​Disappointment at misguided Ofsted comments

8th December 2020

Last week, at the launch of Ofsted’s 2019-2020 annual report, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, said:
“And increasingly we see efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns. In the last year, many of these calls have been about environmental causes and against racism.

“Climate change activists have called for new qualifications or more explicit alterations to the curriculum. They sometimes forget the importance of grounding climate change within the wider body of learning about science and about geography. And they don’t always notice how much schools already do in this space.”

In response to the comments about why Ofsted won’t be regulating on integrating education on the Climate Crisis and wider social sustainability injustices like racial inequality into the curriculum:

Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC said: “We are deeply disappointed by the misguided comments from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman at the launch of the Ofsted Annual Report last week.
“The dismissal of curriculum amends to include education for sustainable development, particularly climate education, suggests a lack of knowledge on the science of a heating planet, as well as the education and skills opportunities and challenges of a fast-changing low carbon workplace.
“A large majority of young people are ‘climate activists’. They should not have to be, this isn’t a controversial issue - the science is clear, and yet there is a lack of recognition of the scale and urgency of change needed to address the climate crisis, typified by Ofsted – the very body tasked with ensuring young people receive a high standard of education and training.
“Ofsted are effectively saying they won’t listen to young people about the skills and knowledge they want, and indeed need, for their future. The world is changing, the UK government has just committed to targets to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030, a landmark Environment Bill is going through the House of Commons, and the UK is hosting COP26 in 2021. The education system must align with this aspiration, in both its operations AND its curriculum. Ofsted is out of step.
“Without question, many schools and colleges do good things in this space. But it is not across the board, because there is no regulation. Regulation is needed, otherwise, young people are disadvantaged by their schooling if it doesn’t include this. We should be levelling up, not creating further divides.

“The Chief Inspector also said, in the same speech: ‘The pandemic isn’t just a colossal disruption. It’s also bringing out truths about our society. It has been so hard for so many people in so many ways: losing people we love, losing livelihoods, losing freedoms, losing the things that motivate us, losing everyday pleasures and joy.’ Failing to learn the lessons from the pandemic and apply them to the climate emergency is complacent and fails to recognise the effects the Climate Crisis will bring if change is not made urgently to our society and one of its key pillars; education.
“We hope Ofsted will engage with young people and education membership bodies such as our own, to learn about the importance of sustainability education in its broadest sense, but particularly climate education, and to show they are listening to the young people they serve.  

“We need action from the Government, to deliver on its promises to build back better and to make sure Government agencies including regulators align with this. We owe it to our young people, and the time is now.”

Climate Commission statement on Ofsted Annual Report launch:

The Climate Commission for Further and Higher Education welcomes the Government’s ambition in setting a new target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. This is now the time for universities and colleges to review their own targets to ensure they are in line with this ambition.
However, there seems to be a clear disconnect with the Government’s ambition and the actions of its agencies and regulators. This was evident in Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s launch of the annual report referring to environmental causes as a single issue and not relevant in today’s curriculum. Whilst we agree that the climate crisis needs to be grounded on the science, but to ignore the social and economic impacts that this will have is not only misguided but especially damaging to the young people who are the ones that will have to face the challenges and opportunities the climate crisis will bring and need the skills and knowledge to survive. The ‘climate change activists’ Spielman refers to are the very students that Ofsted should be serving. The Government needs to ensure the agencies and regulators actions match their ambition. We welcome Ofsted to engage with the Climate Commission on how we can work together to realise this ambition for the sector and needs of our society and economy.

The student-led campaign group Teach the Future released a reactive statement as well, they said:

“We need to reform the entire education system, embedding sustainability as a core principle of every single discipline, linking this to learning about our colonial past and its hand in creating the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a racist crisis; climate impacts are disproportionately felt by black and brown communities due to structures retained from colonialism. It’s impossible to write a history of the climate crisis without understanding how empires built fossil fuel companies and stole natural resources from the Global South. The calls to decolonise our education system across the country are therefore crucial, as well as those to decarbonise. Climate education and decolonisation go hand in hand and are both urgently required in our national curriculum.
“Of course, learning about climate change needs to be grounded in science- we aren’t debating that. No one, least of all our campaign, is pushing for climate change to be taught in an unscientifically founded way.
However, at the moment, all we learn about climate change is in our science and optional geography classrooms. This is not the fault of individual educators or schools – it is the fault of the entire education system.
“Young people are taught about climate change as a purely scientific phenomenon and almost nothing about its social and humanitarian implications. We desperately need schools to explore the root causes of the crisis and empower young people by helping them understand how to live and work towards a more sustainable future-no matter their profession. Whether you go on to be a farmer or a pharmacist, a builder or a banker, a fashion designer or a firefighter- you need to understand how climate change is shaping our world and how sustainability relates to your field. Furthermore, we simply don’t have time to wait for sustainable technologies and scientific solutions to develop in all these fields before we address the topic in schools; we need to be having discussions about the problem in our classrooms now.
“If you look for the leaders in any industry or sector, you will find that they are university-educated people, and often they are making poor decisions for our communities and our planet. There is huge scope here for our educational institutions to be producing graduates who are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. If we are ever to have hope of preparing young people for the jobs of a just, net-zero future, then closing the sustainable skills gap is absolutely vital- and this must start in our schools.”
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