COP26: Solar-powered boilers and better climate curriculum promised for UK schools

Today at COP26

The UK Government has faced mounting pressure in recent months to update its plans for education, skills and training, to prepare the next generation to help deliver the net-zero transition.

Today, Zahawi has announced that the science curriculum will be changed by 2023, to include more information on nature and biodiversity and the impact which human activity is having on the climate and nature. While climate is already included in the national science and geography curriculums, there have been calls for an update in light of new climate science and the global net-zero movement.

New training programmes and related resources will be made available to teachers next year, in preparation for the changes. 

Also on the cards is a new Climate Award, similar in format to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in that it will have bronze, silver and gold certificates. Children and young people will need to improve their skills and knowledge, while contributing to local projects, to gain the award, which will launch in 2023. 

All of the above measures are detailed in a new draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for the education sector. Further announcements on both education and facilities will be made within the next six months, following consultations with young people, educators, sustainability professionals and environmentalists. Then, a final strategy document on sustainability and climate in the education sector will be published. It is due in April 2022.

Low-carbon, biodiverse grounds

Zahawi additionally outlined measures to make the operations of schools, nurseries and colleges more sustainable. Plans will be published by 2023, he confirmed, on how to improve biodiversity across England’s estate of schools, colleges, nurseries and universities, which collectively cover an area more than twice as big as Birmingham – the UK’s fourth-largest city by area.

On energy use, Zahawi confirmed plans to test new technologies that can replace fossil fuel boilers in schools. These so-called ‘energy pods’ use solar panels to provide heating and how water, meeting 100% of a facility’s needs. They are fitted with smart technologies to maximise their output and are badged as a ‘plug and play’ replacement for gas boilers.

Tests of ‘energy pods’ have already begun in some schools, as part of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund. The £1.425bn fund supports the Government’s ambition to reduce emissions from public sector by 75% by 2037 and provides funding for energy efficiency measures and low-carbon heating.

Zahawi said: “We want to deliver a better, safer, greener world for future generations of young people and education is one of our key weapons in the fight against climate change.

“Empowering teachers in every school to deliver world-leading climate change education will not only raise awareness and understanding of the problem, but also equip young people with the skills and knowledge to build a sustainable future.”

The Draft Strategy states that, by 2030, “sustainably designed, new-build net-zero schools will provide learning opportunities, in terms of their structure and environment”. 

Global movement

Following Zahawi’s speech, education ministers from across the world will attend a discussion co-hosted by the UK, Italy and UNESCO.

Formal pledges on changes to the curriculum, to investment in skills, and to greening school estates are expected, so watch this space.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from COP26 with edie’s Live Blog. 

Sarah George

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