The DfE Sustainability and Climate Change strategy has 4 vision statements. One of these is “a better environment for future generations: enhancing biodiversity, improving air quality and increasing access to, and connection with, nature in and around education and care settings”. Within a funding climate that means school budgets are stretching to meet increasing demand, delivering on that vision can be a real challenge for schools and trusts.
However, the development of our outdoor space and resourcing necessary changes to enhance sustainability and climate change education are undeniable priorities. Collaboration and communication are key to enhancing opportunities for schools to identify available funding for this important agenda. To that end, we have had some success with s106 agreements that others may benefit from.
An important caveat to begin with: this funding route may not be available to all schools at all times. In brief, S106 agreements are contributions made by developers to provide or enhance community and social infrastructure. Where developers are undertaking large-scale building developments, they make monies available for local community projects to ensure wider needs are met.
These can be used for enhancing NHS support, better highways or community facilities and could include school provision. For example, a large new housing estate could result in a new school being built to service an increased population. However, some smaller pots may be available which can be used to create or enhance community gardens, play areas or biodiversity areas.
There are proposals to abolish s106 agreements in favour of a more consistent consolidation infrastructure levy. This is already happening in certain local authorities. In the meantime, I want to share just one example of how Reach2 have accessed s106 funding to enhance the local environment for learners and local communities.
Initial concerns about the proximity of a small new housing estate to one of our primary schools led us to engage early with the developers to discuss access and egress. This early communication gave us an opportunity to discuss more creative activities. Our children were offered the chance to visit the building site. They were also made aware of decisions being made, which gave them a greater understanding of this real-life process and filtered through into their learning in the classroom.
But more than that, the growing relationship between the developer, the trust and the school has meant that we have been able to spot opportunities we might have missed. Under planning requirements, the developer had to make a biodiversity investment in the local area. This could have ended up going to a local park or sports ground. Instead, we are in discussions to invest the grant within the school grounds in the form of a community garden or a forest school site.
And in addition to all of that, we have put the importance of creating opportunities for our learners to connect with nature in and around school at the heart of local conversations. This ongoing discussion has also opened up further liaison with the district council over the possibility of other s106-related funding. It may not be possible to obtain this, but we have gained a greater understanding of who to talk to locally, and likewise other local organisations are more aware of ours and our pupils’ needs.
Accessing this funding is not always straightforward. The availability of these monies annually or geographically is not always transparent, which makes obtaining it challenging. Nevertheless, just reaching out to your local council and developers in the vicinity of your school could be a high-impact strategy.
Whether or not s106 funding is available, bringing decision makers together to think about young people’s needs for green and sustainable community spaces – and not least school among them school estates – could be transformative. Who better than school leaders to champion young people’s access to and engagement with the environment, and lead them onto their journey as its guardians and stewards.