DfE finalises its climate change strategy: What schools need to know

Every school will have a climate lead, and 'sustainable' tests will be developed

Every school will have a climate lead, and 'sustainable' tests will be developed

The government’s climate change strategy for education includes plans for a new natural history GCSE, an aim to eradicate single-use plastics in schools and a move to explore digital testing.

The final version of the strategy has been published today. A draft of the document came out in November, launched at the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

Many of the policies confirmed in the final document are those already outlined in November, which you can read about here. However, there are some new policies, and some more details about others.

A proposal to force suppliers with big government contracts to reach net zero by 2050 has meanwhile been dropped from the final version.

Here’s what’s new

1. New natural history GCSE

Ministers pledged today to introduce a new natural history GCSE by 2025.

The new qualification will give young people a “further opportunity to engage with and develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the natural world”.

“In studying this GCSE, young people will explore organisms and environments in more depth, gain knowledge and practical experience of fieldwork and develop a greater understanding of conservation.”

It won’t count towards the EBacc, but will count in the “open” bucket of subjects for progress 8.

2. Every school to have ‘sustainability’ lead

The government has said that by 2025, every education setting will have nominated a “sustainability lead”.

These leads will receive carbon literacy training, and will be responsible for putting in place climate action plans, also by 2025.

There is very little extra detail about what the roles will entail.

3. … and they’ll get carbon literacy training

In its strategy, the DfE pledged to start rolling out carbon literacy training for at least one person in each school by 2023.

The training will build knowledge of climate change, as well as how to access public funds and engage with schemes like the nature park and climate leader’s award.

It will also help trained staff understand emissions reporting and how to develop a climate action plan to stare with others in their school.

4. Schools to report emissions by 2024

The draft strategy pledged a smart meter trial in schools. The final document gives more details.

During 2022 and 2023, the government will work with Energy Sparks to trial the delivery of energy management systems in schools, providing real-time information on energy use on a “user-friendly online portal”.

Government will work with energy providers to receive data directly from the school estate (unless schools opt-out).

The aim is to have all schools reporting their emissions via a standardised framework by 2024. The installation of smart meters will “improve the accuracy” of the data.

5. DfE to develop ‘sustainable tests’

Working in partnership with the Standards and Testing Agency, the DfE has said it will develop a “sustainable assessment model”.

This work will consider the “environmental impact of digital testing and the trade-offs with existing testing methods”.

The STA is responsible for overseeing testing in primary schools, including SATs.

Separately, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has previously said he is “considering the potential” wider use of online exams.

6. Annual climate literacy survey

This year, the government will introduce a new annual climate literacy survey.

The survey will “benchmark progress in improving the climate knowledge of school leavers”.

No further details have been published.

7. ‘Let’s Go Zero’ targets for schools

The paper commits to new targets for schools between 2025 and 2035 as part of the “Let’s Go Zero” campaign.

There is little detail in the strategy about what these targets will entail.

The campaign’s website states that it will unite “teachers, pupils, parents and their schools as they all work together to be zero carbon by 2030”.

It pledges to work with government to support schools to reach the goal through seven policy actions, including investing in training, adapting and retrofitting the school estate, improving building specifications and other measures.

8. No more single-use plastics

By 2025, the DfE has said it will eradicate single-use plastics and “encourage the use of reusable and recyclable materials in schools”.

The DfE has not said how this will be achieved.

9. Annual progress reports

The DfE has said it will publish annual progress reports against the strategy, supported by the annual climate literacy survey and a number of other measures.

These include…

  • a published risk assessment of flood, overheating and water scarcity of the education estate, reviewed on an annual basis from 2023
  • information on the biodiversity of schools, baselined by 2023 to allow annual progress reporting
  • data about on-site emissions, baselined by 2024, and progress against national targets published from 2025 onwards

What’s been dropped

The draft strategy proposed that the DfE and all of its arms-length bodies would mandate that suppliers bidding for £5million-plus contracts commit to achieving Net Zero by 2050, and requiring them to publish a “carbon reduction plan” showing how they will meet the target.

But this pledge does not feature in the final strategy.

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