Sustainability

How to take the first steps on your school’s net zero journey

A new toolkit brings together resources in an easy-to-navigate format to support school leaders with their climate action plans

A new toolkit brings together resources in an easy-to-navigate format to support school leaders with their climate action plans

15 Jun 2024, 5:00

We are already beginning to witness the effects of the climate crisis on education: poor air quality, schools closures and students struggling in classrooms that are too hot or too cold.

School and college estates not only bear the brunt of this; they also significantly contribute to it. Schools represent 25 per cent of UK public sector building emissions, 1 in 70 car miles are from school commutes, and the sector produces over 210,000 tonnes of waste each year.

Education plays a fundamental role in addressing the problem by improving its estate and by ensuring children have the tools to effectively tackle it themselves.

The Department for Education recognises this. By 2025, every school, college and nursery should have a sustainability lead responsible for their climate action plan, serving as a pathway to achieving these goals:

  • Equipping young people to tackle climate change
  • Working towards net zero
  • Ensuring estates are resilient to the effects of climate change
  • Improving estates to enhance biodiversity, air quality and connection with nature.

At the Foundation for Education Development, we are fully committed to long-term approaches and policy planning to address the most seemingly intractable issues facing education. Climate change and sustainability are among these crucial issues.

There is no shortage of excellent resources to support schools to develop and implement their climate action plans; the problem for busy leaders is knowing where to start.

That’s why we’ve launched an innovative Climate Change & Sustainability Toolkit. Working with over 60 partners, we have sourced the best resources out there whatever your phase, size, curriculum area and budget. These are organised in an easy-to-navigate one-stop-shop.

If you are just starting, here are four simple steps to get you travelling in the right direction.

Where are we?

It’s hard to plot a course if we’re not sure where we’re starting from or how well we’re progressing. So the first step is to familiarise yourself with tools that can help you to prioritise and track progress.

Our toolkit offers three auditing tools: one specifically for HE and FE institutions, another which will help leaders and governors to strategise and benchmark, and a third focused on student perceptions.

They are all free, and a great way to take stock before setting off on each new leg of this long journey.

Charting a course

Know your starting point, the next thing every journey needs is a map – especially on a large and confusing terrain like the curriculum.

So, with support from SOS-UK, Leeds Development Education Centre, The Royal Meteorological Society and Pearson Education, we have mapped the National Curriculum for you.

The maps don’t just show you what is already there (Spoiler: depressingly little) but also what is possible with tweaks. In design and technology, for instance, students can learn about waste reduction and the circular economy.

The toolkit comprises over 50 organisations which can support curriculum development in every subject, at every stage.

Expert guidance

Some journeys are best undertaken with an expert guide, and that’s certainly the case for our students.

Their road to net zero will require teachers who know and understand the terrain, so we’ve brought together a collection of academic articles about climate and sustainability education, as well as a selection of CPD opportunities from a range of providers.

Greener pastures

But children and young people will need to be more than passive followers on this quest. Sustained action on sustainability will require their engagement and input for the long term.

So why not involve them in making your estate greener, increasing local biodiversity and making their environment much more pleasant? Together, you could harvest rainwater, compost, grow your own food, sow meadow areas and plant trees. (The Woodland trust will even supply you with trees for free.)

By being involved with this process, children and young people will learn sustainable behaviours too.

The road to net zero is a long one, but every step we take makes the future a little brighter for the next generation.

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