- Rt Hon Michael Gove MPMember of Parliament for Surrey Heath and Secretary of State for Education.
Michael Gove: Include wildlife conservation in the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 English National Curriculum
On the 20th of January 2011, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, confirmed that the current government will be reviewing the National Curriculum in England. Just over two years have since passed, and the government recently published the “National Curriculum in England: Framework document for consultation,” which set out, for the purpose of public consultation, a revised framework for the National Curriculum. Following on from this document, the government has now published its final version of the National Curriculum, from which it will become statutory in September 2014. In this petition, I will review the new 2014 National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 to see how it promotes the education of conservation and environmental issues among school children.
Before I discuss this further, I want to take you back a few years ago when David Cameron was elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party. In his first speech as the leader in 2005, David Cameron began to set his promise of environmental action by stating that: “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.”
A year later, in 2006, the Conservative Party then decided to change its former blue, torch baring logo to a new environmentally minded one, involving a green oak tree. The decision was made due to the negative association with the Party’s previous leaders, and a desire to be seen as having the capacity to move on with a modern approach. Further to this reason, the Conservative Party also wanted to be recognised for putting “environmental concerns” at the heart of their manifesto. In the same year, David Cameron also travelled across the Arctic Ice in order to highlight his promise that environmental action was at the heart of the Conservative Party’s new image. “Vote blue, go green” had even become their mantra.
The Party has left the mainstream of the British public cold......
Since then, as Ben Caldecott stated in his January 2013 article, entitled “The Tory party needs a vibrant green conservation movement,” the Conservative Party has been on something of an “environmental retreat.” In fact, Caldecott goes on to state that the Conservative Party has become “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and that the Party has left “the mainstream of the British public cold.”
This statement is further supported by George Monbiot who, following the recent Conservative Party reshuffle in September 2012, stated that:
“So that’s it then. The final shred of credibility of “the greenest government ever” has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter. The appointment of Owen Paterson as environment secretary is a declaration of war on the environment, and another sign that the right of the party - fiercely opposed to anything that prevents business from doing as it wishes - has won.”
Taking this “retreat” into consideration, I was interested to see how the 2014 National Curriculum promotes the education of preserving our environment and the conservation of wildlife in Key Stages 1 and 2. In particular, I was keen to examine:
- Does the 2014 National Curriculum allow children to research national and internationally based conservation and environmental issues?
- Does it enable children to discover how they themselves can assist in the conservation of endangered animals and in the preservation of our environment?
- Will it allow children to have their own voice heard on these issues, so they can become responsible, eco-minded citizens?
Considering David Cameron’s pledge back in 2005 when he was elected the new leader of the Conservative Party (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), I was looking forward to seeing how the 2014 National Curriculum, developed by Mr Cameron’s government, would help achieve such as worthy goal. However, taking into account the obvious “retreat” that the Conservative Party has gone on since David Cameron’s speech back in 2005, I had my reservations to say the least.
During the introductory pages of the Curriculum, the initial signs are encouraging. The Curriculum states that it “promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.” The Curriculum then goes onto to state that it will provide pupils “with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens.” Considering the threats facing many of the world’s species and deterioration of our environment, such qualities and promotion amongst young people to be “educated citizens” is definitely required if we are going to “turn things around.”
After this, I focused on the Science section within the Curriculum. In my opinion, Science in primary schools is an excellent opportunity for children to learn about the conservation of animals and the preservation of their environments. This is also supported by the 2014 National Curriculum itself, which states that “science has changed out lives and is vital to the world’s future prosperity.” It is important to note that for each Year group (1 to 6), within each subject the Curriculum lists different statutory programmes of studies, such as “All living things” and “Reversible changes.” Within each programme of studies are a few statutory teaching points. Each programme of study is also accompanied by further non statutory notes and guidance which act simply as a series of recommendations.
At first, in addition to specific sections in the Science Curriculum on “Plants” and “Animals, including humans,” the most encouraging factor is the non statutory notes and guidance recommending that pupils should visit their local environments throughout the academic year in order to study different habitats and animals. Sceptics will state that not all primary schools are fortunate enough to have a green space close to them, or have the funds spare to afford travel to one, but the Curriculum’s intentions are worthy and I was happy to see that they have made such recommendations. Furthermore, there is a statutory programme of study for the teaching of animals through “All living things” and “Animals, including humans,” what they require to survive, to reproduce and to grow, as well as non statutory recommendations where children are taught how to care for animals and how to safety place them back into their original habitats.
