Date: November 20, 2020 Location:Solihull Venue:Climate Voices Session: Discussion and Outcomes

InterClimate Network (ICN) was extremely pleased to be part of this online summit organised by Sarah Lardner and her colleagues at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. Our team lead a session specifically for secondary schools to share our own plans and vitally, to discuss with a range of teachers and organisations the opportunities and constraints (see Table 1) for more student-led climate action in 2021.

Outcomes

  • Regular Climate Action (twilight) meetings to go in the diary, open to all secondary schools
    • Kick-off virtual meeting: Tuesday 26 January 2021, 4.00 – 5.15 pm
    • Mentor: Working with your school between meetings
  • Build in skills and careers focus with the support of key local businesses and organisations
  • Reinforce students’ own thinking with opportunities to have a say, and resources to support their own climate action
  • Put plans in place now so that we are ready to move when we can next year
  • Voice our own concern for space in the school week to give this the time it so clearly demands.

Question and Answer: Young people’s perspectives on Climate Action

Acacia Lynch (top right)  is a former pupil of The Sixth Form College Solihull and volunteers with InterClimate Network. 

She took part in the 2019 Climate Conference for Solihull schools and single-handedly represented Bangladesh! Acacia took on the challenge here of answering questions put to her first by Richard Usher, ICN Associate (top left) and other session participants. 

Q: How do you feel your involvement in that Climate Conference event motivated / supported you in thinking about climate change and climate action?

One of the important things was seeing that all the resources available to me that I hadn’t really appreciated before. Because it was held in the Solihull Council Chambers, it showed that there are enough people who care to listen to young people.  I wouldn’t be working with ICN now if I hadn’t gone to that conference.

Q: What challenges do you think there are for students to take climate action in school?

It’s very hard to have a strong movement towards climate action.  It feels like that there’s this big school institution that doesn’t really care about it and every effort will be in vain.  Repeated efforts from teachers and leaders to say that it is a priority helps, and to keep bringing up opportunities like this to students. 

Q: How do you feel that young people can have more power and voice to be able to advocate and influence things around climate change?

This is a difficult question – if we had an easy way to do it we would already have it!  Making sure that teachers and school staff listen to students not just as a one off thing, involving them in the decision-making and even the thought process. It’s at this very pivotal point when they’re are starting to have opinions about things but need a lot of guidance about the processes and to see how institutions work to be able to insert themselves in that.

Q: What motivated you to get involved in the first place?

In my college there was a student support officer, and it was part of my debate group and various options were brought up.

Q: Speaking as a Chair of Governors, did you manage to get any governors involved for any sustainability work at college?

There didn’t seem to a whole lot that the governors were doing – it was a lot more student-led. 

Discussion

A great discussion between participants from schools, organisations, Council staff and ICN was framed by a series of questions (see the attached powerpoint for more detail).

  • What is happening globally
    • What is going to help your students really engage with COP26 and the global climate crisis?
  • What can we do in school?
    • What support is going to work for you next year?
  • How can we have a say?
    • What would help your students join the critical climate debate in 2021?

Regular ‘Climate Action’ meetings: There is appetite for regular after-school meetings (twilight zoom sessions) between active secondary schools to involve teachers and students, and to bring in businesses and other sustainability experts. These need to be set in the diary so that teachers can plan cover, if needed.  Any Climate Action campaign or initiative can contribute to a school achieving the Greener Solihull Schools Award.

Business support especially around green careers:  Solihull has a tremendous range of people and organisations that want to support, particularly in building relevant skills and emphasising careers routes.  The Government 10 Point Plan is setting the national context but there is already real impetus locally: Solihull MBC skills team; Sustainability Visioning Group that sponsor the schools award; and Solihull Chamber Executive Board which has an eco-pledge to support and link with schools.

Student concern: Hearing from young people it is clear that their concern for action on the Climate Emergency hasn’t gone away.  Acacia Lynch (see Q&A below) emphasised the importance of consistently bringing up opportunities to get involved and have a say. 

The opportunities discussed in this session were:

  • Resources: COP26 Climate Conference in the classroom; LEAF Countryside Classroom resources from a whole range of organisations including bite-size Farming Fortnight resources that can be used with tutor groups; Practical Action’s great bank of high-quality resources.
  • Ways to have a say: student-led Climate Action Survey (focusing on motivations for behaviour change) now being piloted by ICN and can be rolled out next year; Climate Conference in Solihull in November 2021.
  • Careers route: with business input as above and with the support of the Solihull MBC skills team
  • Pressure for action: Lets Go Zero initiative by Ashden; Carbon Reporting required of Academy Trusts; Social media opportunities …

Looking beyond COVID-19:  Time in the normal school day is at the heart of the issue, or the lack of it to be able to give climate action the recognition and space it so clearly needs.  And right now with all the restrictions in school settings, it is really difficult to see a way through. Teachers in the session thought that good take-up of climate action / after school meetings might not happen until after the vaccine has had an impact.  That said, it was thought important to move forward as far as each school can by setting things in place at the thinking stage, and if possible bringing in student eco-leaders and groups into that thinking.

OpportunitiesConstraints
United Nations coming to UK for two week Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, 1-12 November 2021COVID-19 means it is very difficult to get any groups together in school / between years
UK Government new carbon emission targets, 10 Point Plan and green revolution (see article here)After-school clubs are also in flux
UK Government requirement of Academy Trusts (will be rolled out further) to measure and report annually their carbon output: Streamline Carbon ReportingFinding time is a massive issue and it really should be included within the school week, even if just for one period a week for the eco-group/leaders
Student-led initiatives: young people’s concern can be translated into leading their own action, supported by teachers and others (Governors, SLT, teachers)There is no possibility of lunch-time meets (only half an hour for some schools)
Social Media followed by young people (Instagram pages as above) and on-line and other campaignsFor students, it seems that the school as a big institution is hard to influence
Careers connections eg more and more requests being made to LEAF team nationally asking where are the jobs around food productionSome schools are very active indeed, others are only marginally engaged leading to a question of how to reach new audiences.
Solihull Greener Schools Award for recognition of achievements at three levels
Sustainable Visioning Group including key businesses providing their support
Solihull Chamber Executive Board eco-pledge to link to schools (Birgitta Varga represents her school on the Board).
Table 1 Climate Action: Opportunities and Constraints

Participants

Schools & CollegesSolihull MBC
• Brigitta Varga from Balsall Common
• Sheela Fisher from St Patrick’s CE
• Mrs Botley, Langley Secondary
• Thanh Nguyen, Lyndon School
• Madeleine Booth, Solihull College Sustainability lead
• Sarah Lardner (Sustainability Team)
• Andrew Greenall (Places Directorate)
• Sarah Evans (Resources / Energy)
OrganisationsICN
• Leaf UK: Brian Hainsworth
• Practical Action: Julie Brown
• School Energy Efficiency: Richard Smith and James Veness
• Acacia Lynch, Volunteer
• Michila Critchley, Associate
• Richard Usher, Associate