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A year of Climate Action at HEART Academies Trust

HEART Academies Trust is a four school Trust located in Bedford Borough. In 2022, as the world emerged from the worst of the Covid pandemic, the HEART Executive Team made the decision to present a new vision and set of aspirations for how to take the Trust forward. Their proposal was to place action on climate and sustainability - alongside ethical leadership and inclusivity – at the centre of all future decision-making. HEART Trustees, recognising the importance of climate action in building a better future for children, serving local communities and improving the environment for everyone, agreed the proposal and signed up to the National Governance Association (NGA) Greener Governance Pledge.

Below are some of the highlights of the work that has since followed -

The HEART leadership team rewrote the Trust Development Plan to encompass climate action. School Development Plans were similarly updated. 

The Trust signed the Let’s Go Zero campaign pledge to be carbon zero by 2030.

A section of the annual Trust training day was dedicated to climate and sustainability action. The day was an opportunity to talk with all staff about the importance of climate action and how everyone could get involved. Further training and engagement was then provided to smaller groups, including catering, facilities, cleaning and office teams.

Sustainability teams were established, one focused on Operations with representatives from the range of support functions, and a second focused on teaching and learning.

All schools worked to map climate and sustainability education throughout their curriculum. The Trust Chief Finance Officer – now Chief Finance and Sustainability Officer (CFSO) – delivered assemblies to all secondary school students on climate and sustainability. In 2023/24 HEART schools will work with the Greener Schools Project to further embed climate learning for all children.  

The Trust engaged PlanetMark to support measurement of its carbon footprint and provide additional guidance in the development of its climate strategy and action plans. The current academic year - 2022/23 – was defined as a new baseline to help measure future  improvement. 

HEART Trustees agreed to invest funds in renewable and energy efficient technology (e.g. solar, LED). Professional surveys were commissioned to develop a longer-term investment plan to help reduce the carbon footprint of all of our schools.   

A collaboration with Energy Sparks helped provide data about when energy was being used and areas of potential waste. Localised electricity meters were subsequently installed to provide more granular detail.

The Trust Digital Strategy helped drive a reduction in paper/analogue processes in favour of digital solutions. The strategy also helped drive elimination of obsolete and unnecessary hardware (e.g. servers, screens)..

The Trust People Strategy adapted to include climate action within recruitment and staff retention strategies.

Weekly and termly climate communication updates were introduced to celebrate successes – big and small. Stories have ranged from dance competitions with a sustainability theme to elimination of paper in the admissions process (and everything in between).

The Catering strategy transformed to support the Trusts climate and sustainability ambitions. The work of the catering team has included:

  • Working in collaboration with local food charities (e.g. Olio) and student eco and horticulture groups to eliminate food waste.
  • Removal of all single-use plastic
  • Changing the school menus to increase the number and range of vegetarian options.

HEART has always worked to be an outward-facing Trust, open to sharing and collaborating with others. As part of the Trust climate action plan senior leaders have given time to speak at events - ASCL, ISBL, MATPN, MAT Strategy, CCADIS – and deliver workshops to local and regional school business networks. The Trust CFSO through his role as a member of the Board of UK Schools Sustainability Network (UKSSN) and co-Chair of the UKSSN Operations group holds a monthly network meeting to support (and learn from) other schools and organisations actively engaging with climate action. The network has grown substantially; the April network meeting included representatives from DfES, National Audit Office, National Governance Association and the Institute of Directors. The CFSO also regularly speaks on climate podcasts aimed at schools and more recently is supporting the development of a UKSSN Bedfordshire network to support teachers at other schools in the local area.

At the core of climate action at HEART is support from Trustees, support from senior leaders, an openness to learning and working hard to make sure people feel included. There is a huge amount of work still to do but if each day is a small step forward then over time we are confident we can deliver on our ambitions and hopefully support many other schools and trusts to do the same.