Preparing youth for the future: developing green skills in secondary education - Earthwatch

Preparing youth for the future: developing green skills in secondary education

The UK education system needs to equip its young people with the knowledge, skills and tools to respond to the environmental crisis. In 2022, the Department for Education (DfE) launched a Sustainability and climate change strategy to ensure young people are prepared to play a role and “flourish in our changing world”. But more work is required to embed the development of green skills in secondary education, especially for those who are soon to enter the job market. 

The ecological crisis is the most pressing issue of our time. A quick look at the World Economic Forum’s annual Risks Report, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or IPBES’s Values Assessment Report will explain why.  

So, what can be done within UK secondary education to ensure positive changes can happen? Here are three leverage points that can help us answer that question. 

1. Connect a disconnected curriculum  

The environmental crisis is an interdisciplinary issue. Understanding it requires thinking in systems, not silos. Unfortunately, in secondary school settings, connections between subjects loosen as academic disciplines become more specialised and focused on subject-specific knowledge and GCSE grades.  

Most of the subject matter related to the ecological crisis in the secondary curriculum currently sit within STEM subjects, but even within the science curriculums, the links to the ecological crisis are not highlighted enough.  

The addition of a GCSE in Natural History from September 2025 is welcome and needed, but it’s only one step toward addressing the need for more holistic and interdisciplinary approaches. All subjects must contribute to teaching green skills in secondary education.

2. Prepare underprepared teachers  

In response to the DfE’s strategy, Teacher Development Trust and Leeds Trinity College suggested that “teachers and school leaders examine and explore their current curriculum through a ‘green lens’ and use this as the context to teach existing content.”  

But are all teachers and school leaders equipped to look at their curriculum teaching through a ‘green lens’?  

A recent survey suggests the answer is no. 75% of teachers report they haven’t received adequate training on climate change and environmental issues, despite the majority agreeing that thereshould be more teaching on the subjects in their schools.  

Accessible and high-quality teacher training is necessary to address this gap.  

3. Re-establish a lost connection with nature 

Research led by the University of Derby shows our connection to nature matters for at least two reasons.  

Firstly, the more connected to nature we are, the more likely we are to act positively for the environment. Secondly, building connections with nature is an important tool for improving wellbeing and mental health.  

The research group also found that there’s a significant drop in nature connection from the age of 11, which does not increase until about the age of 30.  

The ‘teenage dip’ coincides with the move from a primary to secondary school environment from Year 7 as well as a period of intense emotional development as, by age 12, young people begin the process of defining who they are as individuals.  

Secondary schools therefore have a crucial role to play in ensuring every pupil has everyday opportunities to build their nature connection. 

The next step is working with nature and community 

Connecting a disconnected curriculum, preparing teachers and re-establishing a lost connection with nature are three ways that will significantly improve young people’s chances of “flourishing in a changing world.”  

If we set our imagination free, we can imagine secondary school students collaborating with their parents and a local biodiversity group on a reforestation campaign in their neighbourhood, as they learn about photosynthesis in their biology class and civic responsibility in preparation for Citizenship GCSE.  

We could see coastal town schools measuring the pH of the Atlantic Ocean in chemistry and writing poems about ocean acidification in English and other languages. We could have pupils teach their history teachers about historical CO2 emissions and the UK’s role and responsibility.  

We could ensure teachers feel confident to green their curriculum and help students develop revision and anxiety management practices that embed time spent outdoors.  

All the examples above aim to build connection to nature, strengthen youth voices and develop practical skills. These are evidence-based tactics for enabling action for the planet and increasing educational attainment, social skills and future opportunities.  

Can we embed green skills in secondary education?

Sounds impossible? It isn’t. Many of the above examples are already taking place. There are resources showing teachers environmental links across existing and future curriculums.  

There are youth-led organisations such as Teach the Teacher, which provide students with free training so they can teach their teachers about climate education. There are schools leading by example and local councils organising Youth Climate Summits.  

At Earthwatch Europe we provide schools and their teachers with the knowledge, support and resources they need to make the change happen.  

The responsibility for preparing students for a challenging future doesn’t only lie with teachers. Teacher training colleges, Ofsted inspectors, examiners, environmental groups, parents, local councils and even the students themselves all have a role to play.  

Connections, communities and clever curriculums form a foundation from which we can combat the ecological crisis. 

Smiling woman with brunette and blond hair wearing a t-shirt saying Earthwatch Education
About the Author 

Hanna Mroczka is an environmental educator at Earthwatch Europe. Hanna creates resources, training and opportunities for teachers, young people and members of the public to learn about environmental issues through contact with nature and positive action.

She is passionate about community engagement and equal access to education and green spaces. She holds a two-year MSc degree in Sustainable Development from Uppsala University and previously worked on human rights-based global implementation of Sustainable Development Goals for the Danish Institute for Human Rights. 

 

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