Putting climate change at the heart of education: Is England's strategy a placebo for policy?



Dunlop L & Rushton EAC (2022) Putting climate change at the heart of education: Is England's strategy a placebo for policy?. British Educational Research Journal, 48 (6), pp. 1083-1101.

In this paper we present an analysis of the sustainability and climate change strategy for education and children's services systems in England, produced by the Department for Education. Using critical discourse analysis, we juxtapose qualitative data collected from >200 youth teachers and teacher educators in the context of co-creating a manifesto for education and environmental sustainability. Through analysis of these two datasets, we evaluate the government's proposals for climate education and sustainability. We find that the strategy foregrounds economic concerns, with educational priorities driven by the ‘net zero’ policy agenda, and an over-reliance on increased science-focused knowledge and skills. The strategy suggests an absence of governmental responsibility and attention to the political dimensions of climate change. This is in contrast to stakeholder perspectives which see economic priorities as part of the problem and call for pro-environmental action at all levels, including from policymakers. The strategy has a depoliticising effect as it introduces additional demands for teachers and schools without the associated enabling policy environment. We argue that the strategy runs the risk of becoming a placebo for policy, with the appearance of ‘doing something’ whilst failing to address the fundamental policy problem.

climate change; education; England; policy; sustainability

British Educational Research Journal: Volume 48, Issue 6

FundersBritish Educational Research Association
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online30/06/2022
Date accepted by journal30/05/2022

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Professor Lizzie Rushton

Professor Lizzie Rushton

Professor of Education, Education