Schools for the Future

We all saw last year, how strongly young people are calling for urgent action on climate change.

This includes a demand to be taught about climate change and its solutions in schools: In a recent poll, 68% of students said they want to learn more about the environment. However 70% of teachers felt they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change.  

Teachers need help.

Students are also demanding that Schools are retrofitted to become Net Zero by 2030.  I was pleased to see that Cambridgeshire County Council’s recently updated draft Climate Strategy includes a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from its wider supply chain, including energy use in maintained schools, by 50% by 2030.  Although this is not as fast as the students want, it’s a good start. And importantly, the County Council has allocated some funding, and started implementing a programme of projects.

Some measures such as installing LED lighting, or putting PV solar panels on schools are simple to install and will pay for themselves in just 10 years, so can be funded simply with loans.   Other retrofitting measures, such as improving insulation, replacing windows and installing heat pumps are more disruptive and expensive, and so often need more innovative financing.

For example, Comberton Village College has just started replacing its oil boilers with ground source heat pumps. This is 2/3rds funded by a grant from the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, with the remainder lent to the college by Cambridgeshire County Council’s new Environment Fund. This innovative arrangement means the council will get its investment back, while the school will reduce its costs.

The Department for Education is starting to pay attention to the need to decarbonise, so at COP26 Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, announced a draft Climate and Sustainability Strategy. This sets out the vision that “The UK is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030”.  

It contains several excellent commitments. However, when it comes to retrofitting existing schools the DfE’s draft strategy is pathetic. It’s only planning to achieve a net zero target by 2050, which is nowhere near ambitious enough. How can we be the world leader on climate education by 2030 if we’re still teaching in poorly insulated, energy-guzzling portacabins!?  

The DfE is currently consulting with young people, educators, sustainability experts and environmentalists with the aim of publishing a final strategy by April 2022. We need this to set clear and ambitious targets and improve access to finance to enable schools and Councils to meet the targets.

To help, do get involved with your local schools, or do join Teach the Future’s national campaign and let the DfE know your views.