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Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL]

Volume 813: debated on Friday 16 July 2021

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, before I start, I remind your Lordships of my education interests as in the register, in particular my work with Purpose Inc. on a campaign called Future ProofEd.

I have to be honest; I think that this a no-brainer. For the DfE, it is an easy win; I hope noble Lords will agree. Teachers agree: some 89% of UK teachers agree that climate change education should be compulsory in schools, while 78% think that individual action on climate and sustainability should also be taught. Young people agree: less than a third are aware of the sustainable development goals, but more than 70% are interested in learning more about the environment and more than half would like to be involved in climate and environmental action projects. Organisations such as the RSPB, the RSPCA, the head teacher unions and the National Education Union all support the Bill. They also agree.

I thank all noble Lords who have put their name down to speak in this debate; I look forward to their contributions. In particular, I thank Peers for the Planet, of which I am a member, Ann Finlayson, from Sustainability and Environmental Education, and Jamie Agombar, from Teach the Future, for their help with this Bill. They agree that there is a problem with our curriculum that needs fixing if we are to fix the planet.

Like many noble Lords, I sat in the Royal Gallery, in January last year, and listened in awe to David Attenborough. He is the inspiration behind this. We all have a part to play. If I can use my place in your Lordships’ House and my experience in education to make this change, I feel I will have answered some of that call to action.

Let me explain what the Bill seeks to do. First, it adds to the general requirements of a broad and balanced curriculum so that it

“instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations.”

Secondly, it makes provision for “sustainable citizenship education” for the secondary curriculum, and for the Secretary of State to provide the necessary guidance. Thirdly, it updates the definition of the citizenship subject in key stages 1 to 4 to include

“programmes of study that encourage learning to protect and restore the natural environment for present and future generations, including but not limited to climate change considerations.”

What is not to like?

Some may say that the curriculum is full and there is no room for this. When I was Schools Minister, I, too, got fed up with every societal problem seemingly being solved by making everyone have to learn about it in the curriculum. That is why I am proposing changing citizenship, rather than imposing a new subject. This is no more than what good schools are already doing; this Bill sets an ambition for all to do the same.

It is also possible to argue that the Bill should go further. I am taking over as chair of the board of E-ACT—a trust of 28 academies whose status means that they do not have to abide by the national curriculum. But as the Secretary of State has said, the national curriculum represents what is expected to be taught in schools and what Ofsted should inspect against.

On occasion, I have been asked why this should be a priority in the climate change talks at COP in November. I gently remind those voices that, if we as a nation are to have authority and leadership in Glasgow, we should be delivering what we signed up to in 2015 at the Paris COP. Article 12 of that agreement commits us to move in this direction in education.

Yesterday, I heard evidence from the DfE to your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee saying that the Government want to profile England as a trail-blazer on climate education. At present, the trail-blazer is the host of the G20, Italy, where my friend Lorenzo Fioramonti, when Education Minister, introduced an hour a week of sustainable citizenship education for all school-age children. I should also say that the Climate Change Committee, the Dasgupta review and Parliament’s Climate Assembly UK all believe that we must do better on climate and sustainability education.

Why is there such unanimity on this? I say to the Minister that it is not because of the potential impact of schools’ capital; the education estate is important but not significant in its own terms. The reason is that, if we are to be successful as a result of Glasgow and give our schoolchildren a sustainable future, two-thirds of the action that needs to be taken must be as a result of behaviour change by the general public. The obvious place to start this is in schools, where we have a demographic that is highly motivated by this issue, that wants to act on it, that will carry on striking if we do not offer something more constructive and that can influence parents, grandparents and whole communities—not just on waste and recycling but on transport, food, energy and carbon capture too. So to the climate change policy experts listening, I say this: education is the most powerful behaviour change in your arsenal.

But what of those focused more on education, such as the Minister and her colleagues working among the lush, verdant greenery of Sanctuary Buildings? They may say that the necessary knowledge is already covered in the science and geography curricula and further change is not necessary. Before the Minister uses these familiar lines in her wind-up, I ask her to reflect on a few things.

First, I ask her to listen to the lived experience of young people. Last week, I was browsing emails on my phone at home in the kitchen, as you do, waiting for the kettle to boil. An email came through including a testimony from a 17 year-old from Harlow called Jodie. She said:

“I had little to no teaching on anything related to climate change outside of a few lessons in geography. Even the topic in chemistry was left by my strongly climate-denying chemistry teacher to teach ourselves.”

Jodie is not alone. There are countless examples of young people lambasting the inadequacy of the curriculum in preparing them for their future. Too many acquire a smattering of knowledge with little connection to the societal, environmental and economic implications of that knowledge. Knowledge without skills and agency is not only inadequate, it can be destructive.

Why destructive? That is my second point: look at the evidence of growing climate anxiety. Our children have had as tough a time as anyone in the pandemic. They also see their opportunities withering as the economic crisis plays out, and now they are living through a mental health crisis; according to NHS Digital, one in six five to 16 year-olds has a probable mental health disorder. The last thing they need is talk of a climate crisis with nothing to support them in doing something about it.

Today, our thoughts are with those bereaved and affected by flash flooding in Germany. Children also see people dying because of the heat in America, drought in Mexico and desertification in Africa. They see flash floods, the loss of species and the impact of fishing on our seas and our planet. They are not blind to the planetary car crash they are living through.

Last month, I was asked to judge an international school art competition. The winning picture was an extraordinary image from a primary pupil in Romania. It showed a planet in an hourglass being distorted as it passed through from rich, colourful beauty to becoming a grey, lifeless place.

Now has to be the time to show children that they can do something with their knowledge of climate change. It is time for a curriculum that teaches the skills and mindset to make change work for them. We can use this Bill to empower a generation, and evidence shows the very positive effects on mental health and learning as a result.

The final point I want to make to the Minister is one that I know she is mindful of from her assiduous work on the skills Bill currently in your Lordships’ House; that is, we have a responsibility to equip people with the skills, knowledge and mindset to thrive as we transition from a carbon to a zero-carbon economy, especially as part of whatever the levelling-up agenda turns out to be. A big part of that challenge is to retrofit adults with skills for green jobs, for transition jobs and for when every job is a green job—to skill people not just in building wind turbines or changing our boilers but shifting all workers to zero-carbon working practices.

Retrofitting skills, as we have to do with adults, is expensive and difficult, so why not get it right first time? Yes, encourage knowledge and skills in STEM for the green economy in schools, but also remember that those currently in school will be the workforce for this great transition to a zero-carbon world. They need the mindset of adaptability, creativity and resilience—all lacking in our curriculum that is so tightly focused on silos of knowledge.

Of course, we must be mindful of those starting school this September. That child will leave school in 2035 and enter a largely zero-carbon economy. She will never know the excesses of our unsustainable economy. For her to have a viable future, she needs hope, not fear. She needs confidence in her actions, not just knowledge. She needs a future-facing curriculum, not one rooted in the industrial past. Please, let us urgently get this right for her and make sure that our schools properly reflect the future we want for our children. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am delighted to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, not only on introducing a very sensible Bill but on the excellent and informative way he delivered his response to the crying needs of the environment. I will not rehearse his major points in my short contribution, save to say that I thoroughly endorse all of them and hope the Government will listen to what he put forward so forcefully and well.

I have a further point to make about the curriculum and pupils. As a former teacher, I have noticed that if you can get children truly interested in a particular topic it has a knock-on effect on the way they tackle other subjects. We already know how many young people are keenly interested in the environment, so I suggest this as a good way of making higher standards—through sheer enthusiasm.

