UCL - Teaching climate change and sustainability

37 4.4 Empowering school leaders The survey indicates opportunities for school leaders to provide additional support for teachers in relation to climate change and sustainability education. The results confirm findings of previous research (Gillow et al., 2022) which have indicated that, whilst many head teachers are broadly supportive of climate change and sustainability education, their priorities tend to rest elsewhere, particularly post-pandemic and in the context of severe financial restraint on school budgets. Amongst respondents, 40% of teachers reported that they are ‘never’ or ‘almost never’ encouraged by their school leaders to discuss climate change and sustainability with students. This is not to say that teachers are not supported, or are discouraged; however, it indicates a window of opportunity to encourage change at a whole-school level. Relatedly, there was limited attention to and recognition of the potentially valuable role that school governors can play in supporting and leading change within schools, with only 7.6% of respondents selecting ‘more support from school governors’ as a ‘top 5’ priority for support. Leadership of climate change and sustainability education in schools can take shape in many ways, driven by a range of individuals in schools. Previous research (Dunlop et al., 2021) has found that teachers and students wanted climate change and sustainability education to feature in school policies (e.g., School Development Plan) and inspection guidance, an expectation that aligns the new DfE strategy that schools will have Sustainability Leads by 2025. However, this raises questions about who will undertake these roles and how they will be resourced and equipped. Harnessing the knowledge of the school community, including the diverse expertise that rests within governing bodies, offers potential leadership capacity within schools such that the responsibility for climate change and sustainability education can extend beyond individual teachers and school leaders. Indeed, the National Association for Environmental Education has published guidance to support this (Lee & Scott, 2020). Careful consideration of professional development opportunities and plans for resourcing this leadership is necessary to avoid burdening already hard-pressed school leaders and engaged teachers. 4.5 Building on the national curriculum The final opportunity relates to curriculum. Research underlines that a curricular focus on scientific facts of climate change needs expansion, not least because teaching facts alone can increase young people’s feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (Ojala, 2012, 2015) which can lead to climate anxiety and apathy (Galway & Field, 2023; Ojala, 2013). In England, however, this framing persists in the National Curriculum (Glackin & King, 2020), and is reinforced in the new DfE strategy (2022), including through its commitment to a new GCSE in Natural History (Dunlop & Rushton, 2022). The survey results indicate that teaching related to climate change and sustainability continues to align with the National Curriculum by virtue of who completed the survey (41.3% taught geography, 37.2% taught science, 35.2% taught PSHE, 70.7% taught at secondary level) and reported teaching practice. Whilst in principle (and as mentioned in Section 1), the National Curriculum affords teachers flexibility to incorporate climate change and sustainability across their teaching (and academisation means that many schools are not required to follow it), the results indicate such flexibility is not flowing through to practice. Thus, explicit encouragement is needed which would be supported by curriculum change.