Interview: discussing 'curriculum for a changing climate' with an educator

Liv Marshall and Niamh Crisp-O'Brien
September 14, 2023

We (Liv Marshall and Niamh Crisp-O'Brien, both school students and volunteers with Teach the Future), interviewed Elena Lengthorn, Senior Lecturer Teacher Education and founder of the Education for Sustainable Futures Special Interest Group  at the University of Worcester and Co-chair of Our Shared World.

Niamh and Liv at a parliamentary event for Teach the Future.

We conducted this interview for the NAEE journal. Below is a section of the interview and the full version will be published in the November journal issue. You can find out more about NAEE and become a member via their website.

Liv:  At Teach the Future (TtF), we want to see our education system repurposed around the climate emergency and ecological crisis. How would you like to see formal education transformed, and why? 


There is an urgent and dire need for our society to recognise the urgency of our climate crisis and ecological breakdown. As a whole, we are failing to acknowledge the reality that we, especially our children, are facing not just in the future but now in the present. The transformation will look different for educators in different fields and will cover a variety of different areas, with some focusing on issues such as caring for the economy and others focusing on changing social values. As for the why; if we don’t have the knowledge, then we won’t take action, or perhaps we take maladaptive action. Every tenth of a degree that we can avoid global heating will prevent suffering. 

Niamh:  What support and resources would teachers and educators need to feel confident and prepared to deliver this change?


It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a spectrum of confidence amongst teachers when it comes to climate change, with many having a lack of confidence potentially due to a lack of training surrounding the topic and how best to teach about it. That lack of knowledge and training leads to anxiety about how best to teach it. Climate education could be included in all aspects of training for educators, from pre to in-service, but it needs to be specialised for the age range of pupils the educators work with, but there is the potential  to include knowledge and an exploration of core values and their meanings in a generic way. It’s  vital to remember that alongside the climate crisis we need to discuss the ecological emergency, these two topics come hand-in-hand and education on both is vital to preparing students for their futures. 

Liv: Teach the Future has been showing what a new curriculum for England could look like by embedding climate and sustainability into subjects across the national curriculum for KS3 and KS4.  We are grateful for your support towards our ‘tracked changes’ project; what has encouraged you to engage with it and why do you think it is important? 


As a geography educator, the burden on geography teachers is tangible. The climate emergency is a motivation for some people to become geography teachers as they feel responsible for teaching on the climate crisis. I was recently speaking to a primary geography teacher who shared how they had read a newspaper headline in the 1980s: ‘climate change, be afraid’. This teacher has a sense of guilt as they feel like nothing very much has changed since then. However, teaching about the climate and ecological crisis should be everybody’s responsibility. The Tracked Changes project shows how this is possible and provides opportunities to embed it in all subjects. It isn’t reliant on a change of government or a big re-write, it is ready to-go and accessible. When teachers are overworked, have broad curriculums and are overburdened already, this enables them to use existing frameworks to deliver the content. The educators working most closely with climate and ecological topics may also be impacted psychologically, and have their own level of grief, anxiety and fear. I think of ‘Tracked Changes’ is an antidote, of sorts, to this anxiety by identifying ways that we can already be threading these urgent topics into our classroom work.

Niamh: We know that some teachers are already using the new curriculum in the classroom. As well as teachers and students, do you think others can benefit from using the new curriculum guidance and what potential do you see for the project going forward?


I am excited to hear the consideration to expand the ‘Tracked Changes’ project into the primary curriculum. I think there is also opportunity within initial teacher education, for pre-service teachers,  so that when they are writing their first ever lesson plans they have had a climate education induction and are thinking about climate change and sustainability from the beginning and can embed it  into all of their planning and teaching. There are opportunities from early years all the way to higher education; tracked changes could be done for all subjects, across all phases of education. There are already some super pockets of work happening relating to this, such as SOS-UK’s Responsible Future’s programme. Climate education needs to be everywhere and accessible to everyone as this affects everyone, everywhere.