Breaking: Teacher spray paints ‘Teach the truth’ on wall of Dept for Education demanding Climate Truth - Extinction Rebellion UK

Breaking: Teacher spray paints ‘Teach the truth’ on wall of Dept for Education demanding Climate Truth


  • A student could easily go through state education and hear climate change mentioned in fewer than 10 lessons out of approximately 10,000
  • Teachers for Climate Truth and Extinction Rebellion accuse Department for Education of failing to live up to Paris Agreement.

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Climate Factsheet for Rebels

A teacher has spray painted ‘Teach the Truth’ on the wall of the Department for Education, demanding Climate Truth in the school curriculum. As it stands a student could easily go through state education and hear climate change mentioned in fewer than 10 lessons out of approximately 10,000. [1]

At the protest, there are currently around 200 people, including teachers and school children, sitting right outside the DfE’s front door, with a classroom-sized group of kids sitting down in the middle of the crowd. A fantastic event so far, they are demanding that the ecological emergency is made an educational priority.

Police are present, but no arrests have yet been made. The mood is one of great, uplifting determination.There’s also an impromptu arts workshop on the curb side, with kids printing and sewing patches on their clothes.

Speakers have included teachers, teachers’ union representatives, and loads of children from as young as 8. In attendance in particular have are Professor David Humphreys (Open University), Dr Anne Alexander (Cambridge University) and Dr Alison Green, who recently stepped down from her Pro Vice-Chancellor role to focus on full-time climate activism and who authored a letter published last week which was signed by over 200 academics in support of the Youth 4 Climate Strike. [2]


Anne Alexander, UCU member and Cambridge University academic

“I’ve been most inspired by the school strikes. What we need to be doing is following their lead and shutting down our schools and universities. What those strikes show is that it is possible to build a mass movement and that is the only thing that will change this.”

Tim Jones, Extinction Rebellion member & teacher

“As a teacher I’m not going to do what I’m told & avoid talking about the scary things. Young people can take it, they are so much more brave than so many adults & so much less into conformity.”

Andrew Thompson, teacher, 33

“Sometimes I wonder what’s the point of teaching when no one is teaching the truth about the future.”

Alfie Crispin, 16

“I’m here to take photos to raise awareness to show that youth care about how climate change is taught in school”.

Department for Education is not enacting the Paris agreement

A central plank of the protest is the fact that the Department for Education is not enacting the landmark Paris climate agreement – which the British Government signed up to – which states: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education.” (Article 12 Paris Climate Agreement) [4]

There is currently no requirement nor any guidance on how to teach children about the climate crisis. Academies may not cover these topics at all, as they can be more selective about what they teach. One of the very few mentions of climate change in the National Curriculum for Science refers to the “evidence, and uncertainties in evidence, for anthropogenic climate change.”

Safi Yule, a 16 year old student from North London said “I was lucky my parents told me about climate change but I should have got more information from my school, which didn’t teach this at all. I wish schools would pay as much attention to issues like this, which will change my world as much as me getting my grades at exams.”

Tim Jones, a secondary school teacher and an organiser from Lewisham in London, said: “Climate and ecological breakdown will define the life of every child and student alive today. They and we are facing an unimaginable catastrophe. But when I tell my students, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when it plays almost no part in the content of their education.”

Ex-teacher and head of department, Oliver Hayes, said: “It is clear from scenes last Friday – with thousands of children taking to the streets in more than 60 towns and cities across the UK for the Youth Strike 4 Climate – that children are standing up and saying enough is enough. Worryingly, this emergency has been almost ignored in teaching, especially in state secondary schools. It is taught as a difficult, peripheral and distant issue. Students need to know not only the truth about what is happening to their planet but also what needs to be done about it.”  

Letter to the Department for Education

Teachers for Climate Truth sent a letter to the Department for Education on 6th February asking for three changes to the curriculum:

  • That the ecological and climate crisis is immediately announced as an educational priority.
  • That well-founded and evidence-based training is provided for teachers to convey this message, including the scientific and economic causes of the crisis, what governments and society need to do about it, and also on how to support young people when taking on this information. This should be implemented by no later than September 2019.
  • An immediate overhaul of the current curriculum, in the light of scientific evidence and without political interference, aimed at preparing children for the realities of their future on this planet.