The noble Lord mentioned many groups that are in favour of the Bill. I pick out one that is of special interest to me, the RSPCA. I acknowledge my non-financial interest, as declared in the register, in this long-standing and very able animal welfare organisation. It rightly sees education as a major way of improving the lot of animals because, often, ill treatment comes not from malice and sheer evil but from lack of knowledge about the needs of animals. Therefore, it has embarked on various school courses, but we cannot expect a charity to do everything. Work about the welfare of animals could be neatly incorporated into the suggestions made. Looking at the terms of the Bill,

“instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations”,

I suggest “others” could be animals. It has the added value that, for children in particular, one starts from something with which they are familiar and can then go on to develop a much wider understanding of all the issues involved in the environment. I hope this can be incorporated within the general idea of sustainable environmental ability. In a very short time, I hope I have made the case for including animal welfare in this excellent Bill.

I draw attention to my declaration in relation to being the honorary chair of the Association for Citizenship Teaching. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I congratulate my noble friend on a powerful, excellent and, I think, irrefutable speech. Some 21 years ago, I introduced the order for a new element of the curriculum to teach citizenship and encourage active citizenship. That came in in 2002 and, while it has been extremely successful in some schools, it has hardly been taught in others. The evidence we have is that, well taught and presented, citizenship teaching has a major beneficial impact on other elements of the curriculum and outcome measures in terms of qualifications gained. The NFER has shown this unequivocally.

The powerful speech by my noble friend illustrated that while geography and science will touch on issues of climate and a sustainable future, bringing them together in the citizenship curriculum will translate that into how people understand their role in terms of both their self-responsibility and their responsibility to others. It will also enable elements they are learning in other parts of the curriculum to be brought together in active citizenship to make a positive contribution.

I appeal to the Minister in terms of her party interest. I loved the idea of adult retrofitting that my noble friend mentioned; I shall hold that for the future. When we educate well and we teach about how to bring about change and to cope with rapid change, we protect ourselves from the exploitation, by those who wish us ill, of young people whose commitment is unequivocal and whose desire to change the world for the better is expressed in demonstrations and other activity. I am talking, of course, about avoiding anarcho-syndicalists being able to take over and exploit Extinction Rebellion, and about other challenges.

We have here the opportunity of inculcating this into the existing citizenship curriculum, refreshing and renewing it, so that we can ensure that young people know precisely what contribution they can make and how to make it in a very constructive way. I wish the Bill well and I can see no reason why we would not approve it.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the authoritative noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and to add my support to the excellent Bill. I am not an expert in education and defer to those who are, but I am a passionate environmental land manager and believe that access to and understanding of our natural landscape is key to a sustainable future.

Noble Lords will recall the report commissioned by the Treasury from Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta on the economics of biodiversity. He concluded that the solution to our economic and biodiversity crises is to understand that our economies are

“embedded in nature, not external to it”.

In his analysis, he highlighted the need for systemic change to combat our rampant assault on biodiversity, with focus on education and the need to change our understanding of economic success. He exhorted us to convert our affection for nature into a learned appreciation of it via mandatory nature studies.

“We should all in part be naturalists”,

he said. Interventions to enable people to understand and connect to nature would not only improve our health and well-being but empower citizens to make informed choices and demand the change that is needed. He says, in conclusion, that establishing the natural world in education policy is therefore essential. His report effectively recommends that this Bill become law.

This demand for education about nature and our dependence on it is echoed loudly in the National Food Strategy, commissioned by the Government from Henry Dimbleby, which was published just this week. He concludes that by the age of 14, all pupils should be able to understand the “source, seasonality and characteristics” of their food—ie, should learn the rhythms of nature and the crucial interplay between the environment and our diet.

The UK Climate Assembly said effectively the same thing: that it is necessary to make climate change and nature education compulsory in all schools. The government responded to the Dasgupta review but, disappointingly, dedicated barely a page to the recommendation of compulsory nature education. That response was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, in reply to the recent debate on Fixing the Failures in Food. He explained that the Department for Education had recently established a sustainability and climate change unit to develop and drive a strategy; that the department is engaging with young people, leaders, teachers and sector representatives to help shape a departmental sustainability strategy; and that it is exploring proposals for a nature-focused award scheme.

It is no response to a review and report as urgent and authoritative as that of Professor Dasgupta to simply promise further consultation and strategy development. The time for engagement is over. Everybody agrees—the Climate Assembly, the Dasgupta review and the National Food Strategy: consultation is done, a strategy has been recommended and the Government cannot kick the can any further as we have reached the end of the road for the environment.

This legislative action is what is required to embed the environment and sustainable citizenship at the heart of our national curriculum. For the sake of future generations and our environment, I implore the Government and the whole House to support this simple but essential Bill with enthusiasm.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and his powerful contribution. I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for all his work on this Bill and his powerful, persuasive introduction to it today.

I possibly had the best introduction I could have had to this, unexpectedly doing two sessions of Learn with the Lords this morning. As I was speaking to those young people, I said what I often do: “On behalf of my generation, I am sorry to your generation for the mess we have made of things.” One of the reasons for that is that we have had an education system that has failed to explain to people—and a whole academic system that failed to understand—the nature of the world and the physical limits of this one fragile planet. But we now have the knowledge, and we have to make sure it is available to everyone. One of the pupils from Birchensale Middle School in Worcester asked me a very good question: “How can you Lords represent me?” Of course, the answer is we cannot. None of us knows what it is like to be a 14 year-old today. Think about what that 14 year-old’s life experience is like. We have to equip those young people with the knowledge and skills to work together with all the generations to build a society that works, functions and is truly sustainable.

I particularly commend the Bill’s focus on care. It encourages a notion of care—for oneself, for others and for the planet. That is such a contrast to the way our education system is being directed now, which is towards competition towards exams. The Bill is a step in the direction of something different. I speak in lots of schools, colleges and universities and attended, in pre-Covid times, lots of climate strikes. Lots of young people have managed to educate themselves; lots of teachers manage to squeeze in space for speakers like me to have debates to get students engaged and involved. But that is in gaps between the essential cramming for exam preparation. This has to be central.

Lots of good work is being done by the RSPB reaching 200,000 pupils a year, by Oxfam reaching 900,000 pupils, and by Reboot the Future reaching 15,000 teachers a year. These are good schemes, but they cannot be enough. We need legislation; we need a national change in approach to understand that we can live within the physical limits of this one fragile planet. We have to. That requires a co-operative understanding of the nature of our world.

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.

My Lords, I am pleased to welcome this Bill and its very worthy aims, so passionately introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. I declare my environmental and conservation interests as in the register, particularly as a council member of the RSPB and chair of the Essex Climate Action Commission. I am also a member of Peers for the Planet and have had the pleasure of working on these issues with Jamie Agombar, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in his opening speech.

It is my greatest fortune to have had an engagement with nature since my earliest days. I want as many people as possible to have that wonderful experience. Of course, now there is a real need to be aware of what my generation has done—and, indeed, left undone.

I have had the great opportunity over recent years to visit a good number of schools, and I can honestly say that the enthusiasm for learning about climate change and the nature crisis is extremely high. Whether that is reflected in all schools I cannot say—although we have heard some interesting statistics—but, to judge by those I have been in contact with, there is nothing but a very strong appetite. I think that is pretty universal.

Only last Friday I was part of a panel involved in a “Dragons’ Den”-style event for the Vanguard Learning Trust, a group of both primary and secondary schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon. Each school had held its own competition to find a project to represent the school, with the aim of reducing the school’s carbon footprint and improving its environmental profile. A generous donation from ACS International School Hillingdon enabled the schools to bid for extra funding to upgrade their projects. I pay tribute in particular to the trust’s principal, Martina Lecky, for coming forward with such an innovative idea that really engaged the pupils. I was really impressed by all the projects and look forward to seeing them progress, particularly the beehives at Ruislip High School.

