UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education Written evidence (EDU0065)



  1. UCL’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE) supports teachers to develop expertise that they need to prepare young people for a climate-altered future. It does so through three workstreams: i) research to address pressing questions related to climate change and sustainability education policy and practice; ii) design, development and implementation of professional development for teachers and school leaders; iii) international engagement to enhance the implementation of quality climate change and sustainability education in England and further afield.  CCCSE is part of UCL’s Institute of Education (IOE), which is one of the UK’s largest providers of postgraduate Initial Teacher Education (ITE), as well as a world-leading centre for education and social research spanning all phases of education and related fields of policy and practice.
  2. CCCSE welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee on Education for 11- to 16-year-olds, by drawing on insights from our own research and practice and the broad fields of climate change and sustainability education. Building on our expertise, this submission focuses on:
  3. In Summary, CCCSE welcomes the DfE’s new sustainability and climate change strategy for schools as a step towards enhancing the provision of climate change and sustainability education in England’s schools. However, we urge the Committee to send a strong signal to the UK Government that ongoing policy reform is necessary – across the suite of related policies, including curriculum and ITE – in order to equip young people with the skills they need to live in a climate changed world, and contribute to an environmentally sustainable economy. As part of this reform, we emphasise the importance of fully funded, professional development for all teachers, all subject areas and all career stages.



  1. We are living at a time of unequivocal human-caused climate change with rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere. Widespread adverse impacts are being experienced by humans and non-human species, and vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to the causes of climate change are being disproportionately affected. In this context, all education – including secondary education – should enable children and young people to learn for the environment, and to address inequalities which are shaping, and being shaped by, the environmental crises that we are facing.
  2. Secondary education, in particular, needs to support young people with the knowledge, skills and agency to live amidst the challenges of climate change – now and in the future – and to participate in an environmentally sustainable economy. This will require the development of a wide range of disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and socio-emotional knowledge and skills and, fundamentally, the ability to navigate this ongoing turbulence by exercising their agency guided by hope.
  3. The NHS reports that 18% of children and young people in England suffer a severe mental health illness (NHS, 2022), and yet 70% of those who experience mental health problems have not received appropriate support at a sufficiently early age (DfE, 2018). To combat these urgent problems, schools are increasingly expected to support mental health and wellbeing (e.g. PHE, 2020) but receive few resources to do so. In addition, there is increasing evidence of eco-anxiety in children and young people as a result of climate change and the ecological crisis (e.g. Panu, 2020). Such negative emotions are entirely consistent with an approach to climate change education which provides young people with knowledge about the spatially and temporally complex impacts of climate change, without the implementation of emotionally responsive pedagogies (Rushton et al., 2023). In this context of concern for mental health and wellbeing – some of which centres on the climate crisis – education must be designed to support young people’s agency and empowerment, and schools be resourced to implement it. We argue that this requires a multi-disciplinary approach to climate change and sustainability education through which climate change is explored across the whole curriculum (Rushton et al., 2023).
  4. The Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested that by 2030, more than 200,000 ‘green jobs’ could be created in energy efficiency and that there might be 70,000 new jobs in offshore wind by the end of 2023 (IPPR, 2020). ‘Green jobs/skills’ are also commonly framed relative to financial, information technology and legal sectors. However, there is an increasingly urgent need for employees in every sector – education and health, hospitality and retail, agriculture and manufacturing – to be able to operate in a dynamic low-carbon context. The disruptions caused by the impacts of climate change, which are already being experienced locally and internationally, will require ongoing personal and professional adaptation. Within this volatile context all citizens must be resourced with diverse skills and capabilities, especially those associated with adaptability, such as problem solving, critical thinking, skills for action and, resilience amidst change.
  5. Regarding the use of central terms in the inquiry, we ask the Committee to consider that the phrase ‘green economy’ might not sufficiently recognize the complexities of addressing climate change and biodiversity loss, potentially obscuring social questions of economic and political interests, power structures and human rights. Furthermore, the notion ‘green’ is potentially problematic in global contexts with low rainfall where ‘green’ is inherently unsustainable. Instead, we ask the Committee to help promote and establish terminology that better reflects the future desirable state; this would mean terminology that unambiguously advocates for an environmentally sustainable future and economy. This might include low-carbon economy, or Raworth’s doughnut economy (2013).