The Department for Education response [3] notes that there is coverage of the science and processes involved in changing weather patterns and they mention a new Environmental Science A-level. This is not good enough: it comes nowhere near providing students with an understanding of the realities and implications of the climate and ecological crisis.

“It is incredibly important: if there are only 10 lessons on climate change, that is awful,” said Scarlett Possnett, 15, from Suffolk. “And there’s not a single lesson telling us how to address it. Our government knows the solutions and yet will not take steps to implement them.”

200 academics sign letter of support for Youth Strike 4 Climate

Last week over 200 academics signed a letter in support of the Youth 4 Climate Strike. [2] Noting some of devastating impacts of climate change, the letter states, “It is with these tragic and desperate events in mind that we offer our full support to the students – some of whom may well aspire to be the academics of the future – who bravely plan to strike on 15 February to demand that the UK government takes climate action.”

There are no better words than those of Greta Thunberg – the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who created the School Strike for Climate movement that’s rapidly expanding around the world:  “What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?” (More here.)

Alex Forbes, nursery teacher and Extinction Rebellion supporter believes, “The government has failed our children, not only is there so little on the climate and ecological climate crisis, there is nothing on how to stop it, about the impacts of increasing consumerism and our throwaway society.

“Schools are increasingly pressured to prepare students for exams, with little about the challenges of the real world. Due to government policy staff and students have to focus on tests and results, there is little rounded education.”

Dr Alison Green of Extinction Rebellion:

“Children should be taught about the connection between our way of life – including the economic and political factors – and the impact it has on the ecosystem in which we live, the consequences of this way of life for us and the planet. Climate and Ecology should be taught as a discrete subject and embedded throughout the curriculum.

“Students should be taught, with adequate support, to think critically about the very real and significant ecological and societal problems of our times, and the possible futures that might ensue. Lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and the Social Sciences need to be based on up-to-date evidence from reliable sources. While the curriculum needs to reflect the concerns raised in the IPCC reports, it must acknowledge that the IPCC, as a consensual body (including both scientists and politicians), has consistently underestimated the rate at which climate change is happening.”

Text of Extinction Rebellion’s Letter to the Department for Education

“To the Ministers and Employees of the Department for Education

6th Feb 2019

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us last October that we have 12 years to radically change every aspect of society if we are to avoid disaster. Highly regarded scientists, like Peter Wadhams, have highlighted the political restrictedness of the IPCC and the glaring omissions and over-simplifications of its report. We must accept the likelihood that 12 years is a vastly over- generous window of opportunity. We have killed 60% of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish since 1970. Insect populations are collapsing, coral reefs are bleached and dead, natural disasters are worsening, crops are failing, forests are being felled or burning and forced migration is beginning.

“If we keep this information out of the public domain – out of schools, for example – perhaps we

might avoid some awkward conversations in the years to come. We could say we never knew. After all, who wants to tell a child that, unless we make unprecedented changes to how we live, we are heading for societal collapse, famine, war and the increasing likelihood of human extinction? Telling the truth exposes us to the responsibility of facing it ourselves. Which is exactly why we must tell our children: not simply to inform them (many are far better informed than older generations) but also so that we can be held to account for our own actions. We must follow the example of the brave young people who will, on coming Fridays, be striking from school to demand truth and action.

“When we have had the evidence for decades, why does it amount to little more than a footnote in

our national curriculum – a vague and marginal concern? Geography lessons cover the basic theory but in the national curriculum for Science the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is described as ‘uncertain’. The issue could be mentioned in as few as four Science lessons in the entire course of secondary education. In academies there may be no mention at all. If not in schools, where should the public learn about where our way of life is taking us? Power knows the value of ignorance. Our Government is increasing subsidies for fossil fuels while presiding over an educational system that effectively denies the consequences of such a policy.

“Imagine if we had the courage to make our schools places where students learned how to repair the damage we have caused. If we have the courage to act now they could be the ones to revive our dying soil, regenerate biodiversity and rebuild the ecosystems that sustain us. But we must act now. We must teach students more than just how to pass tests. We must give them the opportunity to discover what is wonderful and life-giving. And we must urgently equip them with the skills, insight and courage to face what is coming. To do otherwise is an act of criminal negligence.