I have a few questions about the Bill. The first, as just enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is how we ensure that teachers have adequate training and access to reliable resources to teach the subject to the level it deserves. I would love to see how schools can benefit from modern technology to engage with young people around the world, some at the very front line of climate change.

Finally, unless I have misunderstood the measures, they would be confined to secondary schools. I believe that primary school pupils are also immensely interested in and engaged in the climate issue and—just as importantly, in my opinion—in the crisis facing our natural world. As far as I can see, it is never too early to engage our young people in what will probably—almost certainly—be the biggest challenge that new generations face, because of our failures. I therefore commend the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on bringing the Bill forward and wish it well.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I congratulate and commend the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on this far-sighted legislation, which seeks to amend parts of the Education Act 2002 but most importantly seeks to ensure that climate change and sustainable citizenship become part of the school curriculum in maintained schools in England. I hope that the devolved Administrations follow suit and try to implement similar legislation and accommodate the interests and zeal of young people to protect our planet.

We all learned about climate change and its impacts on our environment in geography and science, but in many ways they were disconnected and we did not take the action required. This legislation seeks to place sustainability at the heart of our education system in response to the long-term systemic challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Young people today are very focused on the impact of the actions of humanity upon where they live, their environment, their landscape and marine life. They are very conscious of biodiversity and nature and want to protect our planet. I was talking to a young guy who has just completed his A-levels and is on his way to university. He said to me, “Our generation will have to be the one that reduces the damage of climate change to ensure that future generations are free to live as comfortably as we and the generations before us have, and the only way we can do this is by instilling in them a sense of the urgency of the climate emergency, as well as effective skills and ideas with which to combat it.” Having talked to him, his analysis, albeit he is a young guy in the first flush of youth, was that the education system has to be a more connected and has to make statutory provision for educating people on climate change and sustainability.

Undoubtedly, the epitome of this is Greta Thunberg, who was been very much at the forefront of protecting the environment, biodiversity and our precious planet. To do that, we need a strengthened Environment Bill, but we want the educational outcomes for our young people to have meaning and purpose. They want their actions to have positive outcomes for the environment, and that requires legislation. They have protested for the protection of our environment. Let us support them and support this meaningful legislation.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Knight for this much-needed Bill. Most of us have met children—often quite young children, through to teenagers—who are evangelical about caring for our environment, climate change and restoring nature. To us adults, it is heartening and shaming that they are so knowledgeable, so committed and, in many cases, so scared, but their knowledge, concern and enthusiasm is random. It is not the result of any coherent strategy from the education authorities. It reflects the commitment of particular teachers, school cultures and parents. It is no thanks to the curriculum gurus or the Department for Education that kids are so aware. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Richie, have just said, bits and bobs of climate change will be attached to nature study at primary level and to science and geography at secondary level, but it is not at all coherent.

The failure of leadership from the top in the education establishment was brought home to me this week. I am a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change. We asked all Whitehall departments for their preparations for COP 26 and beyond. DfE’s submission was instructive—and utterly depressing. It started with a bang, declaring that the aim was to profile England as a trailblazer for climate education, but then it immediately said, just four months off Glasgow, that it is currently exploring what a climate change policy and programme could look like.

There then follow two pages about reducing carbon emissions on the education estate, which is quite necessary, and a page on skills for the green economy, which are also much needed. But it then goes on to say: “we will explore”—not even “we are exploring”—

“how we can best prepare this generation for the world in which they will live.”

It goes on to say that the department is

“planning to recruit an environmental analyst/scientist”.

Children who are currently in primary school will be only in their 30s by 2050, by which time we are supposed to have reached net zero and halted the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees, or else, if we have not all changed our behaviour, we will be facing existential catastrophe.

A sense of urgency and of strategy is required in the curriculum as part of tackling the problem. Scientists understood global warming in the 1950s. World leaders formally acknowledged it in Rio, in 1990. The Kyoto agreement was in 1997 and Paris was five years ago, and yet in July 2021, the Department for Education is still just

“planning to recruit an environmental analyst/scientist”.

That is not good enough. We need a massive shift to deliver a curriculum on climate and the natural world. We are not getting it from the DfE, nor from our universities and education gurus, but it should be central to behaviour and sustainable citizenship. Our grandchildren need this Bill.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register, specifically as a professor at the University of Buckingham.

Like so many people who have spoken, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on the passionate and no-nonsense way in which he introduced this important topic. I particularly thank him for identifying where the cuts would come and where it would be slotted in—it would be part of the existing citizenship teaching. One of the things I have noticed in the short time that I have been in this House is that people are very bad at what we might loosely call fiscal neutrality. It is much easier to ask for things than to identify where the commensurate space is going to be freed up. That is particularly obvious when we talk about financial matters. I hear voices from all sides saying, “Will the Minister spend more on this or that?” Almost never do I hear anyone saying, “And we would have to raise this tax or cut that in order to cover it.”

That is true of curricular questions too. We all have our own ideas about what we would like to see taught in all schools. I agreed very much with what my noble friend Lady Fookes said about a love of nature starting in the local and being rooted in the specific. I see my five year-old and his friends doing nature walks and learning different birdsongs and how to recognise different leaves and wildflowers. I wish I had done that at their age and I wish every child had a chance to do it, but I do not immediately say that it has to be shoehorned into every curriculum, because there are always balancing interests.

We can all think of things that we would like all kids to learn. Maybe these days they should be doing more coding or more basic behavioural psychology, learning to identify false heuristics or those moments when their intuition leads them astray. There are lots of things that would lead them to better life outcomes. But what are we going to cut? Are we going to say, “Let’s not do modern languages because we have such good software these days that does simultaneous interpretation”? Are we going to say, “We don’t really need all the geography that we used to have because you can swipe and find everything out; we don’t need to know what an oxbow lake is these days, because you can find out”? I do not know, but the more that this debate goes on, the more I realise there is a case for humility and modesty on the part of legislators and Governments. We do not have the power, nor does any Secretary of State, to thrust a hand into every classroom and decree exactly what should be taught and learned.

I finish with a plea to the Minister, and to your Lordships more widely, that we should not be too prescriptive. The national curriculum should be kept terse, taut and spare, and we should give maximum discretion and flexibility to teachers and heads, who are in turn answerable to local parents.

My Lords, I congratulate and support the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on his crucially important Bill and declare an interest as a member of the Peers for the Planet group and vice-president of the RHS.

This Bill puts sustainability at the heart of our education system in response to the long-term, systemic challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Over the last few years, young people have shown that they are hungry to learn and to act to protect their future and better prepare themselves to thrive in an ever-changing world. Evidence shows that engaging children and young people through school has a wider impact on community-level behaviour change. Behaviour change by the public is crucial to achieving emissions reduction, and childhood lasts a lifetime.

Teach the Future has been fighting and advocating for comprehensive education on the climate crisis and sustainability for all students, not just through the sciences and geography. Students need to be taught about the climate emergency and the ecological crisis—how they are caused, what we can do to mitigate them and what our future lives and jobs are going to look like due to them. Currently, the national curriculum makes narrow provision for factual knowledge on climate science and geography. There have been calls to create a GCSE in natural history, but this Bill goes further than that: it updates the curriculum to reflect the cross-cutting nature of climate change and to better support the learning approaches needed to build a resilient, well-informed and compassionate society ready to tackle these global challenges and be part of the solution.

