Sarah Dukes: A Teacher Making Our Dream A Reality

Sarah Dukes
February 23, 2023

In 2018, deeply concerned about the climate crisis and eager to take action, our passionate Eco Committee convinced our Headteacher that The Chase School must declare its own Climate Emergency. Our established group of committed members meet regularly to plan events and actions that improve the school’s awareness of climate change, and empower students and staff to help make a difference: we are getting on top of recycling, single-use plastics, energy and water waste, sustainable food and transport, an increase in solar panels, and planting more trees on site.

But, crucially, tackling climate change must not be left solely to the eco group – it must not be seen as an ‘extra-curricular activity’, a behind-the-scenes club, an add-on. Pupils are faced with the senseless, existential threat that is climate breakdown right now. This decade is our make-or-break opportunity to limit warming to 1.5°C and steer the world toward a net-zero future; as educators, we play a vital role in helping to create a better, greener world.We can reach all pupils and tackle the issue holistically by ensuring that the teaching of the climate crisis, living sustainably, and connecting with our natural environment is at the heart of everything we teach.

This is where Teach The Future’s Tracked Changes review is so incredibly useful. Their researched documentation shows what a new curriculum for England could look like by suggesting where and how the national curriculum can be amended to include sustainability and climate education, providing guidance on how to engage with the climate crisis so that young people feel empowered to participate in tackling it, rather than feeling hopeless and scared.As a school, we have included more explicit links to these issues within lessons. In English, for example, exploring Greta Thunberg’s use pf persuasion within her many speeches, and opting to teach the fantastic novel The Survival Game by Nicky Singer, which follows a climate migrant's journey to Scotland.In Food Technology, pupils learn about ways to prevent food waste and explore food provenance, foods grown in UK, organic farming, methods of production, and alternative protein sources.

For every project in DT, classes discuss what materials to use, with a review of the environmental impact of these materials - environmental sustainability is a big part of DT theory. Year 7's particularly focus on using acrylic in their lessons, and so there is a heavy focus on the impact of plastic on the environment.In Modern Foreign Languages, teachers discuss the global impact of international sports events, and in French, look at the production chain - where raw materials are sourced, where manufactured, where sold, where re-used. Students are always amazed that cotton is a plant! In year 11 Spanish vocab and expressions encourages students to give opinions about the worst world problems and possible solutions, including describing what one must do to be more environmentally friendly.

I very much see the embedding of sustainability as an enriching and cohesive tool that unites many aspects of school life, with a focus on student mental health and well-being, by identifying crisis situations, giving pupils the tools to cope, plus empowering pupils with the knowledge and skills to instigate change.  As an adult, I know how overwhelming it can feel to worry about climate breakdown, and it distresses me to know that our pupils feel this burden.Teach The Future’s overall Tracked Changes Review highlights that “The curriculum is already interconnected. This holistic view has enabled us to integrate climate change and the ecological crisis more coherently across the curriculum as a wealth of transdisciplinary connections became apparent.” It’s win-win – and there’s no time to lose.

Thank you, Teach The Future, for tirelessly working to ensure students are substantively taught about the climate emergency and ecological crisis, and for providing much needed and useful resources to help us on our way.