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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Davies

What does the Department for Education Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy mean?

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Image taken from official Department for Education Instagram: @educationgovuk.

On 21 April, the government announced plans for ultra-low carbon education buildings, a climate change GCSE, and carbon literacy training for teachers amongst other measures. The new Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy is aimed at achieving net-zero by 2030 and responds to recommendations for education from the Committee for Climate Change, Dasgupta Review, and Green Jobs Taskforce report. In this blog, we explain what this means and the next steps for schools and college.

What new measures were announced on 21 April and how will they affect your school or college?

There were several plans announced - we’ll explain in detail the key initiatives and summarise other programs.

Measure 1: Reporting to understand energy efficiency and carbon emissions

An increased emphasis has been placed on data, including plans to improve its use across energy usage, water, heat and biodiversity. The aim is to allow individual settings, and DfE, to make evidence-based decisions on where to act and invest to make the greatest impact.

Plans include:

  • Continued targeted monitoring of education buildings to better understand their use and energy consumption, including current SECR reporting requirements.

  • During 2022 and 2023, work with BEIS and Energy Sparks to trial the delivery of Energy Management Systems in schools to provide real-time information about their energy usage.

  • Biodiversity of the education estate baselined by 2023 to allow annual progress reporting.

  • On-site emissions from the education estate baselined by 2024, and progress against national targets published from 2025 onwards.

How can you prepare?

Ensure you understand how to conduct carbon and energy reporting, including SECR reports, which we have useful guides on here and here. It’s also important to know the baseline you are reporting from, so you can monitor improvement. An environmental audit will help with this, where you can identify emissions across Scope 1, 2 and 3. See our Jargon Buster to understand what the different scopes are.

Measure 2: Acceleration of ultra-low carbon education buildings rollout

“A green, sustainable education estate that is resilient to the impacts of climate change will normalise and inspire young people to live sustainable lives, with impact felt widely in their families and communities.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Since schools and universities represent 36% of total UK public sector building emissions, the Department for Education have recognised a key opportunity to make them greener.

Plans include:

  • By 2025, to have supported education settings to implement Climate Action Plans, using baseline data. There is an expectation that these plans will include decarbonisation solutions.

  • All new school buildings delivered by DfE (not already contracted) will be net zero in operation and future proofed for climate change.

  • Using data from new reporting strategies will support action to adapt existing buildings to protect against the current and future effects of climate change.

The idea is that students will learn in buildings designed for net zero with a “practice what you preach” concept, since they will inevitably be learning about sustainability, too (more on that to come).

How can you prepare?

Start scoping out what a Climate Action Plan could look like for your school or college. As we’ve discussed above, understanding a baseline and having the tools in place to report on carbon emissions is a good starting point. From there, look at where you need to reduce your carbon - energy retrofits are often the most common way. The Gloucestershire College #GCZero project we supported is a good example of this.

Measure 3: Increased funding opportunities

The government has been supporting decarbonisation plans in the public sector for a while now with the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme which provides sizeable grants depending on the carbon reduction of your project. To give you an idea, we have known organisations to be granted up to £7m, but this is entirely conditional on the impact of carbon savings.

It’s encouraging that more funding is in the pipeline for 2022 and 2023. In 2022, the Department of Education has committed to continue working with BEIS (​​Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to help education settings access the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to decarbonise their estates. This includes better alignment of our application processes and funding windows.

They have also uplifted basic need grant-funding rates to help local authorities deliver school capital projects to new government sustainability standards.

By 2023, all bids for capital funding for further education and higher education will need to consider environmental impact, carbon reduction, and adaptation measures, and align with the government’s targets and objectives.

How can you prepare?

The key to a successful funding application is being ready well in advance. Grants such as the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme are high in demand and often given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hillside is a specialist in Green Finance applications, with a network of sustainability funds, including public sector grants, that we can help you to access. You can find out more that in our guide.

Other measures in the Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy include:

New qualifications focusing on the environment: A new Natural History GCSE plus plans to build sustainability into existing subjects were announced. It makes sense, since the UK is currently facing a green skills gap (in only May last year, the RAC stated that just 5% of the UK's 202,000 vehicle technicians are qualified to work on electric cars). It’s vital that a pipeline of talent is developed: According to an estimate by the International Energy Agency in June, 14 million jobs (including 117,000 in the UK) will have to be filled before the end of this decade to service the world’s growing green energy infrastructure.

The new Natural History GCSE: The aim of this is to enable young people to explore the world by learning about organisms and environments, environmental and sustainability issues, and gain a deeper knowledge of the natural world around them. As a result, they will begin to develop the skills to progress in a career in natural sciences, if they wish to.

Building sustainability into existing subjects: By 2023 there will be new requirements for further education teachers to build sustainability into their teaching. It is expected that students will be able to support their environmental education gained in existing subjects, including changes to landscapes and urbanisation in geography, and habitats and ecosystems in science. Incorporating sustainability into mainstream subjects prepares students for the increasing significance of climate change in modern society.

You can read more on green skills in our blog here.

Sustainability Leads: It is expected that there will be a Sustainability Lead in every locally maintained nursery, school, college, and university. The government will support them via carbon literacy training with the idea that the lead role will be significant in driving activity to improve climate education and increase climate resilience through adaptation initiatives in their organisation.

Smart meters: Continuation of work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and water companies to trial the delivery of smart meters in schools and encourage the uptake across other settings.

A National Education Nature Park: to help increase biodiversity in grounds of nurseries, schools, or colleges by taking small steps, such as installing bird feeders and ‘bug hotels’.

A new Climate Leaders Award: in recognition of students’ work to improve their environment.

What to take away from this?

Leaders are no longer simply talking about sustainability, action plans are being put in place with the expectation that the education sector will adopt them and remain accountable. All areas have been considered in a holistic approach that integrates education, property, and logistics highlighting the breadth of change needed.

2030 is the target and will come around quicker than you think, but help is available. We can help you to understand the first steps to becoming a net-zero organisation, reviewing your environmental impact today and where to go from there.

We’ve already mentioned funding but now is the time to get ahead and build an economic plan, plus application if needed. We can help with that, too. Get in touch for a chat, we’d be happy to talk it through.

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