The DfE has released its strategy for sustainability and climate change for Education settings. Our article breaks down everything you need to know.

The key points are as follows:

  1. Education will play a critical role in tackling the climate crisis
  2. The UK will be the world-leading Education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030
  3. Evidence will be at the heart of the DfE’s activity
  4. Three key initiatives have been developed to drive the DfE’s strategic aims
  5. The strategy includes five key action areas
  6. Each year the DfE will publish progress against the strategy and set out new action

Read on to learn more about each key point.

Education will play a critical role in tackling the climate crisis


The DfE’s strategy states that the Education sector will play a vital role in helping to tackle climate change and creating a better, greener world for future generations.

The strategy has been developed to help improve the sustainability of the environment in and around Education settings, and the knowledge and understanding of children and young people.


The UK will be the world-leading Education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030


The vision of the DfE’s sustainability and climate change strategy is to see the UK as the world-leading Education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. This will be achieved through the following strategic aims:

  • Excellence in education and skills for a changing world – preparing all young people for a world impacted by climate change through learning and practical experience
  • Net zero – reducing direct and indirect emissions from education and care buildings, driving innovation to meet legislative targets and providing opportunities for children and young people to engage practically in the transition to net zero
  • Resilience to climate change – adapting our education and care buildings and system to prepare for the effects of climate change
  • A better environment for future generations – enhancing biodiversity, improving air quality and increasing access to, and connection with, nature in and around education and care settings


Evidence will be at the heart of the DfE’s activity


By 2023, the DfE will develop and publish a framework to evaluate the impacts of the actions set out within the strategy. It will also work with other sectors to develop reporting frameworks and processes to ensure strategic decisions can be taken at every level.


Three key initiatives have been developed to drive the DfE’s strategic aims


The DfE has carried out work with sector representatives and experts to develop the following initiatives that bring together activity to drive its strategic aims:

  1. National Education Nature Park
  2. Climate Leaders Award
  3. Sustainability Leadership


National Education Nature Park


Considering the whole physical education estate as a virtual National Education Nature Park will provide a unique opportunity to deliver improvements to biodiversity, contribute to the implementation of the nature recovery network, halt nature’s decline and drive greater climate resilience.

The National Education Nature Park will:

  • Engage children and young people with the natural world.
  • Directly involve them in measuring and improving biodiversity in their education setting.
  • Help reinforce their connection with nature.

As their work starts to have an impact, young participants will be able to upload their progress on the park’s digital mapping services, see how the park is ‘growing’, and develop skills such as biodiversity mapping, data collection and analysis.


Climate Leaders Award


A Climate Leaders Award will complement classroom learning and allow us to celebrate and recognise Education providers, children and young people for developing their connection with nature and making a real contribution to establishing a sustainable future for all.

The award will provide a structured route through existing awards in this area, such as the John Muir Award and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Participation will allow children and young people to acquire credits towards the prestigious Climate Leaders Award, which will be recognised and valued as supporting progression to employment and further study.


Sustainability Leadership


The DfE has received feedback from the Education sector that they have seen the greatest impact and success in developing and delivering a whole-setting approach to sustainability and climate change when there is coordination and leadership of activity at a local level, with support from SLT and governors.

While the DfE’s end goal is for all Education settings to have a sustainability lead owning a climate change plan – to include extra-curricular activity, procurement, adaptation and decarbonisation plans – it is keen to develop a facilitative approach to sustainability leadership, and test where support makes the most impact.

Part of this approach will include the provision of carbon literacy training for all sustainability leads in every nursery, school and college by 2025.


The strategy includes five key action areas


The key action areas of the strategy are:


Climate education – the DfE will empower all young people to be global citizens through a better understanding of climate change and a greater connection to nature


The DfE will:

  • Aim to introduce a natural history GCSE by 2025, giving young people a further opportunity to engage with and develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the natural world.
  • Include climate change and sustainability in science teachers’ CPD from 2022, and include content on sustainability when tendering for new CPD where it is relevant for the subject area.
  • Promote and share relevant teaching resources from other government departments, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DERFA).
  • Develop a primary science model curriculum by 2023 to include an emphasis on nature to ensure all children understand the world around them.
  • Explore opportunities to increase access to the outdoors in the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme from 2022.
  • Build on its investment into the Children and Nature Programme from 2022 by engaging with DERFA on further research.