By shifting the focus away from just citizenship to include sustainability, we can revitalise the subject and transform it into one that focuses on what young people care about and are keen to be involved in. It needs to become key content in all subject areas. Educators need to be trained in how to teach these difficult topics in a way that empowers students, and there needs to be the funding and resources to do this. The recent Green Jobs Taskforce report recommended that, as part of an integrated curriculum,

“government, employers and education providers should promote the effective teaching of climate change and the knowledge and skills … required for green jobs.”

Will the Government respond to this and action it as a priority?

I am an optimist and I believe we can invent our way out of the climate crisis we are facing. This Bill responds directly to the concerns of young people and addresses their future prosperity and well-being. We have a responsibility to act, to listen to them and, most of all, to press the reset button to change the world.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the Lords register, but that does not include the fact that I was a mathematics teacher and therefore have some passion for this subject and the potential for education and learning to transform the lives of those children who pass through the system.

Twenty years ago, I was the Education Minister in the new Scottish Government. At that time, there was an explosion of eco-schools. The impact of those eco-schools on children of all ages, who were enjoying the adventure of learning more about nature and the environment, and on their families, inspired me to believe that it was possible to transform attitudes, as well as legislation, in relation to environmental issues. That led, ultimately, to very ambitious targets for recycling and renewable energy in Scotland, for more eco-schools and for sustainable education in the curriculum. I always believed, through that, that children could not only set themselves up for a better future but have a big impact on the attitudes and behaviour of the adults in their lives if sustainable education was embedded deep into the curriculum.

Today in Scotland, Learning for Sustainability is an entitlement within the Curriculum for Excellence. There is much policy on this and many elements of guidance. The Scottish curriculum operates in a slightly different way from the curriculum south of the border and there is, perhaps, more policy than measurement of the impact of this. It will be interesting to see, in years to come, whether this entitlement has a real impact on the outcomes for children going through the Scottish system.

Because of that experience, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Knight’s Bill and the way that he has introduced it. The tone he set, combining urgency with thoughtfulness on the way this can be implemented, was really important. It is not just about climate but about nature and the environment as a whole, and not just about the environment but about citizenship as a whole. That key proposal in the Bill is very welcome and could be transformative; I hope the Government will support it.

The Government have been lukewarm on the sustainable development goals since being such an active participant in their creation and agreement back in 2015. There have been odd examples in the UK—for instance, the “World’s Largest Lesson” being taught in UK schools to encourage people to learn more about the sustainable development goals and their potential to change our society—but they are only odd examples; that could have been much more widespread. Legislation may well be required, and good, careful, thoughtful legislation, as is proposed today, is always best. But I would be tempted to go further. There is a case for making this subject compulsory in primary schools, and indeed in all schools; those that are not currently forced to teach the national curriculum should perhaps be considered too. I look forward to the debates on this Bill, because not only is it an important measure as it stands but it may be necessary to go further.

My Lords, I add my congratulations and strong support to the noble Lord, Lord Knight. He was a brilliant Schools Minister, and he nailed the case in the introduction to his Bill. I naturally share the scepticism that he expressed, and on which the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, expanded, about the dangers of loading the curriculum with ever more worthy subjects—each worthy in their own right. However, this is so transcendentally important an issue that we must give it a greater focus within the education system and, frankly, across our public discourse than it has at the moment.

My emphasis might be different from that of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on the question of how wide this should be and whether it should encompass wider issues of sustainability. I have had my kids coming home from Scottish schools up in arms about invasive species, wanting to tell the whole world, and the political world, about the danger of particular plants overtaking other plants in the garden, which is worthy. However, even if one takes a minority view, or if there is only an outside chance of catastrophic damage from climate change—the climate chaos and disaster that may come within our lifetimes, potentially within the decade—we have to put greater focus on it than at present.

The level of change needed in this country and across the world is greater than any Government are currently prepared to sign up to. The reason underlying that, in my view, is that the public are not ready to accept that level of change, and they cannot be ready to do so unless they can understand to a greater degree what is at risk. That has to be embedded within the school curriculum. I would suggest going further and making a special case for an outside body of experts—I am not sure exactly what it would be—responsible for setting the guidance for what the curriculum ought to say. I am not sure that this can be left to the Government of the day, who may not be prepared to take as holistic a view of the science as is necessary. This process should start in schools, but we should also use it as a platform for wider debate in society about what we need to know, and what the public need to know, and how we go about addressing it, in this Chamber, the other place and right across society; it is so fundamentally important. I very much welcome this contribution to the debate and will strongly support its process through this House.

My Lords, I welcome this Bill and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for introducing it and for his clear and very compelling case in doing so. All citizens of the future need to understand about the twin challenges of biodiversity decline and climate change if they are to be responsible citizens. Younger people, to a large extent, understand the importance of these two issues but not all of them do, so this change to the curriculum needs to be universal.

Ofsted reports have shown that education for sustainability is often an add-on or end-of-year activity, rather than being embedded for all children throughout the year. This means that many children are denied the right to develop sustainable citizenship knowledge, skills and mindsets. That will have a real impact on individuals’ life chances, on communities, businesses and the economy, and on global Britain’s place in the world, so it is fundamental. I challenge the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, because we are talking about threading these issues through the entire knowledge, skills and attitudes base that children work with in their school careers. This is an existential threat that we are facing, not just an add-on or another thing to be levered into the curriculum.

As a Private Member’s Bill, the scope covered by it necessarily has to be focused, but I hope that the Minister will also respond on another way that our educational system needs to rise to the environmental challenge. Efforts to combat climate change and biodiversity decline will need to be heroic in their scale over the next decades. We will need a ready supply of new skills, and some old skills. I declare an interest as a patron of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. I was its first chartered environmentalist and my registration number, of which I am very proud, is 001.

The Government are introducing a huge range of policy and legislative measures, right across departments, to deliver the objectives of the Climate Change Act and their 25-year environment plan. I will give one simple example of how that impacts on the need for skills. Policies on things such as biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and whatever planning system changes we will see when the Government eventually launch them will need ecologists, environmental data specialists and environmental mappers and modellers—probably more environmental lawyers, heaven help us.

Likewise, if we are to avoid the sort of catastrophe we have just seen in Belgium and Germany, climate change mitigation and adaptation will need green energy technologists and installers, experts in sustainable flood risk management, and skills in inventing and manufacturing electric vehicles, to name but a few. We in this country do not yet have a sustainability skills strategy, as called for by the Institute for Government this week. I hope that the Minister can tell us when we will get a skills strategy that will cope with the challenges.

I say “hope”; I share the outrage of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at the Department for Education’s submission to the Select Committee on Environment and Climate Change, which we reviewed this week. It was pathetic. It was almost laughable, if it were not so serious, that the Department for Education is only just beginning to look at a systematic response over the next nine months. I hope that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, will also help to correct that staggering lack of momentum on the part of that department.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests as set out in the register, particularly my membership of Peers for the Planet. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone—aka 001. I know that she has done great work on biodiversity through, for example, the Woodland Trust.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on securing this slot and on promoting his Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill. Its principal object is, in my opinion, laudable and totally unexceptional. It would ensure that climate change and sustainable citizenship were a part of the national curriculum to be taught in maintained schools in England—“Hear, hear” to that.

We have lived through, and are living through, an extraordinary period. It has focused our minds on what is essential like never before. It has shown us the importance of forward planning, locally, nationally and globally, in relation to the pandemic but, at the same time, we all know there is another daunting challenge: that of climate change. It is an existential challenge that has been there all our lives but certainly has not diminished of late.

The 2015 Paris climate change conference referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, was a key moment—a grasping of the challenge. I was there; I recall it. But much more needs to be done, as the noble Lord said. There was reference there to the importance of education in schools, and we need to grasp that. We have a great opportunity here. Individual Governments coming together at this year’s COP in Glasgow presents opportunities, and I hope that our Government and others, businesses, faith institutions and other organisations respond with imagination and vision.