Why is there only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment?
As I worked my way through the Curriculum for Science, from Year 1 all the way up to Year 6, it was not until I reached Year 4 that environmental change got its first, and sadly, only mention in this document. In the statutory programme of study for “All living things”, the Curriculum for Year 4 states that pupils should be taught to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats.” In the notes and guidance that accompanies this particular programme of study; it states that, “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.” A worthy specification - but that is it. From Year 1 to 6, that one single teaching point programme of study, along with a single piece of notes and guidance, is the only mention that environmental issues receive in the 2014 National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2. Once again, considering both David Cameron’ statement back in 2005, (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), and the comments during the initial pages within actual 2014 National Curriculum itself (the framework provides children with “an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens”), it is baffling as to why there is only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment, and a single accompanying non-statutory piece of guidance relating to the environmental education issues within in the entire National Curriculum.
To put it into perspective, in Year 3, the statutory programme of study “Rocks” alone lists 3 teaching points and 4 sentences of guidance and notes. Whilst I am not saying in anyway that the studying of rocks in not important, I just wanted to highlight how little coverage the education of preserving our environments gets and, in my opinion, such an important subject deserves to be covered far more than it is being to be.
With regards to the conservation of animals, the situation is bleaker.
From Year 1 to 6, there is no direct mention of the conservation of animals within the National Curriculum at all, either within any of the statutory programme of studies or in the non statutory notes or guidance section. One area of hope is in the non statutory notes and guidance for “All living things,” where it is recommended that pupils be taught about inspirational naturalists and animal behaviourists. Those recommended are Carl Linnaeus, Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. I hope that through these noteworthy individuals, particularly Jane Goodall and David Attenborough that schools and teachers will be able to educate their pupils about the importance of conserving our planet’s animals and the environments that they rely on. However, I must point out again that there are no statutory requirements for schools to teach their children about the conservation of animals.
Whilst the focus of this blog entry is on Key Stage 1 and 2, I feel it necessary, due to the lack of coverage within the National Curriculum of both the preservation of our environment and the conservation of animals, that in the Key Stage 3 proposal, it states that pupils should be taught about the “efficacy of recycling,” and “the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on the climate.” Both are worthy teaching points, but why are they not taught from an earlier age and on a more regular basis throughout primary education?
I found no mention of the preservation of our environment...
After being disappointed with the Science section of the National Curriculum, I moved onto the Geography one, hoping to find programmes of study containing teaching points which might relate to the preservation of our environment. After checking through it three times, I found no mention of the preservation of our environment and how people are impacting upon its decline in any of the statutory programmes of study or in the non statutory notes and guidance.
"The preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an afterthought.”
So that is it. The future National Curriculum, which will become statutory in 2014, proposes that only once in their entire primary education, in Year 4, should children learn to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats,” and recommends that these Year 4 “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.”
In addition to this, the only way the conservation of animals is mentioned is through the non statutory recommendation that children could learn about respected naturalists and animal behaviourists such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. Whether you believe this to be sufficient or not, I think it noteworthy to reflect upon on David Cameron’s promise back in 2005 once again - “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.” I personally find it difficult to understand why David Cameron is happy for his Secretary of State for Education to develop a Curriculum where the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an “afterthought.”
Not all is lost though.
The National Curriculum does state that “there is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications.”
Whilst there are some schools which may be more flexible in how they manage their timetables, I know there will be some teachers who will find such a comment laughable, considering how difficult it is to manage the restrictions of a school timetable. In my opinion, if we are going to educate our young people how to preserve the environment and how to conserve our wildlife, we are going to have to do it ourselves and without the support of the government.
Further to this, it is also important to note that academies, which are publicly funded schools, have a significant degree of autonomy to deviate from the National Curriculum, and therefore, in theory, may be more willing to include more environmental and animal conservation based work into their curriculum.
