Press release

Climate change in the draft National Curriculum

Plans in the new National Curriculum to provide pupils with a better understanding of all climate issues, including climate change.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

It is not true that climate change is being removed from the National Curriculum. It is specifically mentioned in the science curriculum, and both climate and weather feature throughout the geography curriculum.

Nowhere is this clearer than the science curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds, which states that pupils should learn about the “production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate”. This is explicit coverage of the science of climate change. It is at least as extensive, and certainly more precise, than the current science National Curriculum for that age group, which says only that “human activity and natural processes can lead to changes in the environment.”

Additionally, the Royal Geographical Society says the draft geography programme of study will provide “a sound underpinning of factual knowledge to prepare, at GCSE and A level, for pupils to study the topics that confront us all, globally, as citizens and which are inherently geographical, such as climate change, pollution, ‘food, water and energy’ security and globalisation.”

The new National Curriculum will give pupils a deeper understanding of all climate issues, including climate change.

In the new curriculum

In science

The new draft programmes of study for science focus on the core scientific knowledge underpinning understanding. This includes building up pupils’ understanding of the key scientific concepts underpinning the study of climate.

The primary programme of study for science clearly sets out the key material children need to know before learning the science of climate change – children will learn about climate change from ages 5 to 7 (eg seasons and weather) and then 7 to 11 (eg concept of gases).

For instance, between ages 5 and 7, pupils will be taught to:

  • observe the apparent movement of the Sun during the day – page 10
  • observe changes across the four seasons – page 10
  • observe and describe weather associated with the seasos and how day length varies – page 10

For instance, between ages 7 and 11, pupils are will be taught about:

  • the part played by evaporation and condensation in the water cycle and to associate the rate of evaporation with temperature –page 24
  • states of matter in Years 4 and 5 (ages 9 and 10 respectively), so that, by the end of primary school, pupils will have grasped the concept of gases – page 24
  • the movement of the Earth relative to the sun, movement of the moon relative to Earth, and the earth’s rotation – page 32

These topics lay the foundation for the study of climate science between ages 11 and 14.

The secondary programme of study (age 11 to 14) will give pupils a full understanding of the science of climate, including, for example, the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and how it is changing, as well as the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and its impact on climate.

For example, chemistry for 11- to 14-year-olds includes a key component on earth science on page 10:

  • the composition of the Earth and the atmosphere
  • changes to the Earth’s atmosphere since its formation
  • the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate – this is a key causal mechanism for climate change
  • the efficacy of recycling

The geography curriculum will give pupils a deeper understanding of the different types of weather and climate in particular parts of the world and the processes that give rise to them. The curriculum emphasises these topics because Ofsted evidence indicates that, in recent years, pupils’ core geographical knowledge has been weak. Focusing teaching on the essential subject knowledge of climate and weather — as in the draft curriculum – will ensure that pupils’ understanding of climate change will be based on the factual knowledge or “building blocks” required.

For example, for 5- to 7-year-olds, on page 4:

  • pupils should be taught to identify seasonal and daily weather patterns in the United Kingdom and the location of hot and cold areas of the world in relation to the Equator and the North and South Poles.

For example, for 7- to 11-year-olds on page 5:

  • pupils should be taught to describe and understand key aspects of physical geography, including: climate zones, biomes and vegetation belts, rivers, mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes, and the water cycle.

For example, for 11- to 14-year-olds on page 6:

  • pupils should understand, through the use of detailed place-based exemplars at a variety of scales, the key processes in physical geography relating to: glaciation, plate tectonics, rocks, soils, weathering, geological timescales, weather and climate, rivers and coasts.

The new curriculum also provides many opportunities to teach sustainability.

In science

The primary programme of study includes coverage of changes to environments that can pose dangers to specific habitats.

For 11-14 year olds, the programme includes the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate, and the efficacy of recycling; the interdependence of organisms, including food webs and the accumulation of toxic materials; how organisms affect and are affected by their environment; changes in the environment that leave some species less well-adapted which might lead to extinction; the use of gene banks to preserve hereditary material before a species becomes extinct.

In geography

In primary school sustainability will be addressed through fieldwork opportunities in the local environment at primary school.

The Department for Education has also updated guidance on sustainability, and schools are to reflect this in their school curriculum. In particular, schools are encouraged to link action to reduce emissions with the school curriculum, with the guidance stating that “linking what is taught in the classroom to carbon reduction activity underway in the wider school environment can build momentum for change through pupil leadership and involvement”.

DfE enquiries

Published 15 April 2013