This measure introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is important both in what it seeks to do in action terms, in schools and for our schoolchildren, as well as symbolically. It is a simple measure but would make a real difference now and for the future. It will show future generations that we did at last seize this opportunity to ensure that clear strategic thinking and policy is taught in schools on the overwhelming challenge of our age.

I am very afraid that the response of the Department for Education, which is looking at bringing forward a natural history GCSE in response to the crisis, does not nearly meet the challenge of the age. This needs to be compulsory and present a breadth of vision. It needs to be practical and capture the nation’s imagination, particularly that of schoolchildren and teachers. So far, that is missing—we need a lion and we have been offered a mouse.

Along with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I agree that this is a no-brainer. It has the support of the Committee on Climate Change, Climate Assembly UK, children, teachers and the public. It is high time that the Government stopped dithering and did something. It is indeed a no-brainer.

My Lords, our education system teaches science and geography without a link to social and community responsibility and action. How does this help to further citizenship in our 14 to 18 year-olds? The division between these subjects, concepts and approaches in no way empowers or inspires young people, and there is an urgent gap that needs to be filled in the short term if we are to nurture the next generation to take on responsibility for protecting the environment.

The young are intensely aware of the threats we and past generations have allowed to become real, if only because they are liable to suffer the catastrophic effects of our negligence. But we do not as yet know what skills are needed in the immediate future to bolster the worldwide movement to quite literally save our planet. Knowledge, skills and attitudes are the structures upon which change will come about. In recent years there has been a marked surge in requests for classroom resources and programmes that bring together climate action with citizenship skills, as reported by the Our Shared World coalition.

Young Citizens, of which I am president, strives to meet some of this demand by providing a range of resources. For example, the most recent mock G7 pack challenged 14 to 18 year-olds to take part in a mock summit debating the issue of ocean action. Over 400 schools took part, reaching over 35,000 pupils. This was warmly welcomed by those teachers involved, as are Young Citizens climate change lessons. These form part of the Young Citizens resources and are among the top 10 downloaded programmes nationally. There can be no doubt that there is a wide audience for guidance and resources in the general field of environmental protection and young citizenship.

But despite further valiant efforts from the NGO sector to provide these resources, teachers continue to struggle to deliver the topic of climate action and sustainability effectively, and this arises because there is no clear statutory requirement or framework. I therefore warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for seizing the opportunity to close the gap by amending Sections 78(1) and 80(1) of the Education Act 2002 and insisting on sustainable citizenship education to become a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools.

The fact that we are debating this today in the last of the Private Member’s Bill slots is of course welcome, but it perhaps suggests that the clear message of the Bill and the need for urgent implementation has not as yet elicited full government support. I fervently hope that the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, will proceed to Committee and well beyond.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth.

I welcome this Bill. Noble Lords have made a convincing case for it. I do not intend to go over that ground again, except to repeat the point made by my noble friend Lord Blunkett that substantial research shows that environment and sustainable citizenship education has many diverse benefits for students, and that they perform better all round with it.

I expect that the Minister will agree but will, graciously and on behalf of the Government, decline to take advantage of this Bill as all is fine. I also expect that her response will echo the Lords’ Library briefing, which reports that, in 2019, when Labour argued that climate change should be a core element of the school curriculum, the Government countered that climate change is already included in several places. That may be true, but is it sufficient? I can think of no better way to test that than, once again—I make no apology for this—to draw your Lordships’ attention to Gavin Williamson’s own words in the form of his written evidence to the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, of which I am a member.

The evidence was published on Wednesday and was given in response to a short questionnaire deigned to elicit information about what the department is doing in preparation for COP 26. When asked how the department sees its role in the preparations for COP 26, the answer revealed this:

“The COP26 President Designate, Alok Sharma has written to the Education Secretary setting out DfE’s role”,


“profiling England as a trail blazer on climate education”.

In response, apparently the department is

“currently exploring what a climate policy and programme package could look like.”

That is it.

In the answer to question 3, we are told that the department

“is currently preparing a Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. We aim to launch the strategy for public consultation to coincide with COP26. The DfE sustainability strategy is likely”—

“likely” is underlined—

to centre on four strategic aims”,

one of which is “Citizens connected to nature”.

When asked what the department considers

“to be the biggest challenges related to climate change mitigation and adaptation that fall within its remit”,

the answer covered 60% of the whole submission in 15 paragraphs under three headings. Fourteen of them are about the education estate, the department’s capital and school rebuilding programme, carbon reduction and how the department will deliver net zero, as well as the Green Jobs Taskforce and the skills challenge. One paragraph, of one sentence, refers to the department’s core function and is headed “Preparing a generation that will have to live and work in a world affected by climate change”. It reads:

“Through the development of our Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy we will explore how we can best prepare this generation for the world in which they will live.”

The curriculum gets no mention. There is nothing about what is currently being taught to our children.

I regret that it appears that we do not have a strategy for this and that the best we can hope for is that the department may develop a broader strategy that may be ready for consultation coinciding with COP 26. If ever there was evidence that this Bill is necessary, it is the Secretary of State’s own evidence to our Select Committee.

My Lords, when I first saw the title of this Bill, I shuddered because I thought it was going to say, “Let’s take something out of the curriculum and stick this in for the worthy cause.” Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, dealt with that in his opening remarks; I congratulate him on the elegant way in which he did it because, as many other people have gone through this, they have said that that is what normally happens. I have actually tried to pour cold water on numerous good causes that people have tried to stick into the national curriculum at various times. The noble Lord has found a way round this.

One thing I would say to the Minister is, “Accept it because it is a very good way out. If you’re going to do it some other way, it’s going to get very difficult.” Where could you not put the environment in? You can in history. You can look at when we started using coal and our transition and the way we reorganised our cities. Look at geography and the sciences. All of them would take more space if we accepted—and there seems to be general acceptance—that this is an important subject, and if we accepted the fact that it is an important subject because we have to change our behaviour. If you do not get people knowing why they have to change their behaviour, you get resistance to it. Making sure that your children know of somebody who has the eternal school project—let us put it like that; it is a great way of discovering something—is a way of knowing that you have to make that change. In getting into the school system, not only do you get the next generation; you also get the current one.

I hope the Minister will tell us that they have a plan that expands things without doing this. I rather doubt it; I think the noble Lord and the Minister are dealing with the same problem—of where this fits in. If there is another space we have not found, that is great, but it should be there. I say to the Minister that, looking back over what we have done in Parliament—I think I have been here longer than most—the biggest speech saying that we should take this subject seriously was made by Lady Thatcher, when she was still Prime Minister. We are tenants of the planet; we do not own it. We must take action and pass it on.

This is just one of those little ways you can fulfil that aim: making sure that everyone knows why we have to change the way we operate and live today. It is one way of making sure that that knowledge is embedded in society, so that we accept the change and get on with it.

My Lords, I have a number of concerns about this Bill. I always worry about using the school curriculum for political ends. We are increasingly seeing the challenge of educating children being subordinated to the imperatives of social engineering and political expediencies.

As a former teacher and someone who works with many educators through my role at the Academy of Ideas, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and many other voices recognise how frustrating it is when the answer to unresolved social and political issues of the day is always: sort them out in schools—the curriculum can be used to change attitudes and behaviour. It turns the curriculum into a battleground for different messages and causes.

