Climate Change and Sustainability Education Cannot Wait!

Written by Jo Malone, FED Executive Team
26 Jan 2023
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Climate Change and Sustainability Education Cannot Wait!

The environment and climate crisis is the most significant threat to humanity we have ever faced. It is already impacting our lives, economies and neighbourhoods. Here in the UK, we are beginning to witness its impact on education in the poor air quality around our schools in our major cities, in schools closing due to flash flooding, in restless classes trying to cope in temperatures over 38 degrees C.

School and college estates are not only on the receiving end of the climate crisis. We know that schools represent 25% of UK public sector building emissions and that 1 in 70 car miles are a school commute and the sector produces over 210 000 tonnes of waste each year (including 123,000 tonnes of food waste). We need to ensure education becomes much more firmly placed in the camp of ‘solutions’ rather than ‘problems’.

Schools and colleges can and must quickly embed a whole-scale sustainable approach in everything that they do. The UN says educators are second responders to the climate change emergency. Education has a fundamental role in tackling the climate crisis: in the immediate with a focus on estates and in the longer-term in the work required to ensure that their children, and wider communities, have the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to work effectively to tackling this humanitarian and planetary crisis.  The Department for education recognises this, launching its strategy in April 2022. The vision is ambitious:

  1. Equip young people with the knowledge and skills to tackle climate change
  2. Schools to work towards NetZero
  3. Estates are resilient to the effects of climate change
  4. Improve school estates to enhance biodiversity, air quality and connection with nature.

By 2025, every school, college and nursery will have a sustainability lead who will be charged with developing and implementing their Climate Action Plan, which should act as their pathway to achieving the points above. This goal is ambitious, especially during a time when nurseries, schools and colleges are constantly firefighting the impact of the cost of living, recruitment and retention of staff, and a wellbeing and mental health crisis - amongst other localised and national pressures.

School leaders and their sustainability leads need as much support as possible to assist them in creating, implementing and monitoring effective climate action plans. And that is where we at The FED step in - alongside all the wonderful academics, NGOs, charities and wonderful green schools already doing great work.

We at the Foundation for Education Development (the FED) are 100% committed to long-term approaches and policy planning to tackle our most seemingly intractable issues facing education. We believe that without long-term plans involving consultation with a wide stakeholder base along with academic research, working collaboratively across party divides, and robust governance, we will continue to only tinker at the edges of the most pressing issues facing our education system. For us, climate change and sustainability is one such issue.

We started this FED climate change and sustainability project how we always start: by listening. We convened a steering group of over 30 climate change experts and leaders, including academics, NGOs, charities and other organisations providing solutions to schools, corporates, learners and school leaders. We are delighted that the steering group is chaired by Dame Rachel De Souza (Children’s Commissioner) and Dame Prof Alison Peacock (CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching). With this group’s expert guidance we were able to identify where the gaps are and what needs to be done to fill them. In short, there is an enormous amount of materials out there - so much that it is overwhelming - and it varies in quality. For a new lead on climate change and sustainability looking across the curriculum, estate, community engagement, careers, along with changing attitudes and behaviours, it is currently bewildering knowing where to start. This led us to this idea of the ‘one stop shop’ toolkit for current and future sustainability leads.

The toolkit is being designed as you read this. Organised around the four Cs of curriculum, culture, community and campus, the toolkit will be a useful launchpad for getting started with curriculum mapping and planning, including: summaries and links to evidence-based, impactful free resources), guides and case studies on engaging with the wider school community, estate management for NetZero, green skills and careers, current legislation, dealing with climate anxiety and outdoor learning. The toolkit will also have elements of CPD, although this will be provided more comprehensively through our partners at Cognition Education. We are working hard to strike the right balance between being comprehensive with enough choice to meet diverse needs, but at the same time, easy to use and not overwhelming for the user. To this end, we have an Advisory Group made up of school leaders, practitioners and learners who are sharing their feedback on the various elements and design of the toolkit as it develops.

We are excited to present more about the toolkit at The Bett Show this year. Do come and see us and some of our Climate Change and Sustainability Steering Group on March 30th on The Leaders @ Bett stage at 2pm.

If you would like to learn more about the work of the FED please sign up to our newsletter: Foundation for education development - FED Education

Please read more about the FED’s work in our 2022 National Consultation Report.

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