How to embed sustainability into your curriculum: case study

Corbridge Middle School is on a journey to embed sustainability throughout its curriculum and promotes a focus on the environment across its school. See how the leaders there did it and find resources to learn how you can make this happen too.

Last reviewed on 11 May 2023
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 46479
  1. Every little helps
  2. Choose someone to lead on the process
  3. Next, audit your curriculum
  4. Involve pupils in the process
  5. Extend your sustainability curriculum beyond lessons
  6. Get recognition and funding for work you're already doing
  7. Resources to help teach sustainability

We spoke to Adele Brown, head of Corbridge Middle School, and Meryl Batchelder, head of science, about the work they’re doing to embed sustainability across their curriculum. 

Both Adele and Meryl feel passionate about sustainability. Meryl began introducing changes to the curriculum in 2016, and has made small changes as and when she can. Adele joined the school during this process and saw first-hand the huge benefits of the measures, so added sustainability to the school development plan (SDP). Read on for tips and approaches you could use at your school.

Every little helps

Give sustainability a go and try things out - it doesn’t matter if along the way you decide to change your approach. 

Make sustainability a priority. The leaders at Corbridge Middle recognise that sustainability isn’t just a trend in education. It's an essential part of education for pupils growing up in an ever-changing world.

Even though it's so important, they also emphasise that it's okay if you only make small steps towards achieving it. It's not your only priority.

Choose someone to lead on the process

Finding someone at your school who is passionate about sustainability means it's more likely to remain a school priority. 

The DfE expects you to have a sustainability lead by 2025. Use our model job description to recruit for this role.

Offer opportunities for staff to take leadership for sustainability in specific subjects, phases or areas. This can be a good stepping stone to middle-leadership responsibilities.

Make sure your chosen sustainability lead is given the time and support needed to work on this project. This could include:

  • Writing sustainability responsibilities into their job description
  • Providing extra PPA time
  • Creating a sustainability-focused teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment, if you have funding available

Make CPD and staff training a priority

Your sustainability lead should steer training for staff, and support them to deliver the sustainable curriculum. Read our article about sustainability: CPD resources for staff to find a series of free and costed resources, including courses, subject-specific resources and outdoor learning resources.

The National Governance Association has a greener governance campaign. Support your governors to use the resources listed on this page to get involved in any changes around sustainability education. 

Change must come from the top

As a school leader, you need to commit to supporting sustainability for it to work, and say yes to proposed changes when they're reasonable. 

At Corbridge Middle, Meryl, the head of science, voluntarily leads on sustainability, but Adele checks in regularly and supports her. 

Read more about how to make sustainability a strategic priority.

Next, audit your curriculum

Consider 1 subject at a time. You don’t need to change your whole curriculum in one go. Remember, every little helps.

Corbridge Middle School decided to audit its curriculum against the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) as part of its environmental review to achieve Green Flag status as an eco school.

They used the Education & Training Foundation ‘map the curriculum’ tool to assess where they could reference the SDGs in different subjects.

We’re working on a sustainability curriculum audit at the moment and we’ll update this article when it’s ready - select ‘save for later’ at the top of this article to be notified when it's available.

Use our whole school sustainability audit and our teacher skills audit for sustainability to identify gaps in your provision.

Focus on the sustainable development goals (SDGs)

Start by looking at the curriculum map as a whole for the year, and thinking about where the sustainable development goals fit. Use the Education & Training Foundation's spreadsheet, linked above, or create your own, to achieve this. 

The SDGs are really varied, so most subjects will have some content you can relate to the goals - not just science and geography.

Adele emphasised the importance of thinking outside the box when doing this. For example:

  • Use English books, such as Stone Cold by Robert Swindells, to talk about SDG 2: zero hunger
  • Use topics such as water filtration in science to talk about SDG 6: clean water and sanitation

Go through each subject, and find links where you can.

You don't need to change your whole curriculum

Meryl explained that at Corbridge Middle, they recognised that the SDGs were easy to fit in with the existing curriculum. Rather than changing the curriculum, they decided to change their schemes of work, or add sustainability links to lessons they were already teaching.

This can help make the changes manageable, especially with subjects that are focused on getting through a comprehensive, skills and knowledge-based curriculum that builds to an exam, such as history. 

Involve pupils in the process

Use pupil voice to support pupils to engage in decision-making, and find out how to harness it effectively to affect positive change in your school.

Frame teaching sustainability and the SDGs as supporting the pupils to have a responsibility and a voice. At Corbridge, this helps students engage with and enjoy the process more, and they become invested in finding solutions to problems they see.

Consider setting up an Eco Committee

Corbridge Middle have an Eco Committee with 3 or 4 pupils from each year group. The pupils raise issues that matter to them and their peers, and vote on solutions. 

Meryl co-ordinates the meetings, and the committee members are responsible for co-ordinating any actions they plan.

So far, they've:

  • Worked with their local senior waste management officer from Northumberland County Council to support recycling
  • Run assemblies on plastic waste
  • Planned a biodiversity day for The Great Big Green Week to raise awareness of biodiversity loss
  • Planned a WWF Wear it Wild day to raise funds for wildlife and awareness of conservation

Create a sustainability policy that explains your curriculum approach

Corbridge Middle are working with Dr Lizzie Rushton, research director of the Centre of Climate Change and Sustainability Education, to write their own student-led sustainability policy. 

Use our sustainability policy guidance to help you create your own, and consider involving pupils in the process to take their needs and opinions into account.

Extend your sustainability curriculum beyond lessons

Corbridge Middle have a number of sustainability focused clubs, including:

  • Weather and Climate club, with funding from a Royal Society partnership grant
  • Key Stage (KS) 3 EcoSTEAM club, where pupils work on projects as if they were scientists, technologists, engineers or mathematicians
  • Year 7 Young Green Briton Challenge - helping pupils realise their sustainable solutions to local issues
  • Year 6 Electric Car Club (with GreenPower)

In the past they've run clubs including:

They also built a rain garden with the Tyne River Trust and worked on an art exhibition for a local museum with Drawing for the Planet WDATAG.

Consider inviting STEM ambassadors into school to run sustainability workshops, and run competitions such as the NetZero Superheroes.

Reach out to local businesses, museums and garden centres to work with them, and allow pupils to use and improve the knowledge they’ve gained from your sustainability curriculum. 

Get recognition and funding for work you're already doing

Apply to:

Meryl notes that by showing others that Corbridge Middle are a school that values sustainability education, through joining the above organisations and through social media, people reach out to her with opportunities.

This includes a Royal Society partnership grant, which led to a project that meant pupils had the opportunity to take part in a funded trip to London for a conference. 

Check out our funds and freebies page to see what other free opportunities are available.

Resources to help teach sustainability

Meryl recommended these resources that have helped Corbridge Middle embed sustainability into its curriculum:

  • Use Lyfta to allow pupils to experience different environments around the world through immersive learning environments
  • Join Our Shared World and download educational resources focusing on SDG 4: quality education
  • Browse teaching resources on Global Dimension, and react to global news events in the classroom with information about how to approach them and how to connect them to the curriculum
  • Get access to teacher CPD sessions and access a wide variety of resources from Transform Our World
  • Find suggestions for school trips, lesson plans, school improvement ideas and more through Oases North-east

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