Almost all schools in England (9 in 10) are now taking action to protect the planet, with six in 10 teachers believing they play a powerful role in shaping the sustainable citizens of tomorrow, according to new research released today by digital learning company Pearson.
The findings - which are based on a survey of more than 6,000 teachers and will form part of the 2023 Pearson School Report coming later this summer - show:
- 3 in 4 teachers are exploring environmental issues with their students today(1) - this is consistent across all schools, irrespective of phase, region, size and affluence, rising slightly in schools that are graded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
- Running student eco-clubs (47% selected this), providing green spaces (41%) and teaching environmental solutions (40%) are other common steps being taken to help connect learners with nature and drive positive change.
- Where more than 1 in 3 primary teachers are also supporting local biodiversity by allowing wild plants to grow and using bird feeders, 1 in 4 headteachers are running energy-saving and waste-reducing initiatives and 1 in 5 are offering seasonal and local food produce in school.
Despite these steps, 7 in 10 respondents do not think the current education system is developing sustainably-minded future citizens - up from 6 in 10 who said the same in 2022 - with time pressures and a “crammed curriculum” cited as the biggest blocker to delivering environmental education by 4 in 5 teachers. More age-appropriate resources and making climate change a legal teaching requirement are thought to most help schools drive positive environmental change.
As a secondary school teacher in London explains: “In our school we have declared a climate emergency and are setting up a steering committee with pupils involved to audit our practices. This will focus on curriculum, community, governance and site and help us develop a climate action plan. However the sustainability audit is sitting with me - when I am busy it has to go on hold. It’s not difficult to do but when your plate is full with teaching, marking and the like it has to go on to the backburner.“
Clare Cox, Sustainability and Climate Lead at Pearson said: “These new findings from our Pearson School Report really highlight the passion and action happening in schools across the country. We want to support them on this journey as best as we can, whether that's through our free advice resources that teachers can draw on now or future sustainability and climate education qualifications.
“However, we also understand the time pressures on educators today. So, we have joined forces with organisations like IEMA, the Met Office, University of Reading and the Eden Project to help put students at the heart of finding solutions and lessen the load on our teachers. Our Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) will give our planet's future safeguards the opportunity to independently study and help solve issues ranging from pollution to waste and energy, while gaining valuable skills in the process.”
Pearson’s EPQ allows learners to independently focus a research project on sustainability or climate change and explore creative solutions to issues like food supply, waste, energy and pollution. The qualification, which is equivalent to half an A level in size and attracts UCAS points, will include support resources and project pointers from the likes of the Met Office, University of Reading and the Eden Project, as well as 1 year’s free membership to IEMA - the professional body for everyone working, studying, or interested in the environment and sustainability.
Sarah Mukherjee MBE, CEO at IEMA, said: “Our partnership with Pearson on the EPQ will provide students with a valuable opportunity to gain skills which will be critical for the UK’s transition to a sustainable society. Every job should be greener and IEMA’s work with Pearson will help make this a reality.”
Following the inaugural Pearson School Report last year, the 2023 report coming this summer will reveal further insights and trends across a whole host of themes in education. Of the findings released today, while fewer than 1 in 20 teachers currently have climate action plans or are driving changes in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the number of heads planning to make their schools more eco-friendly and sustainable has risen since 2022.
Reflecting on the impact her primary schools’ sustainable initiatives have already made, Becki Huth, Forest School and Sustainability Leader at Cutteslowe Primary School said: “We see students who have previously struggled with learning or attendance flourish as they gain a sense of meaning coming in early to feed our school goats and chickens. We see fewer exclusions and suspensions as children connect with nature each day through our outdoor curriculum and Forest School and are made to feel comfortable. Relationships with parents and the wider community have also gone from strength to strength as they help out in our allotment or support with requests for materials and projects. I know not all schools will have the resources to do these things, but it starts with passion and by thinking how you can do things differently in your setting for the sake of learning, and the planet.”
See more first-look findings from the 2023 Pearson School Report and register to receive the full digital report this summer or learn about how students can base their Pearson EPQ on climate change and sustainability.