The Ministry of Eco Education began as a conversation between Ecotricity founder Dale Vince OBE and Nick Moss, headteacher at Minchinhampton Primary Academy in Gloucestershire, UK.
The Ministry of Eco Education (MEE) is working with 15 pioneer schools around the UK to pilot a ‘green’ curriculum over the next academic year. Pooling resources from the world’s leading environmental authorities, such as the WWF and RSPB, MEE has created a cohesive and holistic learning programme for all primary schools in Britain, putting sustainability at its heart. The curriculum helps pupils understand how their decisions and actions can affect the climate and the planet.
Frank talked to co-founder, teacher and radical geographer Paul Turner about inspiring the next generation of eco-warriors.
Paul – can you tell us about your background and what is a ‘radical geographer’?
Paul Turner: I was a geography teacher for the last decade. Over the years, I got more and more involved in climate change education and created the world’s first Climate Breakdown series of lessons, which has now been downloaded more than 10,000 times around the world. Radical geography explores the world’s social, economic and environmental problems through a critical lens and explores and actively engages with solutions. The ‘radical’ part is about challenging the status quo, which is harmful to people and the planet, and exploring alternative futures.
How did you get involved in the Ministry of Eco Education?
Paul Turner: Dale has supported Minchinhampton Academy for a while, and it was the youth climate strikes and other national and international events that built the momentum. Nick and his staff wanted to better respond to the climate and nature emergencies and support their students in taking more action. Dale found me through the Climate Breakdown teaching materials and I came on board to develop the initial ideas of the teachers at Minchinhampton. We then scoured the internet for all the free teaching resources from more than 160 different charities and organisations. We weaved these together, along with the teachers’ ideas, into big enquiry questions and a series of lessons.
The MEE says almost 70% of British schoolchildren want to learn more about sustainability. Where does that statistic come from and what prompts their interest?
Paul Turner: This stat comes from research carried out by Teach The Future. The interest from students comes from what they see and read about the world, in the media and their understanding of the problems facing the world.
As soon as young people build meaningful relationships with nature, they realise its importance and want to spend more time with it and care for it more.
Research from the University of York suggests that 78% of people reported some level of fear about climate change, with 41% reporting being very much or extremely fearful. There’s a lot of research that suggests developing an understanding of the situation, alongside acting at a local level, has significant positive impacts on anxiety.
What was your starting point for adding sustainability into the curriculum? How did you design it so it would be easy for schools to adopt?
Paul Turner: The starting point was the types of questions teachers, academics and young people want to explore. These are broad societal questions that people around the world are grappling with: where we should get our food, how we should heat our homes, etc. Much of the curriculum has been crowdsourced with the help of teachers and academics across the country. The 15 pioneer schools have helped feedback on the resources, and we’ve aimed to share best practices and build on their ideas.
The video content we’ve created has been key to sharing the stories from schools and helping build teachers’ confidence. We’ve linked the teaching resources to the national curriculum so that schools feel comfortable and confident in using them right now.
It allows schools to teach the national curriculum but through an environmental lens. Its whole premise is to teach sustainability in every lesson for every pupil, supporting every subject to engage with the climate and nature emergencies.
You are working with 15 pioneer schools around the country to pilot the new ‘green’ curriculum over the next academic year. How did you recruit those schools or did they approach you?
Paul Turner: Some of the schools approached us, many were recruited because of the inspiring teachers at those schools already involved in environmental education. These include Hannah Tombling, a superb early years teacher at Diamond Wood Academy, and Meryl Batcheldor at Corbridge Middle School, people who already have so much passion for embedding sustainability across the curriculum.
Is it harder for inner-city schools to take on the green curriculum, compared to a school in a town such as Stroud that is close to the countryside?
Paul Turner: We purposefully chose the 15 pioneer schools to be from a broad mix, geographically, and demographically. We have a mixture of urban and rural, some schools with no green space on their site, schools with high levels of free school meals, many with passionate environmental educators but others with less confidence. The 15 pioneer schools show it’s possible to do this in any school anywhere. Many of the schools with little green space on their site have used the curriculum to connect with nearby green spaces, like woods or nature reserves.
The primary purpose of the 15 schools was to prove it’s possible in any school, anywhere.
Your mission is to reach 10,000 schools – half of all primary schools – by 2025. How will you do that?
Paul Turner: We have several relationships we’re developing to ensure the curriculum goes mainstream. These include working with football’s Premier League and their network of Community Trusts through the Primary Stars programme.
We’re also working with the Nature Premium campaign and a variety of funding opportunities to help schools access funding to support training, resources and travel associated with environmental education. Ultimately, we need everyone to ask their local schools, their children’s and grandchildren’s schools to engage with the Ministry of Eco Education. We need everyone’s help.