Green skills and careers – the DfE will harness young people’s passion and interest in climate change and sustainability to enable them to have the knowledge and skills required for green jobs


The DfE will:

  • Seek to inspire young people to choose career paths that support the transition to net zero, restoration of biodiversity and a sustainable future.
  • Align apprenticeships to net-zero objectives through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IfATE) Green Apprenticeships Advisory Panel through the Net Zero Strategy.
  • Have a T-level in agriculture, land management and production available by September 2023.
  • Co-host an International Green Skills Conference by 2023 with the higher and further Education sectors to exhibit the best of UK green skills and education opportunities.
  • Set out low-carbon and climate-resilient standards in new building specifications, such as the installation of heat pumps for energy efficiency.
  • Provide opportunities for students to gain careers guidance through educational building maintenance and procurement projects.


Education estate and digital infrastructure – by improving the physical environment in and around Education settings, the DfE can positively impact both the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people


The DfE will:

  • Ensure that all new school buildings delivered by the DfE, that are not already contracted, are net zero in operation.
  • Continue targeted and specific monitoring of education buildings to better understand their use and energy consumption, and continually improve its technical standards and building specifications.
  • Accelerate the implementation of ultra-low carbon education buildings.
  • Have supported education settings to put in place Climate Action Plans by 2025.
  • Ensure that all bids for capital funding for FE and HE consider environmental impact, carbon reduction and adaptation measures by 2023.
  • Develop the existing ‘Good estate management for schools’ (GEMS) guidance with updated tips and good practice on the sustainable management of the school estate.
  • Accelerate pilots to investigate the resilience of existing buildings, how their access to nature can be improved and how their environmental conditions can be improved.
  • Pilot the use of smart air and environmental monitors in schools to understand the practical implications, benefits and drawbacks of using smart monitoring devices.
  • Test the feasibility of replacing school boilers with ground or air source heat solutions in 2022.
  • Continue to help education settings access the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.
  • Reduce the flood risk in over 800 schools by 2026 through the Water Strategy initiatives.
  • Work with energy providers to ensure that all schools are reporting their emission via a standardised framework by 2024.


Operations and supply chains – the DfE will introduce children and young people to more sustainable practices, such as the circular economy, waste prevention and resource efficiency


The DfE will:

  • Start rolling out carbon literacy training for at least one person in every maintained education setting by 2023.
  • Encourage and support education settings to procure from companies that commit to achieving net zero by 2050 and have a plan in place to meet this target.
  • Pilot new training for school governors by 2023 on a whole-school approach to food.
  • Ensure that all education settings have a nominated sustainability lead by 2025 and have put a climate action plan in place.
  • Eradicate single use plastics and encourage the use of reusable and recyclable materials in education settings by 2025.


International action – the DfE wants its strategy and vision to inspire and respond to international action and make a difference to children and young people all over the world


The DfE will:

  • Work across government with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Department for International Trade (DIT), Cabinet Office, Department for Business Energy and Industrial Estate and British Council.
  • Promote education as a key tool for tackling climate change through bilateral exchanges, multi-lateral forums and international dialogue.
  • Work closely with youth partners and multi-lateral institutions.
  • Showcase its sustainability and climate change strategy and activities.
  • Identify appropriate export opportunities for climate learning programmes.
  • Support UK universities to deliver an annual International Green Skills Conference to demonstrate excellence as top destinations to develop green skills and prepare for greener career pathways.
  • Expand the National Education Nature Park so that children across the globe can connect virtually, broaden their understanding of global challenges and amplify work happening in their communities.
  • Develop an international climate leaders award by 2027.


Each year the DfE will publish progress against the strategy and set out new action


The following actions by the DfE will support an annual progress report against the strategy:

  • An annual climate literacy survey for school leavers – to be introduced in 2022
  • A published risk assessment of flood, overheating and water scarcity of the Education estate – reviewed on an annual basis from 2023
  • Baseline the biodiversity the Education estate by 2023 – to allow annual progress reporting
  • Baseline the on-site emissions from the Education estate by 2024 – progress against national targets to be published from 2025 onwards


What’s next?

  • Read the full sustainability and climate change strategy here.

DfE (2022) ‘Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems’ <>  [Accessed: 21 April 2022]