Teachers, scientists, parents and children protest at Department for Education to demand climate and ecological truth be taught in schools - Extinction Rebellion UK

Teachers, scientists, parents and children protest at Department for Education to demand climate and ecological truth be taught in schools

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What emergency? | Extinction Rebellion in Numbers

“What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?” (Greta Thunberg)

  • Extinction Rebellion teachers stencil with chalk paint ‘Teach climate truth’ on to the front of the building
  • Protests led by XR Educators, XR Families and XR Universities call for government to devote a greater proportion of school curriculum to the Climate and Ecological Emergency
  • Groups hand over letter to the Department outlining specific changes to school curriculum [1]
  • Protests come immediately after International Rebellion, which saw more than 3,000 people arrested in protest of inaction by governments around the world

Extinction Rebellion protestors delivered a message to the Department for Education today as they called for the Climate and Ecological Emergency to be made an educational priority in the school curriculum.

The protest, which included included talks by teachers, scientists, parents, children and university students, saw a letter [1] handed to the Department for Education outlining a series of demands. The group also stencilled ‘Teach climate truth’ on to the front of the Department building.

Parents and teachers in Extinction Rebellion are critical of the education system for not including any guidance on how to adequately teach children and young people about climate and ecological issues. Academies may not cover these topics at all, as they can be more selective about what they teach. Even in a non-academy institution, a student could easily leave school having heard climate change mentioned in fewer than 10 lessons out of approximately 10,000 and, even then, it is mentioned in passing as an unclear subtopic [2].

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 had 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.”

A recent YouGov poll has shown that the majority of teachers (69%) believe there should be more about climate change in the curriculum, with three quarters saying they have received inadequate training on how to teach about the climate crisis [3].

Tim Jones, a former secondary school teacher who quit teaching to dedicate his time to raising the alarm about the issues, 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 it’s hard for students to take the issue seriously when it plays almost no part in the content of their education.”

Oliver Hayes, a former teacher and Head of Department, said: “It is clear from scenes from September – with millions of children taking to the streets in across the world – 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.”

The groups involved today claim that the Department for Education is not enacting the landmark Paris Agreement 2016, which states: ‘Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education’ (Article 12, Paris Climate Agreement)[4], and are  ignoring the millions of students who have raised their voices in protest of inaction [5].

Concerned teachers within Extinction Rebellion have asked for three changes to the curriculum:

  • We must be supported to tell and teach the truth of climate and ecological breakdown;
  • We must teach (and learn) why net zero emissions by 2025, as well as a complete halt to biodiversity loss, is both necessary and achievable;
  • Policy must be informed and instructed by ordinary people via a Citizens’ Assembly and we must hear the voices of young people whose future now hangs in the balance. 

Before a similar protest in February, the Department for Education stated that there is coverage of the science and processes involved in changing weather patterns and they mention a new Environmental Science A-level [6]. 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.”

In February, more than 200 academics signed a letter in support of the Youth 4 Climate Strike ahead of a protest that took place then [7]. 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.’

Further quotes include:

Alex Forbes, nursery teacher and Extinction Rebellion supporter, said: “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, particularly on how people in the global south are suffering now. 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 said: “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.”

Karen James, Extinction Rebellion Families, said: “As a mother of two young children, (2 years and one of 6 months), who will be growing up in a time of climate and ecological breakdown, I am deeply concerned by the absence of this topic from the current curriculum. This is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced and for us to have any chance of mitigating its impact we need to empower our children to drive change, we need to teach them about the climate science and build their resilience so they can face the challenges ahead. Decades of inaction has led us to this point of crisis, it is our duty now to teach our children and young people the truth.”

Miranda Irwin, Extinction Rebellion Families, said: “As a parent and teacher I believe our children deserve to grow up learning the truth about the climate and ecological breakdown and be equipped with the skills and resilience required to rise to the challenges presented by an unknown future. The children of today will suffer the consequences of adult inaction now. They need to be taught the knowledge and skills required to take better care of the planet than generations before them. We need to be honest with our children not only to prepare them for what may happen, but also so that they can learn from our mistakes. The school curriculum is currently failing our children and that needs to change.”

