The Department for Education will publish detailed plans on meeting its sustainability targets following pressure from a committee of MPs.
In a letter to the House of Commons’ environmental audit committee (EAC) in December, published today, Baroness Barran, the DfE’s minister for the school system and student finance, defended the department’s record on safeguarding the education estate from the effects of climate change such as flooding, overheating and water scarcity.
This comes in response to criticism from the committee late last year, which said the department’s school rebuilding programme was behind schedule and that the risks facing schools and colleges were “not adequately understood” by education leaders.
The EAC has been conducting an inquiry into the environmental sustainability of the DfE.
Barran said the DfE is expecting its sustainability leadership hub to go live by May this year, which it says will “meet the strategic commitment for all settings to have a climate action plan in place by 2025.”
She added that the government was also funding a climate ambassador network, to be announced by the end of December 2023. The network has not yet been announced, however.
The committee revealed concerns that just 20 per cent of the school estate in England would be net zero compliant by 2050 under the department’s current plans.
“This is a significant worry when education is currently the largest emitter of carbon from buildings in the public sector,” said EAC chair Philip Dunne. “For the whole of the UK to meet net zero, the education sector in England must make swifter progress on decarbonisation.”
In Barran’s response, she said: “We agree in principle with the Committee’s recommendation that the department should publish a detailed roadmap to achieving our sustainability targets – we aim to do so by Autumn 2024.”
Dunne welcomed the DfE’s response that it will publish a roadmap this Autumn.
“This will be an invaluable resource, allowing the Department to set out in detail the challenge ahead and giving ministers sufficient visibility of the urgent case for significant additional funding for this large element of the public buildings estate,” he added.
The department was urged to commit “adequate funding” to its climate action plans or “the education estate will remain at significant risk of flooding, overheating and water scarcity.”
The EAC urged DfE to publish a realistic and fully costed plan for its sustainability strategy targets as “a matter of urgency”.
“The plan must set out how issues such as student safety, the remediation of buildings containing RAAC and the mitigation of flood risk can be addressed alongside sustainability improvements,” the committee said.
Barran added that it is testing retrofitting across the education estate and has launched pilots to “put us in the best place to understand the funding required”.
She also re-committed to launch a risk framework for colleges, schools and nurseries this month and use the data to publish a full climate risk assessment of the education estate in January 2025.