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Embedding Environmental Sustainability Into Teacher Training

My name is Andy Howes, I am the director of the Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) Secondary course at the University of Manchester. Getting a PGCE like this is the main route to becoming a fully qualified high school teacher.


I am also a tutor for trainee science teachers. For several years now, I’ve worked with some of my group to try to work out how to further embed environmental sustainability into their lessons. Last year, this really took off - and the key to this was their discovery of Teach the Future. The group had decided to use their pupil voice assignments (where teachers learn how to listen to pupils better, as a way of developing and improving what teachers do) to delve into the research on climate change education. Their detective work resulted in the discovery of and then a thought-provoking zoom call with members of Teach the Future (TtF).


This Zoom call was a huge moment for the group. They were very strongly affected by the passionate, informed and action-focused perspectives that TtF members expressed. The trainees decided to follow up on the issue and to explore with myself and other PGCE tutors the different ways in which environmental sustainability could become a major theme in the PGCE course. We had already been working on making this a more significant issue in the course, but the meeting between my trainees and the TtF campaigners has been a positive catalyst for further action.


These discussions have evolved into an exciting project to host a conference on this topic for science and maths teacher trainees in early 2021. Members of TtF have also joined an inter-generational conference planning team (see image below) and are helping to shape the conference program and teacher training activities throughout the PGCE year.


Zoom screenshot of the dream organising team, includes newly qualified teachers, university tutors on the PGCE and members of Teach the Future. This includes an impressive age range from 16 to 60.

The conference - with a title of Generation Readied by Environmental Education Now’ (GREEN) - aims to raise awareness among trainees about the climate and ecological emergencies, empower trainees with skills and ideas for engaging pupils on this topic, centre student perspectives and showcase inspiring schools that are reducing their carbon footprint and enhancing nature in their local contexts.


At such a time of heightened pressure on educators in the context of COVID-19, it doesn’t feel appropriate to place additional demands on schools. But the unravelling climate crisis requires us to do exactly this.


While all efforts have rightly been focused on ‘flattening the curve’ of new COVID-19 cases, the curve representing greenhouse gas emissions continues to escalate - resulting in a summer of devastating climate impacts across the globe.


Scientists are imploring political leaders to respond to the climate and ecological crises with the same level of urgency with which they’ve responded to the pandemic. Ensuring a green recovery has emerged as a leading strategy for both rebuilding the economy and tackling climate change through investing in renewable infrastructure, clean public transport and ecological restoration.


COVID-19 has laid bare the faultlines in our society and demonstrated the intersections between health, environment, economy and geography. For example, research has demonstrated strong links between air pollution and increased risk of COVID-19 mortality.


These intersections underscore the need for environmental sustainability to be weaved into all subject areas in schools, but also raises urgent questions like: what opportunities are there for teachers and students to work together to develop environmentally sustainable transport policies?


The GREEN Conference aims to wrestle with these questions and many others like it.


COVID-19 and the climate crisis mean that students currently making their way through the education system will emerge into a world that will look radically different from the time they began their learning journey in primary school. It is the responsibility of teachers to help young people make sense of these changes and to prepare them to be part of shaping this future.

We’ve launched the conference today, so please visit www.pgcegreen.co.uk to find out more and register. We look forward to bringing lots of people together to get stuck into these issues. Please email me via andrew.howes@manchester.ac.uk if you would like to get involved or have any suggestions for further embedding environmental sustainability into teacher training courses.



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Teach the Future is a youth-led campaign to urgently repurpose the entire education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
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