Climate change strategy: Carbon literacy training, sustainability leads & emissions reporting for schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Carbon literacy training is to be rolled out from 2023 as part of the Department for Education’s plans to ensure a sustainability lead in every school by 2025.

The new sustainability leads will be charged with developing schools’ climate action plans – which will also need to be in place by 2025 and which will “drive activity to improve climate education”.

The leads will also oversee measures to protect schools against the effects of climate change and increase “climate resilience”.

The carbon literacy training will “build knowledge of climate change” as well as offer information about how to access public funds and how to use the planned National Education Nature Park (see below).

The training will also help sustainability leads to “understand emissions reporting and how to develop a climate action plan so that they can share learning and training within their own setting as appropriate”.

It is a key part of the DfE’s sustainability and climate change strategy which has been published this week (DfE, 2022).

As part of the strategy, the DfE is to set carbon emissions targets for schools between 2025 and 2035, with carbon emission reporting to come in from 2024 via a “standardised and comparable framework”. As part of this work, the government is to trial the use of smart meters in schools.

The strategy states: “We will work with schools to set standardised reporting frameworks and implement effective data-gathering mechanisms. With the campaign Let’s Go Zero, we will set targets for schools between 2025 and 2035.”

However, Let’s Go Zero said this week that the plans do not move quickly enough and has repeated its plea for a net zero target of 2030 for the schools estate.

The government has already promised that every new-build school will be net-zero in operation, but the biggest gains are to be made by improving existing school buildings.

On this point, the strategy sets out plans to share best practice for how schools can reduce carbon emissions, improve sustainability and resilience, including via retrofitting existing school buildings and using new technologies.

However, the strategy says the DfE will initially focus on running pilots to support the future retrofit of the education estate, but they won’t roll this out further until at least 2025, when it will “accelerate change once we understand the best value for money approach”.

Commenting on the plans, Harriet Lamb, CEO of climate charity Ashden which leads the Let’s Go Zero campaign, welcomed many of the aspects of the strategy, including the climate action plans, sustainability leads, and the CPD for teachers.

However, she warned that the decarbonisation timescale was too long. She said: “Providing schools with the means to decarbonise quickly was glaringly absent in the strategy.”

Let's Go Zero wants the DfE to commit to more policies, not least an “urgent retrofit of the school estate and to commit to all schools being zero-carbon by 2030”.

Ms Lamb added: “We must invest now in a national programme to retrofit the nation’s schools. This strategy is completely lacking in urgency; the government needs to push harder. It simply doesn’t reflect the need for drastic and urgent action as so recently highlighted by the IPCC. We cannot fail our children and jeopardise their future by being too slow.

“Schools need money to decarbonise now - it’s as simple as that. They know what needs to happen, but few can afford the expensive infrastructure changes.”

Elsewhere, the strategy says that single-use plastics will be eradicated in schools by 2025 with the use of reusable and recyclable materials in schools “encouraged” instead.

The plans also include a new natural history GCSE by 2025 and a primary science model curriculum by 2023. From September 2022, climate change and sustainability will be formally included in science teachers’ CPD.

The so-called National Education Nature Park, an idea launched at last year’s COP26 Summit in Glasgow, is also in the strategy.

The initiative will aim to help students “increase of biodiversity in the grounds of their school” and will offer teachers of all subjects free climate education resources as part of an online hub by 2023.

Also by 2023, the DfE has pledged to pilot a “food curriculum and whole-school approach to food” which it says will promote the “accountability and transparency of food arrangements”. This will include an eventual ambition for schools to be required to publish information on their websites about their whole-school approach to food.

The strategy also includes plans for a new Climate Leaders Award for young people which will recognise their work to improve the environment.

  • DfE: Policy paper: Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems, April 2022:

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