Release date: 21/04/2022

The National Governance Association (NGA) responds to today’s (21 April) strategy on sustainability and climate change for education and children’s services systems from the Department for Education.

The strategy outlines the plans to achieve the government’s aim for the UK to be a world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. Many actions were announced including a new Natural History GCSE and the roll out of carbon literacy training to at least one sustainability lead in every education settings by 2025. The training will be designed to support them to implement a Climate Action Plan as part of a whole-setting approach.

In addition, the DfE will update Good Estate Management for Schools guidance with information on sustainability and develop guidance on monitoring and reporting emissions. The plans build on the DfE’s pledge that all new school buildings (not already contracted) will operate at net zero.  

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association responds: The National Governance Association is very pleased to see the Department for Education’s strategy on sustainability and climate change, and we acknowledge the engagement that the DfE has had since COP26 on this issue with governors and trustees. It is imperative that schools need to play their part in tackling climate change and NGA’s Greener Governance campaign aims to help make this happen. 

There is much to welcome in the DfE strategy: including the Government’s vision that the United Kingdom is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030.

But it seems unlikely that schools will be given the wherewithal to achieve what is rightly being asked of them. The strategy makes it absolutely clear that sector leadership and institution-level accountability for sustainability will be key for success, identifying that co-ordination and leadership of a whole-setting approach to climate change and sustainability as one of the three drivers of this change: “We recognise how much is already being done across the sectors by enthusiastic individuals, governance boards and leadership teams. They are driving effective whole-setting approaches to the challenges of sustainability and climate change – not only in teaching and learning or the decarbonisation of the estate – but in the way settings are operated and regulated.”

Some schools and trusts are indeed leading the way, but governing boards tell NGA that the two biggest barriers to all institutions delivering are leadership capacity and access to funding, for example, for existing buildings. There is a real lack of ambition on renewable energy: why aren’t we able to provide solar panels and other renewable solutions to the whole school estate?  

It is highly unlikely that we will be leading the world if it is going to take three years for education settings to have nominated a sustainability lead and put in place a climate action plan. Governing boards have already been listening to young people’s voices for some years on this topic, some have acted but many have not had the capacity to: Government needs to ensure the leadership capacity and the capital funding is there, both for the climate curriculum changes and the premises work. Three years will not be seen as treating this topic with the urgency expressed by pupils or spelt out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It is curious that, within 4 weeks of the DfE’s Schools White paper with its vision of all schools joining a strong trust within the coming decade, the role of multi academy trusts is completely missing from today’s strategy.”

NGA have produced a new information sheet to help governors and trustees start meaningful conversations that ultimately result in a tangible climate action plan, featuring key initiatives from the DfE's strategy. 

NGA's Greener Governance campaign

NGA’s Greener Governance campaign aims to encourage and support governing boards take action on environmental sustainability in their schools/trusts. Visit the Greener Governance campaign page to make a pledge and view resources for boards. Our latest Governing Matters magazine features nine trusts and schools that have already taken action.

NGA’s guidance for governing boards is available on our Knowledge Centre, we will be updating this in the light of today’s DfE strategy and if there is any information you would like to see included, please contact Megan.Tate@nga.org.uk

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