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Climate change activists are 'commandeering' school curriculum, Ofsted chief warns

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
Amanda Spielman is the chief inspector of schools in England
Amanda Spielman is the chief inspector of schools in England

The head of Ofsted has warned that climate change activists are “commandeering” the curriculum to have environmental issues taught in a “quasi-religious” way.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, said that if the teaching of climate change is not properly “grounded in science” children could end up taking an “emotional position” on the issue.

Speaking at the virtual launch of Ofsted’s annual report, she said: “Increasingly we see efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns.

“In the last year many of these calls have been about environmental causes and against racism. “Climate change activists have called for new qualifications or more explicit alterations to the curriculum.

They sometimes forget the importance of grounding climate change within the wider body of learning about science and about geography.”

Ms Spielman went on to say that pupils must have a proper understanding of climate change that is rooted in science so they learn to make “rational decisions” about how to act.

“If it is not grounded in science and there is no real understanding underneath it, it becomes a morality tale or something quasi-religious,” she added.

The chief inspector also addressed calls to “diversify” the school curriculum to include more content that appeals to black and minority ethnic (BME) children.

“The  curriculum is there to serve many purposes, one of which is to make children feel represented but there are so many others,” she said.

“Any review of curriculum it is important to stand back and say ‘what are all the things that people reviewing are trying to achieve and have we got a good balance that reflects all of those purposes?’

“I think my message would be don’t revise the curriculum in the context of a single issue or purpose, make sure that period reviews take all purposes into account.”

Ms Spielman also used her speech to warn that school closures during lockdown had a "dramatic impact" on the number of child protection referrals.

Local authorities are now more likely to be responding to "a legacy of abuse and neglect" after local safeguarding partners struggled to identify families in need of early support and protection amid the pandemic.

Ms Spielman pointed out that school attendance among the most vulnerable children remains "stubbornly low" and the number of child protection referrals made to councils had still not reached pre-Covid levels.

She raised concerns about the number of children who have not returned to school following lockdown because their parents have decided to home-educate them.  

A recent survey of local authorities suggests there are now more than 75,000 children being home schooled - a 38 per cent increase since last year.

“It appears many parents have removed their children because of their fears about Covid rather than a genuine desire to home-school,” she said.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable children has always been our focus, which is why we kept nurseries, schools and colleges open for those children throughout the pandemic.

"We all owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers and support workers who have gone above and beyond to support vulnerable children since national restrictions were first introduced. It remains a national priority to keep full-time education open for all."