It may be that groups promoting the environmental and conservation education, such as So What?, YPTE and Roots and Shoots, target these schools more specifically than state funded schools. However, I cannot help but feel sad that I am having to propose such a strategic plan in order to educate how children about how they should preserve the environment which they rely on, and the conserve endangered animals such as the lion, whose numbers have dwindled to a lowly 15,000.
One way in which So What? aims to overcome the lack of statutory coverage within the 2014 National Curriculum, is to encourage teachers to use our resources within after school clubs, and not within the curriculum as many other conservation education providers do. Whilst So What?’s resources can be used in curriculum time, I believe that teachers might be more willing to take advantage of our free, downloadable resources if they feel like they are not having to comprise curriculum time within their school calendar.
"I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals "
For me, the main frustration behind the 2014 National Curriculum, is that as the leader of my own So What? after school, and as a working primary school teacher, I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals.
During a recent school project run collaboratively by So What? and Shark Aid UK, the children at the primary school where I work were horrified to discover the threats facing wild sharks and they even asked to do an extra unit of work in order to write letters to restaurants in their community, pleading with the owners to stop serving shark fin soup.
During my own So What? club at Navigation Primary School, in Manchester, the children were appalled to discover the threats facing wild lions, and the fate of many lions after they have been used as constant petting objects by naïve or misinformed tourists.
In my opinion, the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose more statutory programmes of study relating to the preservation of the environment and the conservation of endangered of animals. These programmes of study should also be taught at least once in Key Stage 1, and at very least twice in Key Stage (possibly in Year 4 and 6). However, I believe for it to be effective, they should be taught from Year 4 onwards in Key Stage 2. In addition to the statutory programme of study, I believe that the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose that pupils learn about topical issues, such as the impact of the palm oil trade, the shark fin trade, the trophy hunting industry and the impact of the Chinese Traditional Medicine Market.
In addition to this, they should be able to investigate controversial issues in Upper Key Stage 2, such as why do the WWF support the hunting of polar bears yet run adverts encouraging the public to adopt one? Why are dolphins captured in brutal circumstances to supply the “swim with dolphin” trade? Should the United States of America and Gabon stop capturing wild chimpanzees and other wild primates for scientific research?
Further to this point, a recent article published by the Imperial College London claimed that as a result of education, children can directly influence the attitude and behaviour of their parents towards the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals. This article provided quantitative support for the concept that environmental education, of which there is little in the 2014 National Curriculum, can be transferred between generations and that is can also influence behaviour.
The study was carried out on Mahe Island in the Seychelles, where environmental education has a strong history and where wildlife clubs are brought into the school system to educate children about the importance of preserving the environment and the conservation of animals.
"The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education"
In the Imperial College of London’s study, questionnaires were issued to all pupils and their parents based upon the local wildlife, habitats and the threats they both face. The results illustrated that a child’s participation in environmental and animal conservation education not only increased their parent’s knowledge, but also their behaviour. The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education. Peter Damerell of the Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences, stated that, “school children in the Seychelles are fortunate enough to have a curriculum that emphasises the teaching of environmental concepts across a broad range of subjects.” In addition to this, Peter goes on to state that in addition to the curriculum, “NGO supported wildlife clubs are present within all education institutions and represent an opportunity to undertake detailed and interactive activities.”
In other word, by omitting environmental and wildlife conservation education in the 2014 National Curriculum, the government are not only missing an opportunity to impact upon children, but possibly their parents too.
“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.” I wonder what David Cameron would have thought of the 2014 National Curriculum if he were to have read it back in 2005. Such a thought is now irrelevant, and we are, in my opinion, at risk of developing a country where people are “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and where climate change and the environment are an “afterthought.”
I truly hope environmental educationists use such a possibility as an impetus to get into schools and teach children about the conservation and environmental issues, as it appears that we won’t be able to rely on the government to help us do this any time soon. Please sign this petition to send a clear message to Michael Gove that we all want our future generations to be educated about wildlife conservation, just like the Duke of Cambridge said in his speech to the End Wildlife Crime Conference on May 21st 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=74_lC_MmMO8
So What? Founder
- Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath and Secretary of State for Education.
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
I would like you to consider making wildlife conservation a statutory part of the English Primary National Curriculum.
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