How are the DfE & Schools responding to Net Zero & the Climate Crisis?

As we have emerged from a world dominated by the challenges of COVID, the education sector, like many others, has been able to draw a breath and refocus on other priorities, including Climate Change. Cop26 in November 2021 helped focus minds, and just prior to the conference, the Department for Education (DfE) published their draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy outlining five action areas:

Post COP26, the DfE then entered into a widespread consultation phase before publishing their final Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy in April 2022. This builds on the 5 Action Areas adding additional scope to some of them as well as detail, some commitments and in a few places, a few targets.

The most noteworthy targets include:

· In Autumn 2022 – launch of the new ‘National Education Nature Park’ and ‘Climate Leaders Awards’

· By 2023 – develop a Primary Science Model Curriculum

· In 2023 – start rolling out carbon literacy training for at least one person in every locally maintained nursery, school, college and university to build their knowledge of climate change

· By 2025 – require that every school will have a Sustainability Action Plan in place

· By 2025 – aim to introduce a natural history GCSE


So how has this been received?

I think it’s true to say that the reception has been mixed, but I personally think it does represent a big step forward and hopefully marks the end of a lost decade. For the first time since the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools & Families) published its ‘Climate Change and Schools’ in 2010, schools once again have a clear and sensible Sustainability Strategy to take guidance from and a clear direction of travel to follow.


What happened to the DCSF ambition of every school becoming a net zero school by 2020, you might ask? well, I can only speculate that the conveyor of challenges and change brought about by Austerity (inc savage funding cuts), Academisation, and finally, the COVID pandemic have simply combined to keep sustainability and net zero on the back burner.


However, getting started or, more accurately, knowing how and where to start, is perhaps still the biggest obstacle for many schools, as Climate Change can simply be overwhelming. So in this context, the new DfE Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy should be welcomed as it can hopefully provide that starting point and the impetus to build momentum across the sector, and the good news is that there does seem to be evidence to suggest that the strategy is already having an impact. I am seeing and, in fact, working with a growing number of individual Schools and Academy Trusts who are already starting to put in place their Sustainability Action Plans, recruiting Sustainability Managers, investing in staff training and implementing a range of energy-saving initiatives.

However, despite welcoming the strategy and recognising that it definitely represents a big step forward, it is also fair to say that my personal view and that of many others (see as an example of a typical critique) is that it’s too little too late! It lacks urgency, commitment and funding and will do precious little to ease the climate anxiety for all young people, which is a very real and present worry


“This study paints a horrific picture of widespread climate anxiety in our children and young people. It suggests for the first time that high levels of psychological distress in youth is linked to government inaction.”

Caroline Hickman, from the University of Bath

“It’s so damaging to put this problem on the shoulders of young people”

Beth Irving, a 19-year-old climate activist from Cardiff

In 2019 Greta Thunberg made this plea to all those in a position of authority:


“You have a responsibility to act ….. the bigger your platform the bigger your responsibility ….. I don’t want your hope …. I want you to act .. Act as you would in a crisis. .. I want you to act as if the house was on fire!!


Sadly, the DfE Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, although a step in the right direction, is not acting as if the house is on fire! It should come as no surprise then to find out that students in this country and, in fact, across the world are likely to re-commence direct action and protest across all education settings this Autumn in an attempt to force more urgent action.


“They train us for a world that has no future, a world of fossil capitalism. They want us to sit in school and learn as if everything was fine. But the world we are learning for – the world that created the climate crisis – has no future. The big question of our generation, “How do we create a world without climate catastrophe?”, will not be answered by sitting in school.


Between September and December 2022, the climate justice movement youth is going to occupy hundreds of schools and universities all over the world.”

For more information on how enFrame can help your school set a pathway to NetZero, develop a sustainability strategy and demonstrate leadership in safeguarding the futures for all our young people, then please see our net-zero page and contact us here.