“Commandeering” the curriculum for the climate-a response to Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

Grace Corm
December 3, 2020

Yesterday, The Guardian published an article entitled ‘Ofsted chief resists calls to make England school curriculum more diverse’ reporting on Amanda Spielman’s speech launching Ofsted’s Annual report. In her speech, Spielman argued against our calls for reform of the education system in response to the climate crisis. Not only are we extremely disappointed that The Guardian (and the Telegraph) would publish such a piece, but especially to have done so on the same day at the culmination of the youth-led Mock COP26 conference and the announcement of its treaty and letter to world leaders.

You can read Spielman’s speech in full here.

‘The chief inspector of schools in England has pushed back against growing calls to make the national curriculum more diverse, warning against making curriculum changes based on a single issue or purpose... Amanda Spielman said there were increasing efforts to “commandeer” schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns, including environmental causes and tackling racism… On the environment, she said all teaching about climate change should be grounded in science.’ The Guardian, 01/12/2020

Clearly, Spielman has heard of us (as well as perhaps other amazing campaigns such as The Black Curriculum, Fill In The Blanks and Liberate the Curriculum)! Campaigns such as these are calling for institution-wide approaches to teaching the climate crisis, sustainability, Britain’s colonial history and other social justice issues. These subjects are not ‘single issues' as they do not exist in a vacuum- they relate to every aspect of our lives.  

If by ‘single issue’ Spielman means the single biggest issue to ever face human existence, perhaps here we can agree. Need we remind you that there will be no schools, no colleges, no universities and no jobs on a dead planet. To avoid this eventuality of catastrophic climate and ecological breakdown, we absolutely need to ‘revise the curriculum in the context of a single issue or purpose’- that purpose being to equip young people for their future. We need to reform the entire education system, embedding sustainability as a core principle of every single discipline, linking this to learning about our colonial past and its hand in creating the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a racist crisis; climate impacts are disproportionately felt by black and brown communities due to structures retained from colonialism. It’s impossible to write a history of the climate crisis without understanding how empires built fossil fuel companies and stole natural resources from the Global South. The calls to decolonise our education system across the country are therefore crucial, as well as those to decarbonise. Climate education and decolonisation go hand in hand and are both urgently required in our national curriculum.  

Of course, learning about climate change needs to be grounded in science- we aren’t debating that. No one, least of all our campaign, is pushing for climate change to be taught in an unscientifically founded way.  

However, at the moment, all we learn about climate change is in our science and optional geography classrooms. This is not the fault of individual educators or schools – it is the fault of the entire education system.  

Young people are taught about climate change as a purely scientific phenomenon and almost nothing about its social and humanitarian implications. We desperately need schools to explore the root causes of the crisis and empower young people by helping them understand how to live and work towards a more sustainable future-no matter their profession. Whether you go on to be a farmer or a pharmacist, a builder or a banker, a fashion designer or a firefighter- you need to understand how climate change is shaping our world and how sustainability relates to your field. Furthermore, we simply don’t have time to wait for sustainable technologies and scientific solutions to develop in all these fields before we address the topic in schools; we need to be having discussions about the problem in our classrooms now.  

If you look for the leaders in any industry or sector, you will find that they are university-educated people, and often they are making poor decisions for our communities and our planet. There is huge scope here for our educational institutions to be producing graduates who are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. If we are ever to have hope of preparing young people for the jobs of a just, net-zero future, then closing the sustainable skills gap is absolutely vital- and this must start in our schools.

We’d like to end with a message directly for Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector. We would love to meet with you to discuss our campaign and why climate education is so important to us. This crisis is real, and young people are not being equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to face it. This is why we, young people from across the UK, came together to create Teach the Future- because we believe that we can make the change we so desperately need. We would love to work with you to do so.