Sea Level Rise in the Lower Ouse Valley

A Teacher’s guide

Dr John Parry and Lawrence Quinn


The purpose of this introduction is to give teachers a basic background to how young people were engaged in a local sea level rise programme. It is written in the full knowledge of how busy teachers are and the constraints due to a tightly packed curriculum. We also acknowledge that climate change education is not a particularly strong, formal curriculum topic and yet we are experiencing events such as the washing away of the only rail connection to Cornwall in the Christmas period of 2013.

The pilot lessons were conducted at Priory School, Lewes, in East Sussex which suffered severe flooding in 2000. The shock to the town eventually led to the construction of its own environmental change study centre, the Linklater Pavilion, at the entrance to the Railway Land Local Nature Reserve. (

One of the guiding principles to our educational approach was articulated by the Head of Priory School as long ago as 2010 when he wrote:
‘Our students have already experienced the dramatic effects of climate change. Many were victims of the floods and virtually all our students have family or friends who suffered during the floods. I believe that this project

[to build a community environmental change study centre] has the potential not only to educate our students about sustainability but, more importantly, to empower and inspire them to be part of the solution rather than passive, or even fearful victims.

It could be argued, therefore, that CC2150 had a special entrée to a school already touched by an extreme weather event but we firmly believe that due to an increasing awareness of changes to weather patterns and climate, the approach piloted at Priory will be welcomed by teachers. The pilot engaged Year 8 pupils through both the formal Secondary curriculum and through an extra-curricular voluntary group from both Priory School and Ringmer Community College.

Two areas of the curriculum covered by the CC2150 materials:

  1. The statutory Science curriculum at Key Stage 3.
  2. The statutory Geography curriculum at Key Stage 3.

Within the Earth and Atmosphere section of the Science KS3 curriculum, pupils should learn about ‘the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate.’ Within the Pressure in Fluids section, pupils need to know that ‘atmospheric pressure, decreases with increase of height as weight of air above decreases with height.’

And in the Geography KS 3 curriculum, pupils need, ‘To understand how human and physical processes interact to influence, and change landscapes, environments and the climate; and how human activity relies on effective functioning of natural systems’.

They should develop greater competence in using geographical knowledge, approaches and concepts [such as models and theories] and geographical skills in analysing and interpreting different data sources.’

The pilot, which involved all of the above, consisted of 3 lessons of 50 minutes each for an entire Yr. 8 group at Priory School, Lewes.

The aims of Lesson One were to:

  1. Explore various causes of flooding.
  2. Understand the causes of and differences between sea surges and thermal expansion of the oceans.
  3. Prepare the ground for thinking about sea level rise in the future.

The 1953 floods along the East coast of England were used as a case study and attention was drawn to the meaning of infrastructure. This was re-enforced by a focus on the 2000 floods of Lewes, which caused over £90 million of damage. The difference between 1953 and now was emphasised – the fact that we can PLAN and this laid the basis for Lesson Two.

The aims of Lesson Two were to:

  1. Experience a digital fly-through of the lower Ouse valley showing different sea level heights
  2.  Explore the implications
  3. Capture ideas regarding responses to sea level rise

A matrix of easy, hard, probable and preferable actions was used to successfully elicit many ideas in a quick, simple, visual format. It was important to highlight the opportunities that might emerge in the future due to sea level rise and not to be ‘mere victims’ but to start a process of adaptation. This laid the basis for Lesson Three.

The aim of Lesson Three was to:

1. Discuss adaptation scenarios for the lower Ouse valley and to give personal responses.

We did this as a Jigsaw activity.   Students were divided into 6 equal number groups. Each group was given one of the adaptation handouts (see Lesson Three).  We appreciate that there is potentially a lot of printing here - especially if enlarged to A3 but it is a useful long-term resource.   Students read through the information and were asked to list the main benefits as well as any drawbacks in the appropriate line of the Options Form.  Students needed to be allowed time to process the information and raise questions about the adaptation option in front of them and we found that an option form for each pupil worked best for the second stage of the lesson.

Students were then arranged into groups that represented all 6 adaptations.  They then shared the information they had collected on the Options Form with the other students .  They were asked to consider the pros and cons of each adaptation. This activity created a lot of discussion and questions about the different adaptation measures being proposed.

After 20 - 30 minutes, the teacher checked that the 6 possible options had been covered.  Students were then invited to pick the top 3 adaptations (from the 6 they had looked at) and to justify their reasons.

The response to these three lessons is best described by the Priory Geography teacher, Lawrence Quinn, who writes:

‘At Priory School we used the flood resilience lessons within a Year 8 topic on Flooding. Our school is located within the Ouse Valley in the town of Lewes, the flood resilience lessons followed a sequence of lessons where we looked at the floods of 2000 in Lewes.   What these lessons now allow us to do is look into the future and begin to plan for it.

Being prepared for future weather events and their consequences is vitally important.  Geography has the ability to allow students to think creatively and practically about future extreme weather and sea level rises.

Living in the Ouse valley makes us vulnerable to the possible effects of climate change. The sequence of lessons enabled us to get students thinking about their own future and the future of the town in which they go to school. They are looking at things in a practical way linking the information back to the recent history of when the town flooded in 2000. The most important message within the lessons was that we can plan and the students should be the key to planning the solutions as they will be part of the community in the future (creative thinking is essential and every idea is important to consider). This is such an important message and why we think it is crucial to embed these lessons within the curriculum.’

Finally, we launched a Youth Initiative as an out-of-school voluntary group made up of pupils from two Secondary schools – Priory and Ringmer Community College.

The group which has now re-named itself the Linklater RATS (Raising Awareness of Tides and Sea levels) was launched at the final conference of the CC2150 programme held in Brighton on 12th February, 2014 when a specially made baton was handed to the group. It contained a message from the delegates from Belgium, the Netherlands and England and read as follows:

‘The partners of the Coastal Communities 2150 Conference held in Brighton on the 12th February 2014, during a period of intense storms in the United Kingdom, wish the first group of pupils to volunteer for a climate change and sea level rise youth project, destined to last for 150 years, the best of luck, wisdom, integrity and determination to learn how we can adapt the challenges of future climate change and sea level rise in the lower Ouse valley’.