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COP26 school packs ‘no substitute’ for putting climate change on curriculum

The government will help schools hold "green" assemblies and host walk to school weeks ahead of global climate talks. But the COP26 school packs don't match up to the curriculum reform needed, experts said

The COP26 school packs will include tips for starting climate conversations among pupils plus planet-themed backgrounds to be used on Zoom.

The COP26 school packs will include tips for starting climate conversations among pupils plus planet-themed backgrounds to be used on Zoom. Image: Pexles

Packs being given to schools to get kids talking about the planet ahead of COP26 are “no substitute” for making the climate crisis part of the curriculum, experts have said.

Teachers will receive guides for running a “green” assembly, suggestions of initiatives – such as a “walk to school” week, eco-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and extra resources from environmental organisations such as WWF.

“There’s some good content in the schools pack and it’s crucial that we’re involving children in the run up to the big climate talks this autumn, but this is no substitute for making climate education part of the formal curriculum,” Jenny Thatcher, head of youth and families at Friends of the Earth, told The Big Issue.

“Children are growing up with climate breakdown already causing terrible harm to communities. This generation is inheriting a huge problem that will shape their lives, but the education system does not yet carry this message.”

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Youth-led campaigns including Teach the Future have long called for the government to review how schools prepare children and young people for the climate emergency, and to introduce in-depth climate education across the country.

Up to 70 per cent of teachers in the UK don’t feel equipped to teach kids about the climate crisis, according to a survey of more than 7,600 educators.

The COP26 school packs were announced as the prime minister – who came under fire for travelling from London to Cornwall by private jet – visited a school in the area ahead of the G7 leaders’ summit.

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Young people have “the biggest stake” in the outcomes of COP26, said Matt Larsen-Daw, education manager for WWF UK. “It is vital that they are informed and engaged as this pivotal milestone in the fight against climate change takes place on their doorstep, here in the UK.”

The climate conference, to be held in Glasgow this November, is ”an opportunity for UK leaders to show they’re serious about curbing the climate crisis,” Thatcher added. 

“It’s good to see they’re involving schools in the conversation but curriculum change needs to go further, be long-term, and be backed by suitable funding and support for teachers.”

Guide notes in the COP26 school packs will also help schools “identify the UK’s future student climate leaders” and recognise pupils who already contribute to the fight to reach net-zero carbon emissions such as by recycling and walking to school.

“When I visit schools around the country, something I’m always struck by is how engaged in environmental issues young people are,” said Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. 

“Tackling climate change requires action from each of us on an individual and collective basis and this pack helps schools encourage both those things.

“I’m excited to see how schools’ climate leaders bring their passion, creativity and intelligence to help us secure a sustainable future.”

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