05 July 2023

We hosted a fully funded sustainability conference last week, bringing together school leaders, governors, and representatives from the Department for Education (DfE) to explore the importance of developing and delivering robust sustainability strategies in the UK. The conference aimed to highlight the urgent need for action and educate attendees about key sustainability initiatives and goals.

According to the DfE, the education sector is a significant contributor to UK public sector building emissions, accounting for a staggering 36%. Surprisingly, this exceeds emissions from hospitals, making schools the largest contributor in terms of estates. Furthermore, the land area covered by England's schools is twice the size of Birmingham. With approximately 22,000 state-funded schools, 59,400 early years and childcare providers, and more than 16 million individuals in education, it is crucial to address sustainability in this sector.

Recent statistics from WRAP indicate that each UK secondary school produces an average of 22kg of waste per year, while primary school waste per pupil rises to 45kg. Additionally, the average energy cost per pupil in English schools is approximately £44 per year. These figures highlight the pressing need for a comprehensive sustainability strategy within the education sector.

To address this urgent issue, the Department for Education released what is believed to be the world's first cross-cutting climate change and sustainability strategy for education in April 2022. This strategy includes several key initiatives to drive sustainability leadership and climate action.

Gareth Lavan, Head of Sustainability Leadership and Climate Action Planning, emphasised the importance of holistic planning to tackle climate change and sustainability at a system level. The strategy encompasses decarbonisation, resilience planning, biodiversity conservation, and inspiring young people to engage in sustainability-focused careers.

The DfE has also introduced the National Education Nature Park, set to launch in the autumn, to enhance biodiversity in school grounds. Through this initiative, children will have the opportunity to map the biodiversity of their school environment, fostering a connection with nature while promoting mental and physical well-being.

Additionally, the DfE has partnered with the Natural History Museum and the Royal Horticultural Society to establish the Climate Action Award scheme. This scheme, supported by a £15 million grant, aims to target disadvantaged areas and combat nature depletion. The rollout of the scheme is scheduled for Autumn 2023, providing an opportunity for schools to participate and make a positive impact.

Key goals of the DfE's sustainability strategy include ensuring that every education setting has a designated sustainability lead in place to implement and own action plans by 2025.

The Sustainability Leads Network

In response to the DfE’s initiatives, we have launched a free Sustainability Leads Network, designed to support schools in understanding sustainability and developing comprehensive whole-school sustainability plans. The network aims to create a supportive environment with no judgment on sustainability knowledge or lifestyle choices, encouraging open discussions and collaboration.

The Sustainability Leads Network serves as a hub for sustainability knowledge, providing access to key documents, templates, governance guidance, and best practices from around the country. To foster continuous engagement, an online community forum has been established, enabling participants to share resources, podcasts, articles, and seek help when needed. The network convenes online twice a term.

By actively engaging with sustainability efforts in education, schools can contribute significantly to reducing environmental impact, promoting sustainable practices, and nurturing a generation of responsible global citizens.

For more information please contact