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How can the schools rebuilding programme incorporate net zero buildings?

14 September 2023

The Government has said more than 100 schools need to close due to safety concerns with RAAC concrete. This will present the opportunity for environmental sustainability concerns to be addressed in tandem during the rebuild process, spurring Government progress on its environmental commitments.

The education estate – including schools, colleges and universities – is currently the public sector’s largest emitter of carbon from buildings. Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to undertake a study on the sustainability of the Department for Education (DfE).

The NAO’s report was published on 28 June. Within its report, the NAO identified that while the DfE had made commitments to improve environmental sustainability, the funding allocated to date failed to match the ambition of these commitments. It also found that there was a lack of awareness within the Department as to which of its current schemes are having an impact on reducing carbon emissions. 

Alongside this report, the NAO published a further report on ‘Condition of school buildings’. On publication of the two reports, the NAO recommended that the DfE considered how its sustainability ambitions can be achieved when addressing the condition of the school estate.

On Wednesday 18 October, the EAC will be holding a one-off evidence session with a DfE Minister and officials to explore in greater detail the NAO’s findings on the environmental sustainability of the Department.

In advance of the evidence session, the Committee would like to hear the views of stakeholders on the findings of the NAO report on sustainability of the Department for Education. Comments may be submitted formally via the Committee’s evidence portal, or may be emailed to the Committee at they should be submitted not later than Friday 6 October.

Chair's comment

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The absolute priority is making schools safe in a timely manner to avoid any further unnecessary disruption for students. Over 100 schools have recently been told that either they must partially close, or close entirely, amid safety concerns with RAAC concrete. The number of schools with RAAC concrete, as set out in the NAO’s report on the condition of school buildings, is significantly higher.

“The rebuilding programme should incorporate energy efficiency as standard to enable new buildings to be decarbonised. Currently the education estate emits the largest volume of carbon emissions in the public estate, and there is a key opportunity to make these new, safe buildings net zero compliant to stem damaging emissions.”

Further information

Image: PA