In April, the UK Government’s Department of Education launched the Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, which sets out how the UK education sector intends to become a “world leader in climate change by 2030”.
Whilst the strategy indicates that the Government is eager to engage with the sustainability agenda in education, there is still a real sense that it hasn’t gone far enough.
Shortly after its release, the student-led campaign group Teach the Future, who were instrumental in calling for a greater focus on sustainability and climate change in the curriculum, called the Strategy an “opportunity to mainstream and integrate climate education”.
Director of The Harmony Project, Richard Dunne, whilst appreciating the hard work that had gone into the Strategy, also felt that sustainability and climate change issues had not been addressed as comprehensively as they could have been in ensuring all students are guaranteed access to these critical issues. “What’s needed,” says Richard, “is a much deeper review around what we are actually educating for, so that nature and biodiversity loss, sustainability and climate change are embedded across the curriculum and beyond in a much more joined-up way.”
Several of the individual elements of the Strategy are positive steps forward. The introduction of a Natural History GCSE in September 2025, the Nature Park initiative (which asks schools to increase their biodiversity on their school estates), and an offer of training support for teachers on sustainability and climate change, are all good to see. However, given that none of these recommendations are statutory, many will be concerned that this represents a lack of commitment from the Government in making sure that all young people in schools and education settings across the country can benefit from the proposals put forward.
What’s more, the Strategy makes no mention of updating the national curriculum to include climate education, beyond the inclusion of related issues (such as landscapes, urbanisation, habitats and ecosystems) in the existing subjects of geography and science.
As Richard says,
“We will only properly address sustainability and climate change with a much more coherent way of learning, based on projects that draw together subject skills and knowledge and engage students in applying them in relevant ways in their schools, their local communities and the wider global context.”
Of particular interest to the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), is the reference to food education. The proposals include piloting a food curriculum and a whole-school approach to food – something which is welcomed by the SFT as an important step towards equipping young people with an understanding of where their food comes from. However, for this to be successful, it must be made mandatory and go hand-in-hand with improvements to school food procurement so that school kitchens are able to serve seasonal and sustainably produced foods, wherever possible, from the farmers in their region.
On a more positive note, the Government is looking for support from practitioners to help them deliver this work. The Harmony Project is leading an initiative to develop a new framework for food education, working with the SFT and Square Food Foundation to draw on the expertise of farmers, food producers, chefs and educators. The curriculum framework will be piloted in a number of schools and will be linked to the SFT’s Beacon Farms initiative, which promotes the role of farms as platforms for education.
The SFT urges the DfE to make the development of whole-school approaches to food compulsory, and to ensure that food education is embedded throughout the curriculum, rather than forming part of the Design and Technology curriculum, where the focus is often on health and nutrition with little mention of the farming systems that produce the food and how they can become more regenerative and sustainable.
The urgent need to re-think food education goes hand in hand with the need to transform our food and farming systems, so that we are all better placed to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and concerns about public health.