Chester Zoo & Chester Zoo Youth Board Written evidence (EDU0049)



1.1 Chester Zoo is a leading conservation and education charity, with a mission to prevent extinction both here in the UK and across the world. We work with one hundred partners in more than twenty countries to recover threatened wildlife and restore their habitats. This includes at home in the UK where we have been involved in the recovery of a wide range of species over the last ten years, including large heath butterfly, sand lizard, harvest mouse, pine marten, Llangollen whitebeam, and great sundew.

1.2 Our ambitious Conservation Masterplan[1] is shaping our efforts between now and the zoo’s 100th birthday in 2031. This Masterplan aims to build on our successes and draws on our decades of experience working with wildlife, both at the zoo and with our field partners, and our expertise in science, conservation, and education. As well as a target to halt or reverse the decline of at least two hundred threatened populations of plants and animals, our Masterplan sets a target to empower ten million people to live more sustainably and for the benefit of wildlife.

1.3 As just part of our action to achieve this target, we aim to be a centre of excellence for conservation education, to equip people with the skills, knowledge, motivation, tools, and opportunities to take action for wildlife and live more sustainably. As a world-leading conservation organisation, our team of expert educators have access to the latest scientific evidence and the real-world conservation issues that really captivate young people. We use this knowledge to deliver educational activities to around 265,000 children and young people each year, working with schools and other groups in the zoo, across the UK, and globally, to inspire and empower.

1.4 Using our expertise, we support young people to develop the skills and confidence to take their first steps as aspiring conservationists. Our youth programmes provide high-quality opportunities to learn more about conservation action and to access and connect with nature, while gaining a greater appreciation for our nature world. They also provide practical opportunities to participate in activities to increase climate resilience and enhance biodiversity. These programmes include our Conservation Training Academy and Conservation Scholars and Fellows Programme, through which we aim to help train 5,000 conservationists within the next decade.

1.5 In 2020, we established the first UK Charity Zoo Youth Board[2] - made up of diverse young professionals and students aged 18 to 26 years old - to help shape the future direction of the zoo and provide a voice for young people. We were delighted that through our Youth Board, the zoo was asked to provide feedback to the DfE on its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, highlighting how the draft strategy could be improved to better prepare young people for a world impacted by climate change[3].

1.6 We are pleased to be in a prime position to educate and empower each one of our annual 1.6million visitors, alongside our 140,000 members and millions of social media followers, to live more sustainably and for the benefit of wildlife. This is a key part of the approach that is needed to tackle both the climate and biodiversity crises.


Building a Conservation Curriculum in schools


2.1 With more than a million species at risk of extinction, ensuring young people have access to high-quality opportunities to learn about the threats our planet faces, and the role we can all play in creating a more sustainable future, is vital. As concluded by the 2021 Dasgupta Review, “every child in every country is owed the teaching of natural history, to be introduced to the awe and wonder of the natural world, to appreciate how it contributes to our lives,[4]” and we agree. More importantly, young people are eager to be a part of the sustainability and climate change conversation, and a recent Opinium poll found that 78% of people believe it is important for children and young people to be prepared for the nature crisis[5].

2.2 While we were pleased to see the Government commit to the introduction of the Natural History GCSE, which Chester Zoo is working on with OCR to ensure young people have a voice in its development, we passionately believe that themes such as conservation, nature, and biodiversity should be embedded across the whole school curriculum. This will ensure that environmental issues are viewed from multiple angles and as part of everyday life. Through building conservation education into school curricula in meaningful ways, we can ensure that conservation action is accessible to all young people and that future generations are equipped and empowered to deal with current and future environmental challenges.

2.3 In line with this, it was extremely encouraging to see the House of Lords Committee on Environment and Climate Change include a recommendation in their recent ‘In our Hands’ report[6] that: “there is… a need for young people to be educated about the science of climate change and actions they can take to support meeting climate and environmental goals,” and this “must be embedded across the curriculum.”

2.4 Further, the report recommended that “the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy should be reviewed to ensure every opportunity has been taken through both formal and informal education, communications and the school environment to provide young people with the knowledge and skills to make life and career choices to support environmental and climate goals.” It was disappointing to see that neither recommendation was acknowledged by the Government in its formal response to the report[7].


The IgniteZoo Project

2.5 Our experience has shown that well-planned conservation education programmes, delivered by specially trained educators with the right resources, have the power to not only create positive environmental action, but also support student wellbeing and drive educational attainment across a multitude of areas.

2.6 In addition, research and our experience suggest that effective education programmes for positive conservation outcomes should focus on locally relevant issues in conservation (even if the impact of the focus is global, such as purchasing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil), involve collaboration with scientists or community organisations, and integrate opportunities for action for pupils[8]. These programme features are effective at changing students’ attitudes, behaviour, and plans for action in ways that can support more effective conservation.