This Bill is about the environment, but it could just as easily be about decolonisation, gender identity or Islamophobia—think of any number of fashionable causes—and there is always a sense of urgency that teachers should sort it out. No matter how you look at it, it distracts from the crucial role of handing over the wondrous wealth of knowledge from millennia to new generations. It becomes further squeezed. It is not as though there is not more to pass on; if there is more time in the curriculum, I would say that, to make good citizens, we should use it to introduce students to the wonders of more literature, novels and history—all the cultural capital they will need to equip them to approach political issues as independent thinkers.

This brings me to the thorny issue of impartiality. This Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, has made his motivation clear—promotes a particular view of the relationship between humans and the environment. For example, it urges that pupils must learn to protect and restore. It has a particular eco-outlook that may well clash with other priorities, such as building, industrialisation and development. It also narrowly defines what makes a good citizen; surely, these matters should be open to query and contestation.

Two decades ago, I set up Debating Matters, a sixth-form debating competition that prioritises substance over style. While I am not now involved, the competition thrives. It aims to show teenagers that there are always two sides to every issue; that they must read around and research all sides of the argument and learn to think for themselves. I worry that this Bill is just one side of the argument.

No doubt, the effects of climate change present serious challenges to society, and I am all for urging pupils to study subjects that could help manage and mitigate those problems—we need more engineers, marine biologists, flood technologists and so on—but the skills advocated here seem to be about creating green activists and agents of behaviour change. In the Library briefing, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is quoted as calling pupils

“significant influencers on their parents and grandparents.”

Is it not cynical for politicians to use children to avoid persuading adult citizens of the merits or demerits of net-zero policies? This sounds anti-democratic to me. Indeed, the noble Lord goes on to say:

“Many children are leaving school not connecting that knowledge with the action they can take. This must change if schools are to reflect the future we want.”

Who is the “we” there? Is there a state-endorsed future I do not know about? I am not sure I would agree with that of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. What action does the noble Lord want people to take? Extinction Rebellion? An army of Greta Thunbergs?

I think all those issues should be debated in schools, I just do not think they should be enshrined in legislation as self-evident simplistic truths, ennobled here by almost everyone as no-brainers.

My Lords, I declare my membership of Peers for the Planet. I will take a somewhat different approach from the noble Baroness whom I follow.

The global union federation of education, Education International, proudly proclaims:

“Education is a human and civil right and a public good”.

As such, it is essential that education has the role, right and responsibility to help children and young people ensure and secure their own future. We and they are now facing a climate and biodiversity crisis, alongside the ongoing challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we are not yet confronting these issues in all our classrooms with all our children—although some teachers are teaching these topics and doing so very well. This is the main reason the National Education Union has long campaigned for a curriculum that can address these issues and fully engage learners at all key stages.

Globally, teachers discuss the need to address education about the climate and the environmental crisis through their unions, in negotiations with their employers, in Italy and elsewhere, and they are beginning to make the curriculum changes needed. As we have heard, nearly 90% of teachers in the UK agree that the climate crisis should be a compulsory part of the curriculum, but as many as three-quarters of them do not feel well equipped enough for such teaching, so it needs to be part of initial teacher education too, as referenced by my noble friend Lady Blackstone.

A very great deal about the Bill is positive, and much has already been covered by other noble Lords. However, I wish to particularly commend my noble friend Lord Knight for the following phrasing, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett:

“instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for present and future generations.”

This should be at the heart of pedagogical practice. In the face of the crises that we are all confronting, the Bill will ensure that we take a key step in engendering hope, for our current and future generations, that they can and will rise to the huge global climate challenge, equipped with the knowledge, skills and agency necessary. This is a good Bill, and I wish it well for its future stages.

My Lords, while the intention behind the Bill is admirable, it is unnecessary. My 15 year-old granddaughter and her friends are already well versed in climate change and the need to create a sustainable future because they are already taught this at school across the curriculum, as part of key stages 1 to 4. I gather that this is common in most schools.

The Minister for the Department for Education in the other House, Nick Gibb, highlighted much of this in response to a Question last year. I quote the key aspect, aimed at secondary school children:

“In Key Stage 3 science (11-14 year olds), pupils are taught about ecosystems, including how changes in the environment affect different species and the importance of maintaining biodiversity. They are also taught about the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the effect this has on the climate. This is expanded on in Key Stage 4 science (14-16 year olds), where pupils will consider the evidence for anthropogenic causes of climate change. As part of Key Stage 3 geography, pupils will look at the causes, consequences of and responses to extreme weather conditions and natural weather hazards.”

He went on to say that, in 2017, the Department for Education

“introduced a new environmental science A level. This will enable pupils to study topics that will support their understanding of climate change and how it can be tackled.”

The sad truth is that it is in fact the older generation who need to be educated and coerced into changing our behaviour so that our legacy to the next generation and beyond is a sustainable and climate change-friendly approach.

My granddaughter’s generation and I would much prefer legislation that bans the likes of 4x4 cars in the city, where there is no need for these gas-guzzling vehicles—they are driven more as badges of honour—or more enforcement against idling cars and lorries. I truly think that will be more effective at changing the future.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the introduction of these themes by my noble friend Lord Knight. I am astonished that they were capable of being read in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, interpreted them—astonishing to me and, I guess, to most of us. I want to talk about the way curriculums are made and education policy is set. It turns out that one reform after another comes from this and the other place and is then expected to be implemented where education is done.

To move towards my core point, I will cite the curriculum process that is happening in Wales at the moment. We were disappointed by some of the initial turns that the Government in Wales took after devolution, but a lot of learning took place from that. From 2015, a process began that will achieve most of the objectives that have been stated in the speeches here.

First, it has been pitched at not only formal education in maintained schools but pupil referral units, nursery settings and the provision of education other than at school. Everybody with a stake in the education of children in Wales has become a partner in the discussions. The proposed curriculum requirements that are now emerging, and will be implemented in this, next and subsequent years, are aimed at all learners from three to 16. That picks up a point that other noble Lords have made. It has been trialled in 10 pioneer schools across the principality, which included schools in rural and urban settings, those that are bilingual, English-medium and Welsh-medium, primary, secondary and special schools, those with a religious character and of a range of sizes. Therefore, insights have been gained.

The important thing—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, will be pleased by this—is the involvement of stakeholders and participants in the profession of teachers. Teachers have a say in forming policy relating to the job they do. So there is a wonderful balance between the Government setting the core principles that have to be achieved and an amazing amount of flexibility—including all points of a given question that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, is worried about—which can be discussed based on perceived priorities across the land, in these different settings.

When my friend the Bishop of Liverpool was inducted, he told me that in his first year he went around all the schools in his diocese. He asked the sixth-formers to tell him which important things they wanted to be better represented in their educational experience. Again and again, 95% said they wanted to better understand what lies behind the current debate in our newspapers and daily experience about climate change and the planet. If children can speak with that degree of unanimity, Parliament ought to too.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and support him in introducing this Bill. The Bill will amend Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act to include a general provision for education on the environment and sustainable citizenship. It will require maintained and nursery schools to follow a curriculum that

“instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment, for … future generations”.

The Bill stipulates that the Secretary of State’s guidance must ensure that pupils learn about the impact of human behaviour on the natural environment and the impact of the natural environment on human beings. I ask the Minister whether sufficient financial support, resources and qualified teachers will be made available at all stages of schooling.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, not just for introducing this important Bill but for a lifetime devoted to one of the most important causes of all: giving young people the best possible start in life and the education and skills they need to fulfil their potential and achieve their ambitions.

As we have heard, without much faster progress there will be no chance of achieving our net zero goals, and if we are to make changes in energy consumption and transport, the best place to start is in schools. These proposals should also help to equip young people for the hundreds of thousands of good, well-paid jobs that will be available in low-carbon industries.

