IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Secondary schools' engagement with climate change and sustainability education in England

A case study research project exploring the variation between ten state secondary schools in their level of engagement with issues of climate change and sustainability.

This project is funded by UCL Grand Challenges. It started in April 2022 and will run until July 2022.





This project will generate rich data about the broad spectrum of secondary schools' engagement with issues of climate change and sustainability, especially in regard to the taught curriculum. 

We know that engagement varies considerably across schools. What we don't know is why this is, given that all state secondary schools are under similar accountability and funding pressures. 

The collaboration between colleagues at IOE and the Climate Action Unit will bring a new and exciting lens to this project, incorporating psychological components into our analysis in the form of the Individual, Social and Material model (ISM), helping us to understand all the contexts that shape people’s behaviours, from headteachers to teachers to students. 

This research will make a significant contribution to the work of our new Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education.


This will be case study research, with individual schools as the unit of analysis. Ten state secondary schools will be selected to provide variation in location, type, and level of engagement with issues of climate change and sustainability. 

In each school we will conduct interviews and focus groups alongside a scrutiny of relevant school policies and curriculum documentation and a survey of the school buildings and grounds. The collaboration between IOE and the Climate Action Unit will bring a psychological dimension to the research. We will, for example, use the Individual, Social and Material (ISM) tool which has grown out of Southerton et al’s (2011) international review of behaviour change initiatives. 

We already know that the immediate context of a school, with its own ethos and priorities, is a major influence on teacher and students. However, the school setting is embedded within the broader contexts of, for example, government policy and accountability structures, teacher identities at a subject level, social media and resources. 

Once the individual priorities and expertise of individual teachers are included, the reasons for engagement (or non-engagement) in the field of climate change and sustainability education become complex. We need to understand this complexity much better in order to leverage greater engagement in the future.