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Make climate education compulsory or government’s COP26 ambitions are likely to fail

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Less than 1% of college students are currently on a course with broad coverage of climate education. 

£1.5bn is needed to transform classrooms and provide the equipment needed to train people for green jobs.

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement must be brought forward to deliver the training needed in priority sectors.

With the COP26 summit due to begin in just ten days and following the publication of the government’s Net Zero Strategy, over 150 college leaders in England have warned that reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is likely to fail without making education on climate change and sustainability part of all study courses. 

New research from AoC has found that less than 1% of students are currently on a course with broad coverage of climate education.  

Today’s letter from principals to Boris Johnson, the COP26 President, the Business Secretary and the Education Secretary argues that the ambition for a green economy is at risk without the next generation, as well as adults who need to retrain, having access to the education and skills they need to equip them for green jobs.   

The government’s own Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener plans announced on Tuesday included a commitment on low-carbon heat pumps which will generate 240,000 jobs alone. 

This will need to include both young people and those within existing workforces. 

To keep up with the pace and the scale of upskilling and retraining to drive the green economy a net-zero strategy needs to include:  

  • Compulsory climate and environmental education modules in all study courses in post-16 education; 
  • Bringing forward the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to deliver the training needed in priority green sectors and developing a system of loans and means-tested grants to target support on adult learners who could otherwise not afford to live while undertaking education and training; 
  • Investment through the National Skills Fund to meet demand in growth sectors, like offshore wind, electricity networks, electric vehicles, low carbon heating and forestry, to support people in jobs that are transitioning to redeploy their skills; 
  • FE workforce investment to ensure teachers have the resources and knowledge to train those moving into new developing growth sectors; 
  • Investing £1.5bn in the next three years in the capital budget to sustainably transform college estates and support colleges to invest in the innovative technology required to train for green jobs. 

david hughes 100 x100Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: 

“The role of education and skills in tackling the challenges to society posed by climate change must not be underestimated. The government’s plans for the  transition to net-zero simply will not work without aligning education policy with climate and sustainability priorities – that includes embedding climate modules in all study courses. Colleges leaders and students have been crystal clear this is something they want and is necessary to meet the emerging skills needs of a greener economy.  

“Young people coming through the education system now and in the near future will be the workers of the 2030s and beyond, they must be empowered with the knowledge and skills that will ready them for the green jobs needed in a green economy. If we are going to meet the sustainability goals, then addressing the system for young people alone is just one piece of the puzzle. 

“Removing barriers to adults needing to retrain or upskill will be crucial in plugging skills gaps in priority areas. We are approaching a decisive moment in the climate emergency and only bold, joined-up decision making, investment and policy reform will make net-zero a reality.” 

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Student member of the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education, Amy Brazier said: 

“Following the Student Climate Commissioners COY16 Statement I welcome the recommendations for Government and Colleges. But we need to see action being taken right now – we cannot wait until 2050. Students need to have the skills and knowledge to face the climate and biodiversity crisis that we are in.

“Every job needs to be a green job. Whilst it is encouraging to see so many colleges beginning to take action but we need all of the sector to take action now. This is our future and we are relying on you to help us build a future with hope.” 

Labour former education minister and member of Peers for the Planet, Lord Knight of Weymouth said: 

“The government has now set out its net zero strategy, but it won’t succeed in its mission unless it empowers and invests in colleges to deliver on green skills. Every job needs to be a green job. There is impressive work happening already in colleges to support students to better understand the climate emergency in their everyday life and across a whole range of sectors, from construction to fashion.  

“This report sets out an important ambition to make climate change education a compulsory part of courses. To deliver on green jobs, it is clear that better access to student financial support is also needed so that anyone who needs it to can access the college course they need to get a green job, whilst still affording to live.” 

Crossbencher and co-chair of Peers for the Planet, Baroness Hayman said: 

“Embedding net zero and nature considerations into our skills and education framework is fundamental to achieving the UK’s climate and biodiversity commitments, whilst also contributing to a successful economic future and employment opportunities across the country.

“This report recognises key opportunities for Government to support colleges on a local and national level to facilitate this future.”

Recent research from NUS shows that 84% of students feel that their college should incorporate modules on climate education in all post-16 courses and similar research from the Education Training Foundation revealed 94% staff believe that all students should be taught about sustainability issues.  

According to the CBI an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK will need to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification to meet the Government’s commitment to decarbonise the economy by 2050.

Colleges play a vital role in key sectors that will be affected, including agriculture, building and construction, engineering, science and manufacturing, currently training nearly 800,000 people of all ages in key transition sectors. 

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