Preparing young people to take action on climate change

A blog post by Daniel Barrie

Daniel Barrie
Education and Learning Manager

Posted 29/04/2020

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Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time and its impacts are being felt in Scotland as well as globally. Despite our livestyles having changed dramatically in the past month, we continue to deliver the Climate Ready Classrooms workshop, accredited by the Carbon Literacy Project, just online rather than face-to-face.  Here our Education and Learning Manager explores how the workshops help prepare young people and educators to understand and take action on climate change.


What scientists have warned of for decades is now happening. Our planet is getting warmer and our climate is changing – with dire consequences for flora and fauna, as well as for people.  We know that our weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable resulting in droughts, wildfires and flooding and the ecosystems and infrastructure that we depend on are being damaged.

The science behind climate change and the steps we should all take to reduce our carbon footprint can be daunting.  Yet our experience has shown us that the more people know about climate change, the more likely they are to feel motivated and empowered to address it – rather than just feeling worried or frustrated.

The Youth Climate Strike movement has shown that there is real appetite for change from young people who face a future which may be very different from the one we know. 

As a charity Keep Scotland Beautiful has been working with Scotland’s young people on the environment and climate change through the world-leading Eco-Schools programme for more than 25 years.  This has given us the opportunity to hear first-hand about the issues young people and educators care about and need more information on – climate change is one of them.

Alarmingly, research shows that up to three-quarters of UK teachers don’t feel equipped to tackle this issue in the classroom.  There is also evidence that enthusiasm for learning about our environment drops off among secondary pupils aged 14-17, particularly those in deprived areas.

With this in mind, we developed a fun, hands-on one-day Climate Ready Classrooms workshop, accredited by the Carbon Literacy Project, to capture the imagination of secondary school pupils and channel the passion they have shown through climate strikes.  With funding from the Scottish Government, we were able to pilot the workshops, along with teacher training, in late 2018 early 2019 – seeking input from Young Scot and members of the 2050 Climate Group.

Climate Ready Classrooms was piloted with 13 schools in nine local authority areas where we felt the workshop could make the biggest difference amongst the least engaged young people.  By March 2019 it had been tested by over 200 young people and 18 education practitioners, with 100% of participants confirming that the workshop had significantly improved their understanding of climate change and low carbon actions and increased their confidence to spread the word at school and in their community.

The Climate Ready Classrooms pilot had a huge impact on teachers and pupils alike:

Originally my honest thoughts were that The Carbon Literacy Day was going to be boring and a waste of time, but I was wrong. It turned out to be much more amazing than I could have ever expected and was a fun, interactive but educational day. Pupil


The whole-day workshops completely incorporated active learning, detracting from the normal school working day and enthusing a new generation of learners in battling carbon emissions.” Teacher

In late 2019, following the success of the pilot, we were charged by the Scottish Government with rolling out the unique Climate Ready Classrooms project, the first accredited workshop of its kind in the UK, to half of all Scotland’s secondary schools by March 2021.

Making the funding announcement Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Young people are increasingly calling for urgent action to respond to the global climate emergency – action which we all need to take.

“Supporting this initiative is hugely important as it aims to enhance the existing opportunities for young people to learn more about climate change in the classroom. Learning to live sustainably is an entitlement for our learners, and so I would encourage schools to take up this opportunity.”


At completion we anticipate 5,000 young people being accredited and a legacy network of over 500 trained trainers being in place.  As of February 2020, we have already successfully delivered workshops to 11% of local authority schools.  

So, just what is Climate Ready Classrooms?  It is a one-day accredited Carbon Literacy training course for secondary schools which has been designed for young people aged 14–17 years, along with their teachers, head teachers, CLD practitioners and youth and children’s workers.  

Delivered by our trained facilitators, up to 25 pupils participate in a one-day Climate Ready Classroom workshop while teachers take part in a ‘train-the-trainer’ workshop - helping them to deliver the programme in their own school.  Both aim to give participants the confidence and tools to make small changes in their everyday lives and encourages them to join a national network of carbon literate ambassadors who plan and pledge to act on climate change issues within their own schools and communities.

We believe that a real legacy target for the initiative is a pool of teaching talent that is appropriately skilled in inspiring and focusing the next generation on the environmental challenge in front of us, as well as how to overcome it.

In addition, Climate Ready Classrooms supports schools to reduce their carbon footprint, with the potential to save money through more efficient resource use; to develop STEM skills and support the Developing the Young Workforce agenda; and to support planning for choices and change through Curriculum for Excellence.  The workshops also provide evidence which can support an application for an Eco-Schools Scotland Green Flag.

Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge we face.  With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) coming to Scotland in 2021 now, we have an opportunity across the country to intensify climate conversations and stimulate increased action. Climate Ready Classrooms is a timely cog in a huge wheel helping people understand the part they have to play in tackling the climate crisis.

Climate Ready Classrooms in practice

On a Friday early in March 16 students and one teacher from Bannockburn High School experienced Climate Ready Classrooms first-hand.  Although since then we have moved the delivery of the workshop, online, the ethos remains the same.



The high school has been involved in Eco-Schools since 2016 and currently holds a Green Flag – the top accolade. The pupils who participated, all girls ranging from S2 to S5, were not from the Eco-Club, yet all put themselves forward to take part in the workshop because the issue of climate change was important to them.

Jayne Hamilton, Eco-Schools Co-ordinator at the high school said, “The programme really engaged our young people and encouraged them to reflect and evaluate their own carbon footprint and how they could act locally but think globally.  I would recommend this to any school no matter where they are in their Eco-Schools journey as a way to embed the ethos of Learning for Sustainability in the curriculum.”

Using visual, interactive activities participants were encouraged to envisage and appreciate the impact of human activity on the natural world, and what they can do to combat the problem.

In Carbon Jenga, small groups of participants build a tower with colour coded blocks to represent the natural world, and then read out cards detailing human impact on Earth. They then add blocks representing human activity - such as shipping, transportation, energy usage or manufacturing - and blocks from the tower, due to deforestation, overfishing, or pollution. This activity demonstrates, in a fun and visual way, how, by removing blocks from the original, natural tower, and adding more blocks onto the top of the tower, we are creating an instable and imbalanced environment.  Students are asked to predict outcomes – usually that the tower will fall - and are asked to come up with solutions to the problem throughout the activity.

Our Walk the Walk activity demonstrates to participants how their individual carbon footprint can vary, even if they are from the same generation, school, or geographical area. Participants start off on the same base line and answer questions relating to their carbon footprint by stepping forward. Questions focus on energy, food and diet, transport, and consumption and aim to roughly capture and demonstrate lifestyle impacts and how small alterations to individual habits can create a positive difference. Walk the Walk encourages discussion and debate encouraging peer learning.

Alyssa Morgan, a participant, said, “I really enjoyed the Climate Ready Classrooms workshop, because I’m really passionate about our planet and climate change.  I also appreciate that it goes toward a certificate I can show in applications in the future.  I am grateful to have had the chance to learn even more about carbon emissions than I did already and to be able to talk to, and teach others, with a certificate to prove I know what I am talking about.

“This workshop has also given me a lot of hope for the future as well as a feeling of power that I alone can change the condition of my home.”

Not only did the pupils learn about climate change on the day of the workshop, but the messages were shared through the school eco-club and pupils social media accounts to wider audiences – hopefully recruiting a few more active supporters to take local action to combat the global climate crisis we are facing.

You can read more about Climate Ready Classrooms in the latest Children in Scotland magazine, and also register your interest on our Climate Change Education pages.

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