As the Department for Education releases its climate strategy this week, we can expect a flurry of interest in how schools should build sustainability into their curriculum, prepare young people for green skills and careers and make use of their estates.
Like many, though, for us sustainability has already been front of mind. When it comes to climate change, our leaders, staff and students all agree that what is needed is direct action. So the DfE strategy is a welcome first step from them, but in reality it’s late and is likely to represent little more than a starting point for a slow, systemic approach.
That political vision and ambition is needed – as well as the funding to make it a reality – but it’s unlikely to satisfy children and young people, who are increasingly impassioned and driven to want to make a positive change now. We see delivering this change as a facet of our mission of unlocking our students’ academic and personal potential and empowering them to take responsibility for themselves and others as active citizens.
That’s why sustainability is one of our strategic “big moves”, and it is led across our trust by staff and students working together. As the children’s commissioner’s recent Big Ask survey found, children care deeply about the environment. So, to ensure our students have a meaningful voice in sustainability decision making, we work in partnership with our student senate.
The senate is made up of 100 student leaders from year three onwards across our family of schools, and a critical part of their work is developing and enacting our sustainability “big move” to reach net zero by 2030.
Being part of the planning helps students be part of the solution. They started with a summit on sustainability, where trust leaders presented their ideas built upon the One Planet Living principles and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Students were encouraged to share their views, helping them play an active role in our decisions.
They offered their insights into their experiences with different green initiatives and shared what they believed worked. And as a result, our strategy evolved. It now includes embedding sustainable development across the curriculum, an increased focus on helping to prepare students for a future that includes green careers, and more investment in sustainable school estates.
As an example, at Great Wyrley Academy, several key changes have already been made to make the school more sustainable. We have installed solar panels to provide a renewable energy source, fitted new windows and energy-efficient lighting and reduced the school’s use of fossil fuels. Not only has that made the school more eco-friendly, but it has put us in a stronger position to face increased energy costs.
More than that, students are also able to take part in an eco-club that brainstorms ways to improve sustainability and takes direct action. Students have already implemented recycling initiatives, planted trees and started participating in a woodland management project.
Our sustainability strategy will drive further change as we seek to embed sustainable practice across everything we do. This includes embedding education for sustainable development across our curriculum, instilling a zero-waste culture of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, using technology to drive sustainable change and building social value within procurement policy.
So while the DfE strategy is a welcome nudge to the sector, the real success of our journey so far is thanks to the input and endorsement from our students. Rather than just teach them about responsibility, aspiration and leadership, we have given them the opportunity to develop and embody these values, and we will never look back.
In the senate, we have created a place for them to realise the power of their voice, take action and positively impact our trust, our communities and ultimately the planet. Giving our students the opportunity to turn their passion and drive into real change has only motivated them further, and that’s an impact that will long outlast the responses to this strategy, if not the strategy itself.