Dr Susan Pember, Director of Policy at HOLEX

An All-Age Agenda 

It is more important than ever that we keep up the momentum in the fight against climate change. In recent years, our young people have embraced the Net Zero agenda, spearheading the cause. It is now time for more adult learners to join in and for ACE providers to extend their approach. We can learn a lot from our schools colleagues and, because of the extensive reach of adult community education, we can and should endeavor to influence wider society.

The Net Zero agenda is all age, personal and societal. It is relevant to young adult learners who are looking for their first job, to workers who are looking to retrain into a green industry, and those facing retirement who may want to put back into the community by green volunteering. This is an agenda for all, its about new jobs, new attitudes and ways of working and, through our 500,000 learners in the adult community education sector, we can begin to shift perspectives.

2021 Environment Bill

Hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in the UK puts the spotlight on what we are already doing in this country and provides an impetus to do more. In preparation for COP26, a new Environment Bill was announced, in March 2021, which seeks to protect the environment for the next generation and, in practical terms, will create a duty on government departments to be guided by five internationally recognised environmental principles when making policy – integration, prevention, rectification, polluter pays and not postponing action.

Net Zero Embraced by the Whole FE System

The whole FE system must embrace Net Zero. We need changes to the content of what is taught. We need to ensure the concept of net zero is embedded in all courses. We need our learners and teachers to embrace the agenda and we need enough practical resources to make the topic interesting and engaging.

We need to change the way teachers are trained, with tailored CPD for all teachers in all subjects which keeps up to date and embraces change. We need our careers colleagues to talk about the new green industries and explain that, for most jobs, there are green issues. We need to explain the agenda for everyone and not just for those who will work in a green industry.

We need organisational change. For example, our self-assessment reports and Ofsted inspection reports should include observation and comment on success in this area. We need support mechanisms, such as the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), to have examples of good practice. We need our governance documents to include a scrutiny and advocacy role for governors in green matters. We need to ensure our funding reflects the costs of going green and compensates and encourages our activities.

Seizing the Moment

Adult community education must not sit on the fence. The ACE sector must play its part in determining Net Zero solutions. The time has arrived for ACE providers to extend their approach. We must set stretching new goals, rethink our curriculum offer - so it supports all learners in understanding the impact of their actions on the climate and the environment - and provide underpinning examples of where we should target our resources.

Recognising our Reach

Adult Education is uniquely placed to help bring about transition and transformation in our society. We have several examples of good practice as recently recognised in the Green Gown awards. The sector reaches learners from all parts of society, provides courses from over 10,000 locations, and is operating in every town and city in the country. We need to use this reach to work with partners and set local goals around participating in green activity and volunteering.

An ACE ‘Net Zero’ Policy

The ACE sector needs to have its own policy which recognises its community reach and how it is often pivotal to supporting local strategies for adult services. Each centre, service and college needs to have their own policy which embraces the national policy and is tailored for local need.

We should start by applying the five internationally recognised environmental principles of integration, prevention, rectification, the polluter pays and not postponing action to the adult community education sector. We need to think about our core business and what we can change to ensure these principles are embedded in all our work, including vocational training, improving basic skills, ESOL and integration, family learning and personal wellbeing courses.

Becoming Net Zero Organisations

Equally, ACE providers must consider carefully how and where learning materials are sourced and staff are trained. We must invest in renewable energy to reduce the energy consumption of our buildings. In doing so, we will position ourselves as sustainable place- based leaders in our sector, bringing together different community services to support this agenda.

Recommendation 1

Adult Community Education providers should develop Net Zero policies ensuring Net Zero is embedded in the curriculum to support adults integrating into the community, progressing into green jobs or jobs requiring green skills, encouraging family learning and improving personal wellbeing, including older adults nearing retirement or already retired.

Recommendation 2

Adult Community Education providers should also develop Net Zero strategies which are outward facing – so that their Net Zero policies are integrated with wider adult services provided in their Local Authority.

Recommendation 3

Community centre champions should be trained and early adopters recognised and rewarded by the ACE sector.

Dr Susan Pember, Director of Policy at HOLEX

Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills

The UK needs comprehensive jobs and skills plan to successfully support and drive the transition to Net Zero.  

This is the conclusion of Campaign for Learning on publishing a new collection of expert views - Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills,

This pamphlet brings together experts on Net Zero and post-16 education, skills and employment policy. The sixteen contributors offer real insights about how post-16 education and skills policy can support the race to Net Zero here in the UK.

Contributors to Racing to Net Zero:

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance Greening the Economy, Greening the Environment
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute A more ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan
Paul Nowak, TUC Workers, Skills and the Net Zero Economy
Duncan Brown, Emsi The Demand for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Ewart Keep, University of Oxford Labour Market Intelligence for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Jane Hickie, AELP Filling Green Jobs with Level 2+ Apprenticeships
Calum Carson, ERSA Filling Green Jobs through Employment Support Schemes
David Hughes, Association of Colleges FE Colleges, Upskilling, Reskilling and Net Zero
Susan Pember, HOLEX Adult and Community Education and Net Zero
Nick Hillman, HEPI Universities and Net Zero
Bill Watkin, Six Form Colleges Association 16-18 Education and Net Zero
John Widdowson, Former FE Principal 16-18 Level 3 T Levels and Net Zero
Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum
Charlotte Bonner, Education and Training Foundation Education for Sustainable Development and the FE Workforce
Adrian Anderson, UVAC Green Jobs, Apprenticeships and Higher Technical Education
Victoria Hands and Stephen Peake, The Open University Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education

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