2.7 Our IgniteZoo project, delivered in partnership with Ignite Institute, aimed to deliver conservation learning outcomes to pupils taking part in teacher-led projects, and to equip teachers to embed conservation themes into their curriculum in the longer term. In total, around ninety schools have been involved. By promoting a whole school approach, the project aimed to create new social norms around taking action for conservation as part of the school curriculum, build a culture of conservation in schools, and drive educational attainment across all the traditional subject areas.

2.8 Bringing together our conservation education expertise with our partners’ education sector knowledge, we provided a year-round programme of professional development for teachers and school leaders.

2.9 This programme of teacher training led by pedagogical experts, zoo educators, and curriculum experts enabled teachers to deliver their own conservation enriched curricula, inspiring work across literacy, maths, science, geography, and the arts. These training sessions introduced teachers and school leaders to conservation issues, explored how to build these issues into a range of curriculum areas, and offered training on curriculum design and pedagogical techniques. A particular focus was the use of inquiry-based learning and drama to enable learners to become deeply invested in the issues they were learning about. Tens of thousands of pupils have benefited from this approach, and our evidence shows that embedding a conservation theme at the heart of curriculum can increase pupil’s engagement, support educational attainment, and lead to positive environmental outcomes.

2.10 Indeed, the project led to a range of conservation action undertaken by pupils during the IgniteZoo project, including:

-          One class raising £1500 for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,

-          A group spreading the conservation message to their community through protest marches,

-          Writing letters and receiving replies, most notably from the Prime Minister’s office, and

-          Attracting the attention of businesses, in one case the children were able to give the Managing Director of Iceland a tour of their exhibition.

2.11 The project, which was first delivered in 2017, has evolved to meet the changing needs of participating schools, however, the focus has remained on empowering teachers to deliver conservation as part of their curriculum and delivering a range of outputs in schools, from weeklong projects to twelve-week curricula. More recently, the focus of the project has been on transition, working with secondary schools and their feeder primaries to weave conservation themes through this period.

2.12 In addition to inputting conservation education expertise into many of the teacher training sessions, Chester Zoo also provided direct support to the schools when delivering their curriculum project. This varied by school but included workshops in school and in the Zoo, learning resources in a range of formats, and zoo visits – all of which also form part of our wider programme of specialist conservation education support to schools, such as our Climate and Sustainability project[9]. Many schools showcased the learning achieved through their conservation curriculum with a whole school display or event inviting families and the local community to be a part of their work. Sharing between schools was encouraged through a final celebration event.

2.13 We are ready and willing to assist the Department for Education to imbed Chester Zoo’s proven framework for conservation education into the curriculum in England. As set out below in the evaluation of the IgniteZoo Project, this would improve teacher confidence and motivation, increase the quality of pupil’s work, and change student’s attitudes, behaviour, and plans for action in ways that can support more effective conservation. It would also achieve the conclusions set out in the Dasgupta Review - the introduction of nature studies from the earliest stages of our lives, all the way through to university.

2.14 In addition, having conservation embedded across the curriculum will equip pupils with the skills and knowledge that will be needed in many more careers, as the green economy grows, and environmental and sustainability issues are considered in many more sectors. This will serve to ensure young people can succeed in their future careers.

2.15 Finally, we would like to see the Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy reviewed to include a commitment to conservation education and as recommended by the House of Lords Committee on Environment and Climate Change, to ensure every opportunity has been taken to provide young people with the knowledge and skills to make life and career choices to support environmental and climate goals.


Evaluation of the IgniteZoo project

2.16 As part of the project, pre- and post-program surveys were used to measure changes in pupils’ attitudes to zoos and knowledge of pro-conservation behaviours. In 2018, an independent evaluation of the IgniteZoo project was carried out by Dr Steph Hawke of Curious Minds, a charity that aims to improve the lives of children and young people by increasing opportunities for their active participation in arts and culture. This independent evaluation included qualitive work, undertaken by Curious Minds, in addition to survey work, in which 3,126 pupils participated, and was completed in-house by our expert social scientists.

2.17 The evaluation found a small, but significant positive change in pupils’ knowledge of pro-conservation behaviours between pre- and post-program.

2.18 Further, data coding of teacher comments suggested positive impacts on pupil motivation, their investment in their own learning, including increases in self-directed learning at home, and academic progress manifested in the quality of the writing and pupils’ ability to express themselves, particularly among disadvantaged pupils. Several teachers also noted a positive impact on normally reluctant writers. Increases in critical thinking, self-efficacy, confidence, and in children’s roles as active citizens were also reported by teachers. One teacher commented that:

“Because they were bothered, they weren’t just doing it for the sake of doing a piece of writing, they were doing it because they cared and they wanted to have an impact, and so a lot of the children in year one when they were writing their letters to their parents, it was better quality than another piece of writing maybe a few weeks ago… because they wanted it to be their best piece of work to invite their parents.”

2.19 The investment in the topic from the children also drew parents into the discourse, either by helping with homework and independent learning, or by being drawn into taking conservation action such as making more sustainable choices when shopping.

