Schools have a unique role to play in shaping a sustainable future, but for effective climate action to take root it is imperative that school operations teams work hand-in-hand with teachers and leaders, not in separate silos.
Collaboration will be crucial in overcoming barriers to positive sustainable impact, from planning renewable energy to enhancing outdoor learning spaces, from resource procurement to carbon footprint reduction, and from building the next generation’s knowledge to giving them a sense of hope.
There are some clear areas where this collaboration can take place to contextualise learning.
Planning renewable energy
School operations teams are generally keen to expedite the transition to renewable energy sources. To truly embed sustainability into the culture and fabric of the school, the opportunity to involve students in the design process should not be missed.
Not only is there chance to impart a sense of ownership, but engagement can bring sustainability to life, turn abstract concepts into tangible, real-world applications and influence students to be agents of change in their communities. Curriculum links can be made in many subjects including maths and physics.
Grounds improvement and outdoor learning
Transforming outdoor spaces into vibrant, diverse educational environments requires a concerted effort between operations and teachers. Operations teams will likely plant and maintain these spaces, but their approach can also contribute to ensuring teachers feel a sense of ownership and empowerment to integrate the outdoors into their lessons. The prize: dynamic, experiential learning that fosters a deeper connection between pupils and the natural world.
Procurement of resources is often a complex balancing act. Finance departments may advocate for reduced spend for budgetary control, operations may be concerned with waste management, and sustainability leads – should they exist – will likely prioritise fewer resources for environmental reasons. In contrast, teachers need effective resources to deliver lessons that inspire students to make positive contributions to society.
Resolving these inherent tensions necessitates relationships, open dialogue and a collaborative approach to resource allocation. The problem solving and analytic skills of students are developed as well as the awareness of the need for action around sustainability.
School trips and emissions
Reconciling carbon footprint reduction with providing enriching cultural experiences through school trips is a another task fraught with conflict. Operations teams tasked with determining sustainable travel options need to work closely with teachers as they seek to maximise the educational value of each trip. Thoughtful planning and creative problem-solving skills are required to strike a balance that enriches students’ cultural capital without unduly burdening the environment.
The climate impact of food
The impact of food choices on our climate is well-documented and a topic we often feel very personally. Production methods, plant-based diets and the cost of food waste to people and planet are topics all children and young people benefit from understanding.
Teachers can convey the facts and school catering teams are in a great place to make knowledge relevant and actionable. By working together, teachers and caterers can develop initiatives that instil a real sense of responsibility for sustainable food practices.
Consistency between actions and message
Consistency between the messages children hear and the actions they observe is important in delivering strong educational outcomes. Conversely, inconsistency creates confusion, anxiety and apathy. For genuine sustainability efforts to succeed, schools must prioritise aligning their messages with their actions. A unified front, with operations and teachers working together to model sustainable behaviours and attitudes, is imperative for success.
A much-touted benefit of MATs has been creating highly efficient, professional and centralised support services. However, we must recognise the risk of unintentionally separating and isolating teachers from operations teams. Left unchecked, this will lead to missed opportunities to advance sustainability initiatives.
To mitigate the risk, it is imperative we foster a culture of collaboration, ensuring that teachers and operations staff are equal partners in the shared mission of creating sustainable learning environments. Purposefully forging stronger partnerships between them is key to effective climate action, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards and shaping a society that thrives in harmony with our planet.