Today MCC’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee discusses the Bee Green Summit and an Education Climate Change Action Plan. Mike Franks previews the meeting and suggests questions that the reports raise. Various activities are underway, but do they shy away from the big issues around making school buildings energy efficient?
Hooray, an updated Climate Change and Schools report is scheduled for October’s C&YPSC. Entitled Bee Green summit update and Education Climate Change Action Plan 2022-24, the paper focuses on four workstreams (devised by the charity Global Action Plan (1) and assisted with GMCA funding): campus (school grounds and operations), culture (changing attitudes to encourage sustainable choices), community (involvement within and beyond school) and curriculum (learning about sustainability and climate change). The action plan is to be reviewed at six-month intervals leading to a new plan for 2024-26 by July 2024 containing more nuanced KPIs to target equality, diversity and inclusion. Struggling settings are expected to be identified through self-assessment.
It is recognised that education settings currently contribute over half of carbon emissions from public buildings in Manchester, and hence it’s a priority within the Council’s plans to achieve its net-zero target by 2038. Reference is also made to the Active Travel motion agreed by full Council in July 2022.
The paper then describes the BEE Green Education Summit and Green Bee Assembly held in June. Follow up will be necessary, and ways found to engage those settings which have not been involved so far. Recent publication of the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change strategy mandates all education settings to have a climate action plan in place by 2025.
Helpfully, a dedicated decarbonisation and sustainability section has been added to MCC’s Schools Hub to inform all schools and colleges. It seems that only schools have access to this resource hub, so how elected members can scrutinise this is unclear. Objectives and KPIs in the Education Services Climate Change Strategic Action Plan 2022-2024 are aligned with those already in place for climate change activity across the city. For example, a target is set for 40% of settings to be engaged in carbon literacy training by July 2023 and 50% by July 2024. Also, a Skills for Life Climate Ambassadors programme is being developed for primary and secondary schools to launch In February 2023 with opportunities to present at local green school networks and to the Governance Review Board (which will ensure implementation of actions align with local ward plans and the Council’s wider sustainability aspirations).
The report recognises the difficulty in establishing baseline data and there being no defined tool for education settings to measure their own carbon footprint yet concludes the plan can accelerate progress towards reduction in carbon emissions. Would that this were so. Can the target for the lowest self-assessed education settings to rise from red to at least amber by July 2023 and green by July 2024, be met realistically without major investment?
Decarbonisation of shcool buldings: not leading the way
Although somewhat reassuring that the recommendation in the CEM Briefing for C&YPSC in January 2022 to the committee that it should receive at least two updates annually has been adopted, there is no mention in the report of CEM’s other key recommendation that MCC should co-ordinate a coherent response to retrofitting and installation of low-carbon energy for heating and electricity supply in schools and help to maximise learning opportunities therefrom. Perhaps complexity of educational settings status makes this a step too far?
However, Manchester could emulate Oldham’s aim to power all its buildings (including all education settings) with renewables by 2025. What if any appetite is there to build on the Decarbonisation Pathway for Greater Manchester study completed in July 2020 which recommended phasing out of natural gas and oil use by 2038, decarbonising energy use across all sectors by switching to hydrogen, green electricity and biofuels, with more local generation and distribution of clean energy securing a low-carbon supply? Perhaps GMCA and MCC should commission an update on this subject so there might be a future report to C&YPSC particularly related to the educational estate in Manchester?
Shifts at the DfE
The DfE claimed in its draft strategy that it would develop clear measurable objectives, establish a baseline and track progress towards strategic aims, all before the end of 2022. However, in the strategy as published it had been altered to
“We will work with energy providers to receive data from the school estate directly (unless individual schools choose to opt out), so that by 2024 all schools are reporting their emission via a standardised framework. The installation of smart meters will improve the accuracy of this data. We have supported the Queen’s Jubilee Challenge for the further and higher education sectors to accelerate a sector-led review. This review will enable all further and higher education settings to report their emissions via a standardised and comparable framework by 2024. From 2025 we will publish targets and institutional progress for the further and higher education sectors. We will also work with nurseries and 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.”
And so, the stone gets kicked down the road to irreversible climate catastrophe …
In addition to the points raised above, we have the following questions after reading the paper.
- Given over 50% of carbon emissions from public buildings in Manchester are from the education estate [1.1], why is there no explicit mention of this in the Climate Change Framework 2020-2025?
- The Bee Green summit update and Education Green Climate Change Action Plan 2022-24 points to difficulties in establishing a baseline for carbon emissions in education settings and there being no definitive tool for measuring reductions [6.2], so will C&YPSC wait for the DfE to provide these or will MCC and partners set their own standards ahead of 2024?
- It is reassuring to see that MCC is providing information dedicated to decarbonisation and sustainability via the Schools Hub [3.3], is this restricted to schools or can the public also view this advice, and will MCC be offering renewably generated electricity to educational settings
- As part of ‘culture’ and ‘community’ [3.4.3 and 3.4.4] how will involvement of parents and the wider community in climate action plans for schools and for each ward be encouraged?
Other items for October’s meeting include discussion of Admissions Policies for 2024/25 and School Places, as well as the Update on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. You may have thought there would be an opportunity to consider Active Travel as part of the School Places paper, but no, not a whisper. Its focus was capital expenditure for new build and matching increased demand for mainstream and specialist school places.
The webcast of the C&YPSC meeting can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/755127922 at 2pm on Wednesday 12 October 2022, or thereafter.
(1) Transform Our World, a branch of Global Action Plan, has produced a School Climate Action Planning Tool. A more localised version with place-based resources has been produced with GMCA funding. This focuses the plan on GM based solutions and can be found at https://www.transform-our-world.org/tools/schools-climate-action planner although it is recognised that this has yet to address Early Years or Post-16 settings.