Johanna Graham, Extinction Rebellion Families, said: “Largely, the education system is supporting the ‘business as usual’ mode, ignoring the most pressing and urgent needs of our time, and reinforcing a false belief that the world will continue to look the same as it does now, and preparing children accordingly, to join a treadmill based on consumerism which is effectively destroying the planet. We need to provide an education which prepares children for the challenges that lie ahead. And we can also inspire them to play a role in creating a more just, empathetic, connected world we also know is possible.”


Notes to editors

[1] Extinction Rebellion Educator’s letter to the Department for Education:

To the Ministers and Employees of the Department for Education,

The IPCC has told us that we have 11 years to make far reaching changes to every aspect of society if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate and ecological breakdown. The warnings are no longer predictions for the future: we are already witnessing record temperatures, unprecedented droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, sea level rise, melting ice that will trigger more rapid warming and the collapse of species and ecosystems. This is 1 degree of global warming: it takes several decades for the warming effects of C02 to kick in and we have doubled global emissions in the last 30 years. Despite decades of warnings, policy makers have achieved nothing but empty promises. Every year global emissions rise and an area of forest the size of the UK is slashed and burned for industrial agriculture. The UK government boasts of emissions reductions while we outsource manufacturing to coal-powered factories in China and India, while continuing to subsidise fossil fuel extraction and sanctioning a third runway at Heathrow.

The general public are, for the most part, unaware of the gravity of the situation. Students demanding action from policy makers did not learn about climate breakdown from their textbooks. We, as educators, demand appropriate support to teach the reality of this crisis and to properly prepare young people for their future. How will history judge us if we do not?

Every adult in the world who has any power to affect change is now being taught a lesson by school students whose voices, in their millions, are rising around the world. Shame on us. They are telling us that by ignoring our collective responsibilities we have created an ugly and bleak reality. We are, and should be, ashamed of what we have let happen. Our current education system reflects this. In the national curriculum climate change is mentioned in passing now and then, a bullet point in a subtopic of the discrete curricula for Science and Geography. Despite the commitment to ‘enhance climate change education’ in the 2016 Paris Agreement, teachers and lecturers receive no training on how to talk about, let alone teach, the reality of climate breakdown. There is no systematic reference to sustainability nor to careers in a sustainable future. Students learn the economic language of success and failure; the constant hysteria of assessment and exam preparation leave no time for considerations of ecology or our conditional existence on a living planet. There is no systematic reference to the tragic injustice of climate breakdown: why are we unable to teach the difficult lesson that our actions and inactions can have terrible consequences, inevitably felt first and hardest by the most vulnerable? All of these failings are, in fact, addressed by educators every day, but despite the system in which we work, not because of it.

As educators we see the necessity of the government meeting Extinction Rebellion’s three demands with particular relevance to our work:

  1. We must be supported to tell and teach the truth of climate and ecological breakdown.
  2. We must teach (and learn) why net zero emissions by 2025, as well as a complete halt to biodiversity loss, is both necessary and achievable.
  3. Policy must be informed and instructed by ordinary people via a Citizens’ Assembly and we must hear the voices of young people whose future now hangs in the balance. 

In order to achieve these aims the Department for Education must play its part. We therefore give our full support to the “Teach the Future” campaign (UKSCN and NUS) and its demands:

  1. A government commissioned review into climate emergency education entitlement
  2. Inclusion of climate and ecological crisis in teacher standards
  3. A national climate emergency education act
  4. A national climate emergency youth voice grant
  5. A Youth climate endowment fund
  6. All new state-funded educational buildings should be net-zero by 2020; all existing state-funded educational buildings net-zero by 2030

We await your response to this most urgent of matters.

Yours faithfully,

XR Educators

A group of educators taking action in this climate and ecological crisis as part of Extinction Rebellion.

learningrebellion.earth / rebellion.earth



[2]  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 1 of 10 areas of study is Use of Resources – no 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] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/21/teachers-want-climate-crisis-training-poll-shows

[4] https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/21/across-the-globe-millions-join-biggest-climate-protest-ever

[6] Response from Department for Education here

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/13/school-climate-strike-childrens-brave-stand-has-our-support

[8] Climate Factsheet for Rebels https://rebellion.earth/the-climate-factsheet-for-rebels/

More about Extinction Rebellion:

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, 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 their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What emergency? | Extinction Rebellion in Numbers |This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook.

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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 while the tools of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action are used to express our collective power.

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