Bill Watkin, Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association

Reaching Net Zero 

The UK Government announced a ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in November 2020. More recently, it made a commitment to make more rapid progress to reaching Net Zero before the 2050 deadline. The truth is many organisations can feel a bit overwhelmed, and sixth form colleges are no different.

In terms of net zero, sixth form colleges fall into two camps: some are ahead of the game, joining the Race to Zero campaign by the United Nations and developing whole-college based net zero strategies, whilst others are considering their first steps.

Three Areas

In the context of whole-college net zero strategies there are three areas sixth form colleges as a whole should consider:

  1. Decarbonising college estates,
  2. Developing a green curriculum appropriate for all 16-18 students, and
  3. Empowering 16-18 year-olds to debate and act over climate change.

1. Decarbonising College Estates

Some SFCs are well down the road of reducing their carbon emissions. More and more are looking at ways in which they can reduce their carbon footprint and contribute towards the UK’s net zero target, with many developing their own carbon management plans and internal reduction targets.

Progress in decarbonising the estates of sixth form colleges has been assisted by the launch in September 2020 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme delivered by Salix Finance. The aim is to encourage green investment, unleash innovation, back businesses and support the Government’s net zero and clean growth goals.

The scheme provided bodies such as sixth form colleges with £1bn of grant funding to deliver stimulus to the energy and heat decarbonisation sectors, support jobs and deliver significant carbon and financial savings. Technologies installed include cavity wall insulation, LED lighting, occupancy and daylight controls, biomass and gas boilers and voltage optimisation.

2. Greening GCSEs and A levels, Greening Vocational Level 2 and 3 Qualifications

The natural tendency is to equate curriculum reform with respect to climate change and green skills with vocational qualifications – including Level 3 T levels – either through the insertion of units within existing vocational qualifications or developing new green vocational qualifications. But the Education for Sustainable Development strategies for the 16-18 sector must extend to the 51% of students in 16-18 education on A level only programmes and the 7% who currently combine A levels with applied general qualifications.

As is well known, sixth form colleges main offer to 16-18 year-olds is A levels and A levels combined with vocational Level 3 courses including BTECs. Progression rates into full- time Level 6 first degrees – including STEM and non-STEM – provided by universities and colleges are extremely high.

3. Empowering 16-18 Year-Olds

Introducing sustainable practices into the curriculum can help provide 16-18 year-old students the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills around climate change and the importance the younger generation has in making a difference to their college and wider community. These practices are ones which can be taken forward into their everyday lives.

Embedding sustainable practices into the learning environment can provide opportunities for students to take an active role in combatting climate change and feel inspired to assess their own behaviours. This could include promoting walking and cycling, an energy awareness campaign, or encouraging switching off lights and heating when rooms aren’t in use.

Some institutions involve students in estate-wide changes being made to the college and the associated benefits of this, for example highlighting the ongoing reduction of carbon over time via noticeboards or on-site televisions.

Educating students on both the outcomes of an inefficient climate change strategy and the numerous technologies which may be used to tackle this issue can help them to recognise that the climate crisis is a current and pressing issue. The Sustainable Development Goals are a great resource for learning and showcase the shared vision when looking to reach net zero.

Sixth form colleges pride themselves in encouraging 16-18 year-olds to take an interest in the big issues facing the world. There is no bigger issue than debating climate change and the road to net zero.

Recommendation 1

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Education should work with every sixth form college to decarbonise their estates.

Recommendation 2

Curriculum reform as part of Education for Sustainable Development should include GCSEs and A levels studied by 16-18 year-olds.

Recommendation 3

Society must empower 16-18 year-olds to understand, debate and campaign on climate change and the road to net-zero.

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association

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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