Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Who allowed Dale Vince’s climate curriculum to take over schools?

Dale Vince (Credit: Getty images)

Recently, much light has been shone on the way LGBTQ+ campaign groups have been able to influence school sex and relationships classes. Lurid examples of highly sexualised and age-inappropriate content have shocked parents. Now, the Prime Minister has ordered a review of the curriculum, much to the disgust of teaching unions and campaigners.

But lessons in gender identity and sexuality are not the only way in which schools have become politicised. And LGBTQ+ activists are not the only ones looking to influence future generations by shaping what children are taught. Step forward Dale Vince.

The power to determine the curriculum is the power to influence what the next generation knows and thinks

Dubbed ‘Britain’s most successful hippy’, Vince founded the renewable energy company Ecotricity, currently estimated to be worth £100 million. He hit the headlines after donating over £1.5 million to the Labour party and offering to double public donations to Just Stop Oil. Good for him. Having made his money, Vince is, of course, free to spend it however he sees fit.

But Vince is now seeking new ways to bring his eco-message to the world. Top of his list is education; he is funding the development of an eco-curriculum to be implemented in 12,000 UK schools. Vince wants to see environmental considerations embedded into all aspects of school life with lessons ‘focusing on the energy we use, the way we travel, what we eat and the importance of making room for nature’. Last year, his ‘greening up the national curriculum’ project was trialled in 15 primary and 10 secondary schools. Currently, more than 100 schools are said to be ‘engaging’ with resources developed by Vince’s self-styled ‘Ministry of Eco Education’.

Vince’s green curriculum has, it seems, met with little resistance from schools. This is hardly surprising: it chimes with so much of what already happens in classrooms. Children are already taught the science of climate change extensively across a whole range of different subject areas. Teachers would indeed be amiss if they did not show children how the earth’s climate has changed over millennia, how climate has been impacted by human behaviour, and how changes in climate affect people and the planet.

But what’s important is knowing when science and facts stop and speculation and propaganda starts. Although science can tell us how and, with less certainty, why the climate is changing, it cannot tell us how we should respond to these changes. Decisions about whether to prevent climate change or ameliorate its impact, whether to speed up development through, for example, nuclear power, or to opt for de-growth, are political and moral, not scientific. If Vince’s green curriculum teaches such political choices as facts, it would be indoctrination, not education.

Unfortunately, many teachers seem happy to go beyond teaching climate science and to promote green propaganda. From their first days in a classroom, my own children rehearsed the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra, drew pictures of idyllic landscapes fuelled only by windmills and, most bizarrely of all, made hats to show the importance of fair trade.

Long before Covid-lockdowns devastated attendance statistics, we had head teachers supporting pupils who bunked off school to attend climate strikes. Now they can sign up to the Zero Carbon Schools initiative which teaches children how to ‘calculate an estimate of their school’s carbon emissions’ and ‘lead meaningful projects to reduce the school’s carbon footprint’. The line between teaching and campaigning has become blurred.

It is impossible for any child to attend a mainstream school nowadays and not be aware that climate change is one of the major challenges facing humanity. Indeed, a green agenda is promoted to such an extent that ‘climate anxiety’ has been identified in young people encouraged to worry themselves sick about the future of the planet.

Yet still Dale Vince is unhappy; he and fellow eco-campaigners want teachers to go even further. They appear to want schools to move rapidly beyond merely teaching facts and to spend more time promoting particular outcomes. Often this seems to mean renewable energy and reduced production and consumption. In other words, schools are to prepare children for a de-growth, Net Zero future, in which they will be poorer and colder.

Schools have already begun adopting Dale Vince’s teaching resources and lesson plans without public debate or democratic scrutiny. This has to stop. We cannot risk the school curriculum becoming the plaything of wealthy individuals. Imagine the outcry if Vince was not interested in climate change but religion or promoting traditional family values. Teachers would be rightly horrified at being asked to promote such an explicitly one-sided agenda. Yet when it comes to environmentalism, schools have a political blindspot.

The power to determine the curriculum is the power to influence what the next generation knows and thinks. It should be down to teams of subject experts, not political campaigners or wealthy individuals to decide what children are taught. There should be no place for political activism in the classroom.