students exploring the habitat garden

Using Student Voice to Create a Sustainability Strategy

5th May 2022 – Tags: Sustainability

The Department for Education released its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy in April, which sets out how schools should build sustainability into their curriculum, green skills and careers and the development of the school estate.

Like many schools and trusts, sustainability has already been front of mind for Windsor Academy Trust as part of our commitment to a more sustainable future and leaving the world in a better place for future generations. Although the DfE’s strategy will be a welcomed first step from those on the frontline of the climate fight, schools should see their suggestions as a starting point rather than the end goal.

When it comes to sustainability, our leaders, staff and students agree that direct action is needed to drive sustainability forwards. As we continue to see the devastating impacts of climate change, including the rise in natural disasters and the consequential human impact, children and young people across our schools are increasingly impassioned and driven to want to make a positive change. To help deliver this change and further our mission of unlocking academic and personal potential, we empower our students to become self regulating and take responsibility for themselves and others as contributing citizens.

Taking action and driving positive change

Sustainability is one of our strategic ‘big moves’ and leaders amongst both staff and students are committed to taking action to drive positive change as we strive to achieve our sustainability objectives.

We wanted to devise a strategy that works for all of our schools and puts students at the forefront of sustainability development as it is an issue that really matters to them and their future. As the Children’s Commissioner’s recent ‘Big Ask’ found, children care deeply about the environment. This has been echoed by the calls from our student leaders, who continue to use their voices to highlight the urgency they feel over climate change and their own futures.

To ensure our students have a meaningful voice in sustainability decision making, we work in partnership with our Student Senate, which is driven by principles of leadership, collaboration and collective responsibility.

The Senate is made up of 100 student leaders from year three onwards across our family of schools. The Senate was created to further the Trust’s mission of unlocking academic and personal potential by empowering students to become self-regulating and take responsibility for themselves and others as contributing citizens. A critical part of this was students’ active involvement in developing and enacting our sustainability ‘big move’ to reach net zero by 2030.

Being part of the planning helps students be part of the solution. We started with a Student Senate summit on sustainability, where Trust leaders presented their ideas and students were encouraged to share their views, helping them play an active role in decisions that will affect them.

Students offered insight into their experience with different green initiatives and shared what they believed worked. On the back of the Summit, the strategy evolved to include sustainable development embedded into the curriculum, a focus on helping to prepare students for a future which includes green careers and further investment in sustainable school estates, which is essential for our successful sustainability strategy which is built upon the One Planet Living Principles and UN Sustainable Development goals.

students using ipads in forest school

Making schools more sustainable

As an example, at Great Wyrley Academy, several key changes have already been made to make the school more sustainable. This includes installing solar panels to provide a renewable and sustainable energy source, fitting new windows and energy efficient lighting and reducing the use of fossil fuels. Students are also able to be part of a dedicated Eco-club that brainstorms ways to improve sustainability and take direct action. This has seen students implement recycling initiatives, plant trees, and participate in a sustainable woodland management project.

Our sustainability strategy will drive further change as we seek to embed sustainable practice across everything we do. This includes embedding education for sustainable development across our curriculum, instilling a zero waste culture of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, using technology to drive sustainable change and building social value within procurement policy.

Whilst there is more to come from the Department’s strategy, the success of our sustainability journey so far is thanks to the input and endorsement of the Student Senate. Students should not just be taught about responsibility, aspiration and leadership but given the opportunity to develop and embody these values through experience.

The Senate is a place for students to realise the power of their voice, take action and through their leadership positively impact the Windsor Academy Trust family, the wider community and ultimately the planet. Giving our students the opportunity to turn their passion and drive into real change has only motivated them further as they continue to use their influence to make a lasting impact to the planet they will inherit.