Pioneering climate education for infant schools

LJMU is leading the way globally in educating the youngest children about protecting our planet. We spoke to one of the leading architects of sustainability in early years education, Dr Diane Boyd.

Diane, post COP26, how big a role does education play in coping with the Climate Emergency?

One of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development goal’s (No. 4) is to ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness to attempt to live sustainably.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in August 2021 strengthens the need for all sectors of education to be involved in mitigating this problem. LJMU and other major teacher training centres clearly have a pivotal role in ensuring that graduate teachers and educators are equipped with the knowledge and skills to support this task. Education for sustainability must be embedded into every module and every aspect across all disciplines. There is not one sector of education that does not have responsibility.

At COP 26 in Glasgow, the DfE launched its first ever strategy for Sustainability and Climate Change and we are working together to strengthen the strategy, listening to all sectors across education. I am representing early childhood in these working groups with the aim that work that we do at LJMU is fully in line with the objectives.


To what extent is this filtering into formal education, schooling?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a long way to go in this instance. The majority of serving teachers seem unaware of education for sustainability or the key UNESCO framework for 2030. Conversations I have had with many teachers in developing my latest resource underline a lack of awareness of the three pillars of sustainability. When asked, there was some reflection around environmental climate education, recognising key figures such as Greta Thunberg but there was no acknowledgement of economic or socio-cultural sustainability. Research has shown that you cannot ‘do’ one pillar without the other two, as it weakens the impact.

Clearly, it is not just the responsibility of formal education to ‘save the planet’ and there is a need to connect or reconnect with groups in our community and work together. There have always been environmental drivers such as eco schools or forest schools, but education for sustainability is about much more. It is about fair trade, social justice, empowerment, agency for all (and not just for one month) and it must be embedded into all curriculums from early years to Higher Education.  

The DfE strategy on sustainability and climate change is offering an opportunity for this but both early years and HE are very weak in their presence now, so work needs to be done before April to elevate both areas of education. There is talk of possibly like Scotland embedding sustainability into qualifications, and LJMU could be a potential leader by September 2022 embedding sustainability into all degree programmes.


What about Early Years (0-8), are they too young?

This is a usual comment made about early years that because of their age they have no voice or agency.  Research shows that fundamental values and attitudes are developed in early childhood, as children as young as three can have views. This is the age of awe and wonder when children are motivated to ask questions so there is no better opportunity to foster empathy and care for their environment and its inhabitants.

The new revised Early Years Foundation Stage DfE, 2021 has still no mention of sustainability in it so it is important that our early years graduates can be advocates for sustainability from the ground up. The passion young children have for wanting to ask questions and to care about their planet, is the reason why I have just developed my latest EfS resource linking STEM and sustainable development goals together, which feeds into wider goals to create critical reflective thinkers, creative and divergent problem solvers, and imaginative collaborators. This is the age to start to foster those sustainable mindsets!


Tell us about your work in this arena ….

My PhD was in early childhood education for sustainability, and I am extremely passionate about promoting it. I write monthly columns for Nursery World on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and sit on the Executive Committee for the Early Childhood Studies Degree Network as their Sustainability Lead. I am extremely proud of this resource which is linked to the EYFS in England but in the new year Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish versions will be rolled out.  It is currently being used in Australia and potentially in other countries such as USA and Spain. It is the first Early Childhood SDG resource in the UK and potentially Internationally. The new resource I have just developed with the Northern Council for Further Education, embeds all key aspects such as reflection, facilitation and dialogue, Levels 2- 7 qualifications/assessments (PGDE teaching standards and ECS benchmark statements) to inform both student and teachers.


What are your expectations for this work and its impact?

I am hopeful that this resource will start to build an understanding in early childhood on how to implement the SDGs. It is being shared on multiple platforms and many practitioners are expressing their delight in having something to use. When you have feedback such as “inspiring” and “thank you Diane it shows your passion”, you must hope it has an impact. LJMU can support this promotion too through encouraging all students from all disciplines to work towards an understanding of sustainability.


And what next?

Colleagues have been incredibly supportive and want to use the SDG resource across their university programmes.  I have been invited by Professor Chris Pascal and Professor Tony Bertram to close the British Early Childhood Education Research Association conference in February which is something I am very proud about and another chance to promote the resource. I am now in talks with an educational resources company to develop a ‘suite of sustainability materials’. For now it is to continue to work with the DfE in their post COP 26 action group and be part of LJMU Climate change panel group on climate education.

Dr Boyd, with the NCFE, has launched a new national resource for Early Years educators. It is available here.



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