The loss of traditional industries, the closure of pits and potteries, factories and foundries, the decline of shipbuilding and seaside resorts, jobs lost to recessions, technological change and competition from low-wage economies abroad have all seen the regions fall further and further behind. As a result, productivity in London is 30% higher than in the rest of the UK apart from the south-east. There are great businesses and signs of improvement in the regions, but over the past few decades they have clearly struggled to attract new jobs in growing industries such as financial services, professional services and the computer revolution, to replace the jobs they have lost. Over the next few decades there will be huge growth in and millions of well-paid jobs in high-tech industries such as advanced manufacturing, low-carbon, construction digital media and so on. It is vital that we do not make the same mistakes again.

Change could happen 10 times faster than and at 300 times the scale of the Industrial Revolution, and technologies that have yet to be developed will create jobs not yet imagined as the pace of change gets faster. However, there will also be many fewer jobs for people with limited skills or no qualifications, so the only way the Midlands and the north will weather this storm and attract new industries, which is what the levelling-up agenda is actually about, is by having the skills they need, and the only way young people will prosper is by learning how to master new skills and adapt to constant change. That is why these changes are so important.

I think we should view this timely and important Bill as an opportunity to help the former industrial towns and cities, the great cities of our country on which its wealth was based in previous centuries, develop the skills needed to attract investment in low-carbon technologies, green industries and sustainable development. Let us use this Bill to resolve that we will make this industrial revolution different from the major economic changes of the past few decades and ensure that it brings new industries, new jobs and greater prosperity to the parts of our country that have been left behind and let down for far too long, so that we can build not just a greener country in the future but a fairer one too.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on his excellent introduction to this important Bill and fully support him in his endeavours to get the Education Act 2002 amended. Ensuring that our secondary school pupils receive an informed message on climate change and the environment is vital. Young people are interested in what is going on around them and engaged in the issues of the day.

However, this does not start at secondary school. All children are curious and develop a love and respect for their surroundings—the animals, insects and plants that inhabit their area—from a very young age. One of their first experiences of engaging with nature will often be pond dipping, a marvellously simple and inexpensive way to bring a sense of wonder to a small child while also engaging with water, always a great favourite. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to the importance of educating young children in this way.

Clause 1, paragraph (2) (c) contains the phrase,

“instils an ethos and ability to care for oneself, others and the natural environment”.

This is the essence of the Bill and it essentially starts at pre-school, to be carried on into later life. A respect for living creatures, their environment and what it takes to ensure their survival should be a given for all children. Those living in rural areas or with easy access to green spaces have an advantage. For those living in high-density urban areas, more imagination and effort is needed, but the class outing is often a marvellous opportunity to experience nature in its natural environment at first hand.

In previous years, if a farmer had piglets, he could take them into the local school for the children to see. Sadly, health and safety risk assessments have made this a thing of the past. For children and young people to experience the world around them and learn to appreciate the environment and all that it contains, there will need to be an element of risk.

Speaking time is short, and all speakers have covered a wide range of aspects with which I mostly agree, but I want to flag up those children and young people at special schools. I declare an interest as my husband is the chair of governors of a special school. These students will not be the high-fliers that we often see championing the environment. They are nevertheless interested in their surroundings and looking to find their niche in life. Even in urban areas, there will be allotments provided by the local council. Allocating an allotment to a special school can open up a whole area of engaging with biodiversity, the means of looking after and nurturing both plants and animals and growing and eating your own food. Planting a sweetcorn seed, watching it grow, watering and weeding it and then harvesting it, taking it back to school, where it is put on the barbecue, and then eating it with butter brings to life for these young people the journey that is taken by the food that they eat.

The national curriculum is flexible when applied to special schools. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister agrees that all children should have the chance to engage with studies of the natural environment and the impact that it has on each one of us and how we can benefit from looking after it.

My Lords, before beginning my focused comments, I was going to pick up on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, but my noble friend Lord Griffiths has explained beautifully how the Welsh Labour Government’s curriculum introduction in September will have that light touch. Educators have been at the core of that change and one of the stated goals in the four areas of learning is for young people to show their commitment to the sustainability of the planet. This very important aspect is therefore firmly embedded in the future learning for children in Wales.

My noble friend Lord Knight has brought this important and visionary Bill to the Chamber. As a former Schools and Learning Minister, he is well known for looking ahead and finding inventive solutions to long-standing problems. This is indeed a problem that needs solving and we are running out of time. In the climate emergency—emergency is the key word—we must look at every means of protecting our natural environment and reversing the harm done, by making the changes that we need to see. We do not have the luxury of taking it slowly.

Education and information are a key plank of tackling the emergency. We need to trust future generations and to do right by them, which means equipping them with everything that they need for the challenges that we have all played a part in creating. We have every reason to be optimistic about young people’s engagement and passion for the planet, as the school climate strikes have shown. Young people are taking to the streets to send a clear message to the Government that climate change will be a fundamental and defining feature of their adult lives, and that we must take the action needed to tackle it.

This is about providing young people with the knowledge and tools that they need. It is not the first time in your Lordships’ House that I have mentioned my former career. I spent over 30 years in the classroom. I cannot begin to emphasise to your Lordships the keen interest that my former students took in discussions and debates about their future world. I learned as much from them as they did from me and it is our responsibilities as adults and leaders to enrich and equip our young people with the best knowledge and understanding of what lies ahead for them in their adult lives. We must provide a focus on the knowledge and skills in a world increasingly shaped by climate change, with a view to better equipping young people for the green technology jobs of the future and ensure that the ecological crisis is an educational priority.

The Bill updates the general requirements of the national curriculum, and citizens’ requirements, to actively support the learning approaches, foundational values and mindset needed to build a sense of agency, compassion and resilience, and a willingness to engage with local and global issues.

Many noble Lords have mentioned COP. I understand that the Government produced a schools’ pack for COP that was launched by the Prime Minister. Clearly, the Government see the benefit of this, so how are they going to embed it for the longer term? Let us not miss that opportunity to show global leadership in the area. As has been mentioned, our co-host, Italy, has already introduced sustainable citizenship provision. I would argue that a significant start in embedding it would be to enact this Bill.

Education was a key recommendation of Climate Assembly UK. The assembly said that there is a need for information and education for everyone—individuals, businesses, Government and others—about climate change and the steps needed to tackle it. It is essential to buy into the changes that are needed, and the essential part is education.

During my tenure as leader of Newport City Council, we advanced change in our waste recycling habits through a major educational programme in our schools, which resulted in Newport being one of the top performing councils for recycling, not just in Wales but in the whole of the UK. Our young people drove that change, and we give them every credit for their active citizenship and directly improving their natural environment.

The Bill also forms a key plank of any wider national skills strategy. It complements the Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which is currently going through your Lordship’s House, by developing the social capital needed to deliver the wider policy goals of levelling up.

Our young people’s future depends on new and innovative ways of working. My job at the beginning of my career bore little resemblance to my ways of working 30 years later. We need to constantly adapt to change. In the words of the futurist author HG Wells:

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative.”

I commend my noble friend’s Bill to the House.

My Lords, I offer my congratulations, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on securing a Second Reading for his Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill and for securing so many Back-Bench speakers to speak last thing on a Friday.

It is a pleasure to address your Lordships as I am, as I have mentioned before, the Department for Education’s COP 26 Minister. I will be slightly unusual here and offer noble Lords a meeting to address the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Browne, with regard to the response to that. We are working at pace to make sure that what is delivered in COP is significant and displays the best of education.

To speak to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I have specifically mentioned that we must profile how important this is for young people with special needs and disabilities. We have an opportunity to profile to the world the inclusion of those young people in education, which, unfortunately, is not the case in many countries around the world. I heard that message loud and clear. I met with the Climate Change Committee on 10 June with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and that was a positive meeting.