The evidence tells us that any imagined future for which we are currently preparing our young

people is a dream that will never be realised. The lives of every one of our children will be defined by the effects of climate and ecological breakdown. We therefore make the following demands:

“1. The ecological and climate crisis is immediately announced as an educational priority.

“2. Well-founded and evidence-based training is provided for teachers to convey this message,

including the scientific and economic causes of the crisis, what governments and society need to

do about it and also on how to support young people when taking on this information. This

should be implemented by no later than September 2019.

“3. An immediate overhaul of the current curriculum, in the light of scientific evidence and without

political interference, aimed at preparing children for the realities of their future on this planet.

“Please – because we love our children so much – let’s teach them the truth.

We await your response with due impatience and loving rage:”


[1]  10,000 lessons: 5 lessons per school day x 190 schools days per year x 11 years = 10,450.

Present curriculum:

  • There is no direct reference to ‘climate change’ or species extinction in primary curriculum.
  • Secondary curriculum has sparse references, nothing about species loss or ecological breakdown; evidence for anthropogenic effects is mentioned as containing ‘uncertainties’ – the only use of this word in reference to evidence in entire Science curriculum.    
  • Geography KS3 might have 1 module, 6-12 lessons, and in KS4 one module, if students choose GCSE Geography, including some climate change.
  • Science may cover climate change in four lessons, potentially fewer.   
  • No reference anywhere in the curriculum to current mass extinction of species, rapid warming in last 10 years, predicted consequences of unchecked warming or the reasons why mitigation has failed so far.


KS1 and 2:

  • (Students should) ‘understand how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments and the climate’.
  • No direct mention of climate change.
  • KS3 Science
  • In Chemistry 1 of 8 areas of study is ‘Earth and Atmosphere’ of which one of 7 sub-topics is the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate (one page or less in a text book).

KS3 Geography:

  • (Students should understand) ‘physical geography relating to: geological timescales and plate tectonics; rocks, weathering and soils; weather and climate, including the change in climate from the Ice Age to the present; and glaciation, hydrology and coasts’
  • No direct reference to climate change, though many schools could do one full module on the topic – which, for the majority of state educated students, would be the only time climate change is studied in any depth (as in for more than one consecutive lesson).

KS4 science:

  • In Biology, Ecology is 1 of 7 areas of study within which ‘global warming’ is one of 20 topics (1 page in a text book) explained in terms of both human and natural causes.
  • In Chemistry one of 10 areas of study is Use of Resources – do direct reference to climate change

KS4 Geography:

  • GCSE divided into 4 areas of study. In the first of these climate change is 1 of 12 modules and summarised as follows:
  • ‘Climate change is the result of natural and human factors, and has a range of effects.
  • Possible causes of climate change:
    • natural factors – orbital changes, volcanic activity and solar output
    • human factors – use of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation.’

This constitutes a page or thereabouts – a reference within a sub-topic.


  • One reference to climate change in terms of religious and other attitudes towards our human role as stewards of the planet (one lesson and climate change only an element of that lesson).

In Science, Geography and RE there are references to the effects of human activity on the environment, pollution, resource management, energy use etc. But these issues are never brought together and the reality of the unraveling catastrophe is just not in the curriculum.

It is partly because Science, for example, is divided into Physics, Chemistry and Biology and then into further sub-topics, that an issue like climate change can be so easily ignored – it is a complex (‘wicked’) problem that transcends the confines of an essentially Victorian categorisation of subject content. Economics, politics, sociology, finance, agriculture, trade, ecology – also notably absent.


[3] Response from Department for Education here


[5] Climate Factsheet for Rebels

[6] About Extinction Rebellion:

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken. Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by its government. Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. The government must tell the truth about the ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens
  2. The government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels
  3. A national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.


Get involved in Extinction Rebellion’s other events:


UK website:

International website:


Twitter: hashtag #ExtinctionRebellion

Declaration of Rebellion:

[6] About Rising Up!

Extinction Rebellion is an initiative of the Rising Up! network, which promotes a fundamental change of our political and economic system to one which maximises well-being and minimises harm. Change needs to be nurtured in a culture of reverence, gratitude and inclusion; whilst the tools of civil disobedience and direct action are used to express our collective power.






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