National Curriculum

  1. The National Curriculum, organized into discipline-based subjects, affords opportunity for students to develop subject-based knowledge and skills; it claims to represent ‘the best that has been thought and said’ (DfE, 2014, p. 6) and prepare students for their adult lives. We suggest there is a need to reflect on its current content and the extent to which it is developing students’ abilities to contribute to an environmentally sustainable future. In particular, we encourage curriculum review that: (i) reflects on the ends of that knowledge acquisition, and the extent to which students are being asked to critically engage with the knowledge; (ii) places greater emphasis on skills and values (alongside key knowledge); and embeds student-led enquiries and action. Such skills are essential for building deeper engagement and understanding, agency, and the intra- and inter-personal skills that will be necessary as the planet and society changes.
  2. Currently, the breadth of the Key Stage 3 (KS3) curriculum could be viewed as providing adequate opportunity for teachers to generate their own content, including content related to climate change and sustainability. However, openness of the curriculum does not equate to encouragement. While there are examples of schools that have been able to introduce and maintain meaningful climate change and sustainability education programs in the context of the current curriculum, including academies that have the flexibility to develop a tailored curriculum (e.g., XP School in Doncaster), our research shows there are also many schools where – because of a lack of teacher expertise and agency – students receive very little (or no) climate change and sustainability education.
  3. Furthermore, although direct and indirect references to climate change and sustainability can be found in the National Curriculum for England (2014), these are concentrated in Geography and Science, and they disproportionately attend to uncertainty related to climate change, describe climate change and biodiversity crisis in a benign tone, and silence the need for action (Glackin and King, 2020; Greer, King and Glackin, 2021). Drawing attention to Teach the Future’s ‘Tracked Changes Curriculum Project’ (here), supported by University of Gloucestershire and Anglia Ruskin University, we believe curriculum development should facilitate a more ‘climate change and sustainability aware’ approach across all subjects, while remaining non-directive, and actively encourage more engagement with the natural environment.
  4. In 2023 the UK government announced the five-year Environmental Improvement Plan (HMG, 2023) which includes a key strategic goal for ‘Enhanced engagement with the natural environment’. This echoes the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy (DfE, 2022), which committed to increase access to, and connection with, nature in educational settings. Nature-connectedness has been found to contribute to environmental benefits (Walshe et al. 2022), to improving children and young people’s development, motor skills, and attention restoration, to reducing social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties, and enhancing academic engagement and achievements. Despite this evidence, opportunities for outdoor learning in England are diminishing due to staff confidence in outdoor teaching and high demands in curriculum delivery; Natural England has reported that only 23% of children reported spending time outside during lessons most days, with 39% stating they never went outside during lessons (Natural England, 2022). Alongside the provision of accessible and good quality outdoor space within communities, incorporating specific outdoor learning – beyond simply ‘visits’ to natural spaces – is crucial to develop children’s affective relationship with nature.


Teacher education and professional development

  1. If young people from all regions and backgrounds are to thrive in an environmentally sustainable future, we need to support teachers from all subject areas and all phases to develop confidence, knowledge, and pedagogical approaches that will help them to incorporate climate change and sustainability into their teaching. For example, History lessons can help young people understand how we reached this point of crisis and when the turning points in our journey towards the Anthropocene began. In mathematics, students can explore the way climate change predictions are calculated or work out how much energy solar panels on the roof of the school are generating and how much money and carbon emissions that is saving. Art lessons can allow students to depict a world that is not seen through an anthropogenic perspective and explore sustainable art practices, and in business students can examine case studies of businesses that are embracing zero-carbon practices and the growth of the green economy. Early findings from a national survey of teachers in England being undertaken by CCCSE (n = 870 teachers)[1] has confirmed that teachers of Geography and Science are, by far, the most active in incorporating these ideas into their teaching and are relatively confident in their abilities. However, the research reveals a sizeable and troubling gap in relation to other subject areas. Young people who do not pursue Geography and Science will miss out on this vital knowledge and skills. Further, specialist teachers who might help non-Geography and non-Science students to engage with this content are difficult to recruit and retain in some areas, and teachers of other subjects might be struggling with expertise or failing to see the relevance for their discipline.
  2. Initial survey findings also indicate that the most common form of climate change and sustainability related teacher professional development is ‘self-taught’ (70.5% of respondents); this illustrates the urgent need for comprehensive, up-to-date and trustworthy support for teachers. CCCSE advocates for the creation of free professional development for teachers which is tailored so that it is phase specific, subject specific, and adapted to support locally relevant and authentic learning for our students.
  3. Developing Initial Teacher Education (ITE) (or Initial Teacher Training) is also crucial because of the role it plays in influencing the next generation of teachers, including fostering their agency as professionals with capabilities to support their students to respond to the climate and environmental crises. CCCSE survey data indicates that only 12.6% of teachers who participated in the survey (the majority of whom were teaching Geography and Science) recalled climate change and sustainability as being included in their ITE course. Embedding climate change and sustainability within the Core Content Framework (CCF) for ITE and subsequent Early Career Framework (ECF) (the two-year professional development entitlement for newly qualified teachers) would ensure all student teachers were properly prepared to teach about it, regardless of their discipline or place of education.


Key References

Department for Education (DfE) 2014. The National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. (Available online)

Department for Education (DfE) (2022). Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems. (Available online)

Greer, K., King, H., & Glackin, M. (2021). The ‘web of conditions’ governing England’s climate change education policy landscape. Journal of Education Policy, 38(1), p. 69-92

Glackin, M., and H. King. 2020. “Taking Stock of Environmental Education Policy in England–the What, the Where and the Why.” Environmental Education Research, 26 (3), p. 305-323.

HM Government (2023). Environmental improvement plan 2023 - First revision of the 25 year environment plan. (Available online)

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) (2020). Faster, Further, Fairer. Putting people at the heart of tackling the climate and nature emergency. Interim report of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission. IPPR. 

Natural England. The Children’s People and Nature Survey for England: 2022 Update, 2022. (Available online).

Panu, P. Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety. Sustainability 2020, 12, p. 7836.

Richardson, M.; McEwan, K. (2018). 30 days wild and the relationships between engagement with nature’s beauty, nature connectedness and well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, p. 1500.

Raworth, K. (2017) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, US.

Rushton, E.A.C., Sharp, S., Kitson, A. & Walshe, N. (2023) Reflecting on Climate Change Education Priorities in Secondary Schools in England: Moving beyond Learning about Climate Change to the Emotions of Living with Climate Change. Sustainability, 15(8), p. 6497

Walshe, N.; Moula, Z.; Lee, E. (2022) Eco-Capabilities as a Pathway to Wellbeing and Sustainability. Sustainability, 14(6), p. 3582.


29 April 2023



[1] The CCCSE has conducted a national survey of teachers in England entitled ‘What do climate change and sustainability have to do with me?’. The survey invited responses from teachers from across England between October and December 2022. Analysis is currently underway and initial results are expected to be publicly available in mid-2023.