While I agree with the sentiments of the Bill, I must express my reservations on its contents. I am, unfortunately, going to disappoint noble Lords in that we believe that the national curriculum already provides pupils with the knowledge they need to help address climate change now and in the future. The subjects of citizenship, science and geography all include content on the environment. Pupils learn about what improves and harms it and how economic choices affect environmental sustainability. I have to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that many young people already have a substantial body of knowledge around this.

Pupils are taught about weather patterns, climate zones and greenhouse gases, but noble Lords should also know that pupils are taught about how humans impact on the natural environment. This includes: the danger we pose to animal habitats—dealing with the point by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes; the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the effect that has on the climate; and how human and physical processes can work together to change landscapes, environments and the climate. The geography GCSE covers changing weather and climate, including the causes, consequences of, and responses to, extreme weather conditions and natural weather hazards. It is good news that between 2010 and 2020—partly because of the EBacc—there has been a 15% increase in the take-up of GCSE geography. To ensure that pupils have access to a higher level of study, as one noble Lord mentioned, the department has introduced an environmental science A-level.

I understand that the noble Lord is working with the Association for Citizenship Teaching to develop model lessons on climate change and sustainable citizenship that explore issues of environmental responsibility, alongside shaping and making the law. I applaud him for this excellent work. He has answered the queries made by my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. To address the initiative that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, mentioned, I say that more than 20,000 of England’s schools take part in Eco Schools programmes.

Schools have the autonomy to go into as much depth on these subjects as they see fit. As my noble friend Lord Hannan mentioned, they are given considerable freedom in how they teach these subjects. Pupils can also study environmental texts in English or calculate emissions from different types of vehicles in mathematics, so there is the flexibility that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned.

I will mention one or two examples. The pupils at All Saints Catholic High School in Sheffield embed environmental sustainability messages in the textiles they develop in design and technology. Last year, during lockdown, the year 7 pupils at the Thomas Keble School in Stroud were asked to research and put into practice simple ideas to improve sustainability and the environment. These ideas ranged from water collectors to wildflower patches and improving water use in the home. The lessons were so successful that the school has decided to embed them in its citizenship teaching in future years. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett: it is not squeezed out. The curriculum is not as narrow as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, mentioned. These are examples of what schools are doing.

Unfortunately, we know that teachers have been under incredible pressure to keep children learning during lockdown. Making any changes to the curriculum would only increase their workload. I am sure noble Lords agree that our priority is to provide stability at this time. Noble Lords will be aware that we have introduced RHSE into the curriculum. We have had feedback from teachers about needing more resources to help them teach that appropriately. There is also a short consultation about 2022 exams out at the moment. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with noble Lords: for the sake of our workforce, now is not the time to add anything to the curriculum.

Having discussed the content of the curriculum, I will talk about what the department is doing in other areas. We have established a sustainability and climate change unit. As the Minister responsible for school capital and the school estate, I point out to the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Knight, that new schools are designed to be net zero by the end of this year. This is so important, because primary and secondary schools account for 25% of the UK’s total public sector building emissions. One of the first things I was told when I became a Minister in the department is that we are one of the country’s leading construction clients. It is such an important part of us meeting that 2050 target, and we take it incredibly seriously.

As part of this, the sustainability and climate change unit is exploring proposals to complement the curriculum through starting an environmental youth achievement award scheme to involve young people in efforts to understand, measure the environmental impact of and enhance the school estate. This will encourage contact and connectedness with the natural environment among young people.

We are also developing events for Youth and Empowerment Day at COP 26 in November, which we hope will give opportunities to young people and experts to exchange views and ideas and share best practice. As a country, this is an opportunity to showcase our strengths.

On the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Browne, it is pleasing to note that there was an increase of 4,000 pupils in the uptake of GCSE citizenship between 2018 and 2020. The number of specialist teachers has remained stable at around 4,000. I hope that answers the point from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.

On the specific question from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, we are working closely with UNESCO on sustainability and education in preparation for COP.

There were questions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone, Lady Benjamin and Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Austin of Dudley, about the skills and post-16 work we are doing at the moment and the workforce we will need in future. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has embedded environmental and sustainability aims in its processes to develop and update the employer-led occupational standards. Noble Lords might want to look at the Green Jobs Taskforce report published only a few days ago.

I do not believe that amending the curriculum is the right way to encourage pupils to learn about a sustainable environment. We trust our schools to instil that ethos and ability to care for others and the environment, and we have to trust our young people to learn from this and translate it into responsible citizenship.

My Lords, I am most grateful to speakers on all sides of the House and all sides of the debate for their contributions. I thoroughly enjoyed the debate, and I hope that everybody else did, too. I counted 23 speakers in favour, so there is quite a lot to cover, but I shall try to be brief about it.

There were a number of great contributions around the importance of the connection to nature and biodiversity, from the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall; and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, mentioned it too, in connection with his child. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, mentioned the natural history GCSE, and there was also the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I enjoyed, and was very grateful for, the contributions on citizenship from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Young.

Noble Lords talked about the ethos of care, which is so important in what I am trying to achieve—that was from the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Blower. In part, that is in response to what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was talking about: if we can instil that ethos of care, we will get more debate, but it will be done in a more generous way than some of the debates that see such division. I welcome the noble Baroness’s contribution, as this Chamber should not be an echo chamber; it is really important that we hear diverse opinions. I thank her for her contribution in that spirit.

There was a discussion of behaviour change from the noble Lord, Lord Walney, and, again, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and on skills and jobs from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Austin. We heard about the importance of leadership from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in respect of our international commitments. I was interested by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, in respect of the devolved Governments and what we can learn from each other, and I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about what is already going on in Scotland and from my noble friend Lord Griffiths about what is going on in Wales. I remember, in my time as a Minister, I was more likely to be sent to Australia to learn what was going on than to be sent to Scotland or Wales. It is a shame we do not do a little bit more of that.

There were comments around the need for teacher support from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, which I take very seriously. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about the world’s largest lesson, as well as from the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and I think the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, who were under the impression that this might apply only to secondary education, that that was answered by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Bakewell. They reminded us that the general requirements in the first part of the Bill apply to all maintained schools, both primary and secondary.

The noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Browne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned evidence to your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee—I welcome the Minister’s invitation to meet them to discuss that. I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, that the phrase at the end of that,

“we will be carrying out a formal assessment … over the next 9 months.”

is not good enough and I hope that, as a result of that meeting, a sense of urgency can be inserted into the department around what we do about this. I hope also that the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, around the space in the curriculum were in part answered by my opening but also by the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

I say to the Minister that I fear that, as things stand, it is too little, too late. I have also seen the letter from the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee to the Secretary of State, sent this week, where he says,

“to the best of my knowledge the last large-scale review of the National Curriculum took place between 2011-2014, and the geography and science curricula … have not been updated since 2013 and 2015 respectively. Knowledge of climate change and its impacts have grown substantially in the time since these updates”.

I think that Darren Jones is right to remind the Secretary of State of those things. We need to look at this urgently. Geography is an optional subject and the curriculum does not teach anything about what we do about this. That is at the core of the argument: it is all very well to learn about it, but we need young people, through schools, to learn action.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, rightly raised the question of what I mean by “we”. I would say that, by “we”, I mean the Church, I mean the Royal Family, I mean all the major parties in this country and I mean what we as a nation have signed up to in terms of climate change. That is “we”; that is us, and a few voices off should not distract us from the need to insert within our curriculum the knowledge, the skills and the mindset for our young people to be able to do something about it. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 3.31 pm.