that the way forward is fewer rules, more freedom, and more autonomy for the students? Atlantic College and Summerhill are just two examples of educational centres where this more liberal approach is working extremely well.

Charlotte von Bulow, Chief Executive of Crossfields Institute, says:

“Within our debates and conversations about more autonomy and freedom for students, we need to keep asking the bigger question about what freedom really means in an educational context. We need to look at notions like freedom from versus freedom to, and perhaps we even need to start thinking about what freedom in means. Initially, I believe we need to create educational contexts within which students feel free to ask questions and take initiative. In essence, we need to create educational processes that facilitate that students are free to be who they truly are and that they feel invited to pursue the realisation of their potential. This is a process of developing self-knowledge. When we begin to get to know ourselves we can also to begin to understand more fully what it means to take responsibility for our actions. This can then instigate an inquiry into what freedom in action may look like from the point of view of developing an ethical individualism.”