Primary school teachers want to bring sustainability back to school

An overwhelming majority of primary school teachers believe they should be teaching children about the effects of climate change, despite sustainability no longer being a statutory requirement in the curriculum.

A new study, commissioned as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, asked the opinions of 316 primary school teachers.

As many as 92% felt they should be teaching children about the effects of climate change, while 51% said the topic should be a “high priority” in primary school education, regardless of the curriculum.

However 73% said they do not currently have the right resources to teach sustainability in the classroom.

Start ’em young

There was significant debate over changes to the curriculum in 2013, which meant that a child could feasibly pass through primary school without the national curriculum demanding that they be taught about climate change.

Jonathon Porritt, the founder of Forum for the Future – one of the organisations campaigning for more sustainability in education – commented: “Both in the UK and internationally, it’s crucial that governments act now to avoid a dangerous rise in global temperature. The starting point should be engaging the next generation.

“It’s vital that we encourage and instil positive environmental behaviours in young people now, to help shape a different future than the one we are currently heading towards.”

Forum for the Future’s Ben Kellard recently told edie that the absence of sustainability in education extends all the way through to secondary schools and business schools, with a resulting ‘skills gap’ in the sustainable economy.

A survey conducted last year by IEMA found that just 13% of businesses were confident they had the skills to successfully compete in a modern sustainable economy.

In the same survey, 53% of companies admitted they were unable to recruit environment and sustainability professionals with the right skills.

Reacting to today’s figures, Alice Roberts, a professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham said: “This is about engaging with important challenges facing the whole of humanity. By 2050, there will be 9 billion humans on Earth. How can we sustain the growing global human population while treading more gently on the land?

“By engaging the next generation in the debate, we can hope to instil healthy and sustainable habits which may last a lifetime, but also – more importantly – sow the seeds of awareness, debate and enquiry which will be essential tools in solving perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today.”


To help solve the problem, Bristol 2015, the organisation set up to facilitate Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, will launch a new UK-wide education resource this week, designed to put sustainability back on the education agenda.  

The programme, available here, incorporates lesson plans that can be used across multiple subject areas and curriculum objectives and will be shared with delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

As many as 95% of IEMA’s environmental professionals want to see sustainability issues given more prominence in the National Curriculum and other learning frameworks.

Bristol Mayor George Ferguson concluded: “One of the most important legacies from our year as European Green Capital will be the creation of our inspirational education programme for schools, designed to give primary school teachers the tools they need to bring sustainability to life in the classroom.

“At Paris COP21, Bristol will share this new resource with decision makers from around the world, and we hope to inspire best practice in environmental education on a global scale.”

Bad teaching?

In related news, new research from Stanford University claims to have found that major California science textbooks could be misrepresenting the science behind climate change as much weaker than it actually is.

“In doing the textbooks more closely reflect the public debate about climate change rather than the scientific reality,” the researchers said.

The study also found that some textbooks claimed there were benefits to warming temperatures. California is currently four years into the worst drought in its history.

The importance of sustainability in education was recently hammered home to us at edie, when we received the following email from a secondary school teacher in Brighton.

Rob Sandercock letter to edie

Brad Allen

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