2.20 The evaluation found, however, that it was not only the students and their parents that benefited from the project. Indeed, teachers described: a new confidence when faced with a looser teaching framework; an increased motivation to make learning more relevant for their pupils and create “a more contextualised curriculum relevant to the lives of children”; and said that the project gave schools a sense of shared endeavour that pulled staff together as a team. The data also suggested that the project led to teachers feeling good, motivated, and excited about coming into school. In one school, the project was described by a teacher as a ‘pick me up’ after a pressured visit from Ofsted, and another talked about how delivering the project in the summer term allowed them to leave ‘on a high.’


Support for teachers

2.21 We understand the importance of providing teachers with the support needed to implement a conservation curriculum. Through providing quality training opportunities and resources, we have equipped teachers with the skills, knowledge, confidence, and tools to embed conservation themes in their own teaching. Our support for educators ranges from free downloadable resources and extensive curriculum toolkits, through to direct training with our experts.

2.22 Our especially developed toolkits include everything a teacher needs to support their conservation curriculum journey, including lesson plans, assembly planners, topic webs, progression overviews, knowledge organisers, and class resources. All our resources are fully mapped to the national curriculum and designed to meet teacher’s needs, whilst also embedding themes of sustainability, climate change, and species conservation. This includes:

-          Over three hundred inspiring and educational resources free to download from our website,

-          Step-by-step guides to create conservation themed weeks in schools,

-          Conservation curriculum Toolkits supporting teachers to put conservation at the heart of pupils’ learning, and

-          Professional development programmes which are attended by over three hundred teachers every year.

2.23 In addition, Chester Zoo has provided practical on the ground support to six local schools through our Nature Recovery Corridor project to create safe spaces for wildlife on school grounds. This includes Blacon High School where our new afterschool wildlife club is teaching pupils in the school’s gardening group to develop safe spaces for wildlife. They have been busy exploring the wildlife that exists around the garden and adding wildlife-friendly items, including an insect hotel and a hedgehog home. These projects support the aims of the Government’s National Education Nature Park, which we are already supporting the delivery of, working with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Natural History Museum[10].

2.24 Further, following COP27 where the importance of education in solving the planet’s climate and ecological emergencies was one of the key areas of discussion, we have launched a new Conservation and Sustainability Education PGCert course[11]. The new course - designed and to be delivered by experts at Chester Zoo and The University of Chester – will offer a first opportunity, anywhere in the world, for education professionals to gain a recognised qualification in the field of conservation and sustainability education. The course aims to provide educators with the knowledge and skills needed to help learners maximise the impact they can have in carving a better future for the planet.

2.25 The course is suitable for educators working, or aspiring to work, in a variety of settings including zoos and aquariums, conservation and sustainability NGOs, and in the formal education sector. It will be rooted in real-world practice and based heavily on Chester Zoo’s wide-ranging expertise and decades of experience in the field of conservation, with education programmes delivered both in the zoo and in support of field partners across the globe.

2.26 Given our experiences outlined above, we are ready and willing to support the Department for Education, and collaborate with other like-minded organisations, to create a package of support for teachers across England, which would allow them to implement a conservation curriculum in their school.


Conservation education abroad

2.27 The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation, UNESCO, have said that environmental studies should be standard teaching in all countries by 2025, and we believe that implementing a conservation curriculum in England represents an opportunity to become a world leader in this area.

2.28 We understand that Italy has already placed climate change and sustainability at the core of its school curriculum and begun to incorporate the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development into as many subjects as possible. Further, all pupils are dedicated one hour a week to themes including global heating and humans’ influence on the planet, and other subjects, including geography, mathematics, and physics, are also taught from the perspective of sustainability.

2.29 Further, the global movement of Eco-schools is an example of good work that can be built on and enhanced[12]. While themes such as conservation, nature, and biodiversity do not always reach all aspects of the school curriculum, Eco-Schools encourage young people to engage in their environment by allowing them the opportunity to actively protect it. Through this programme, young people experience a sense of achievement at being able to have a say in the environmental management policies of their schools, ultimately steering them towards certification and the prestige which comes with being awarded a Green Flag.


28 April 2023



[1] Chester Zoo (2021). ‘Conservation Masterplan.

[2] Chester Zoo. ‘Chester Zoo Youth Board.

[3] Chester Zoo. ‘New education strategy for sustainability and climate change.

[4] The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review (2021).

[5] Students Organising for Sustainability (2023). ‘New research indicates support for the Climate Education Bill.

[6] House of Lords (2023). ‘In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals.

[7] Defra (2023). ‘Government Response to the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee’s Report In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals.’

[8] Ardoin, Bowers & Gaillard (2020). ‘Environmental education outcomes for conservation: A systematic review.’

[9] Chester Zoo. ‘Project Schools: Climate and Sustainability.

[10] Hansard (2023). ‘Nature Conservation:Education.

[11] University of Chester (2023). ‘Conservation and Sustainability Education PGCert.

[12] Eco-schools. ‘About Eco-schools.