Setting the record straight on climate change in the school curriculum

18 March 2019
What was claimed

All English schoolchildren are taught geography until at least the age of 14 — many until 16 — and in geography they’re taught about climate change.

Our verdict

Correct. Climate change is also part of the science curriculum in England, which all children are taught up to the age of 16. Some students have recently said they’re not learning enough about climate change on the current curriculum.

What was claimed

Four Oxford schoolgirls have started a petition to make lessons on climate change compulsory in schools.

Our verdict

The students’ petition recognises that climate change is already part of the science and geography curriculum in England. But they say that they have “barely learned about” it at school and want climate change to be a “core part” of the national curriculum.

Four secondary school students from Oxford recently started a petition asking for climate change to be made a core part of the national curriculum in England.

In response, BBC journalist John Simpson tweeted: 

 To which Toby Young, former director of the New Schools Network, responded: 
This debate between the two is a man-made storm in a teacup. Both have missed the point being made by the secondary school students.

In spite of the petition being headlined: “Get the climate crisis on the national curriculum”, the students say in the text that climate change is already supposed to be taught as part of geography and science.

Their point is that they’ve “barely learned about the climate crisis at school”, despite it being on the curriculum. That’s why they want climate change to be made a “core part” of the national curriculum, so that students learn about it in greater depth.

As the students say, climate change is already incorporated into the curriculum in both geography and science in England. Short of asking every school or student directly, we can’t say exactly how much children are taught about climate change in practice—it will probably vary from school to school.

What does the national curriculum cover at the moment?

We’ve only looked at the situation in England, as education policy is devolved in the UK and the students in question go to school in England.

Issues around climate change are covered in both science and geography at Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) and Key Stage 4 (age 14-16). Both subjects are compulsory at Key Stage 3, while only science is compulsory at Key Stage 4.

The science Key Stage 3 curriculum includes:

  • “the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate”.

Science Key Stage 4 covers:

  • “evidence, and uncertainties in evidence, for additional anthropogenic causes of climate change”
  • And “potential effects of, and mitigation of, increased levels of carbon dioxide and methane on the Earth’s climate”.

Geography Key Stages 3 and 4 covers:

  • “weather and climate, including the change in climate from the Ice Age to the present”
  • And “how human and physical processes interact to influence, and change landscapes, environments and the climate; and how human activity relies on effective functioning of natural systems”.

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