Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL]

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 16th July 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, recent research has shown that 39% of nine to 18 year-olds thought they had learned little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school, and 71% said they would like to learn more. There is both a large gap in what young people have learned and a huge appetite to learn more. They also want to know what they themselves need to do to help protect the planet and thrive in a biodiverse and sustainable world.

In a year in which the UK hosts COP 26, we need to demonstrate our commitment to education and climate change and at least match what our co-host, Italy, is doing on sustainable citizenship provision. Our claim to want to be a global leader will be an empty one if the Government fail to take action. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth on his timeliness in introducing the Bill and his passion in doing so.

I hope when the Minister replies she will not say that the curriculum already covers environmental issues adequately, because it is simply not true. Current provision is piecemeal, with the issue covered in science subjects and geography, but not embedded in the curriculum as it should be—a point made by Ofsted, which has found it is often just an add-on.

In 2019 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on scaling up education for sustainable development, and UNESCO has now set a new target to make environment education a core curriculum component in all countries by 2025. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government are responding to UNESCO on this target?

My noble friend Lord Knight mentioned the views of teachers. Is the Minister aware of them? More than two-thirds of them think there should be more teaching on climate change in our schools, and nearly 90% say it should be compulsory—yet three-quarters of the teachers surveyed say they do not have adequate training in this area. There is not just a need to change initial teacher training; in-service programmes are urgently required for existing teachers. What discussions are taking place with providers on laying on these courses?

We have an admirable goal to reach net zero by 2050, but we risk not achieving it if we do not ensure that our population both understand the threat and know what actions are needed to reach this goal. It requires encouraging the right mindset about caring for the natural environment in the interests of present and future generations. It means instilling acceptance that behavioural change is necessary.

To give just one example, the Committee on Climate Change found that 62% of the reduction in energy consumption needed to meet our targets requires behavioural change. In this context it is not surprising that the committee said that reform of the Government’s education and skills framework should be a priority in 2021.

Starting to engage people when they are young, ready to learn and not set in their ways must be the right approach, so I strongly commend the Bill’s proposals on both the secondary curriculum and updating the teaching of citizenship, which, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, is so important.