Climate change 'should be taken off the timetable'

Tuesday 14th Jun 2011 by theWeather Club

It's been described as a greater threat to the world than terrorism, the biggest global health threat, and the worst threat to global stability. Yet when a review of the curriculum for five to 16-year-olds is published later this year, it will argue that climate change should not be included.

"The curriculum has become narrowly instrumentalist" said Tim Oates, the government adviser in charge with overhauling the school syllabus, in an interview with the Guardian yesterday. "We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don't date."

Climate science has been taught in schools since as far back as 1995, as part of the Labour government's shift in emphasis towards scientific "issues" and not just scientific knowledge. Under the current curriculum children aged between five and 11 are taught that they should care for the environment.

Yet Oates, a director of research at the exam board Cambridge Assessment, has argued that it should be the teachers rather than the state who decided which applications of science would most interest their pupils."If you live in a town where there is a lot of manufacturing, then teachers can use that as a context to discuss the social effects of science," he explained, pointing out that the topics that engaged children in science changed so frequently that the national curriculum couldn't be expected to keep up.

However, while the chief executive of the Association for Science Education Annette Smith agreed with Oates that the curriculum was too crowded, she was reluctant to "lose from the national curriculum the idea that science is developing all the time and that it impinges on our lives." Similarly policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics also warned the Guardian that Oates' ideas might serve the interest of politicians rather than pupils.

"Certain politicians feel that they don't like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn't a sign of a political agenda being exercised" said Ward - before going on to express his serious concerns that sceptical teachers might be tempted to leave climate change out. "This would not be in the best interests of pupils. It would be like a creationist teacher not teaching about evolution. Climate change is about science. If you remove the context of scientific concepts, you make it less interesting to children."

Nevertheless education secretary Michael Gove was adamant in his plans to reform the national curriculum while in office.

"Its pages are littered with irrelevant material – mainly high-sounding aims, such as the requirement to 'challenge injustice'" he said at the launch of his review earlier this year. "[These] are wonderful in politicians' speeches, but contribute nothing to helping students deepen their stock of knowledge."