The UK government must use its new investment in school buildings to make the country a world-leader in low carbon schools, says climate charity Ashden.

Ashden, which helps schools reduce their carbon footprint, says news of £1bn for 50 major building projects and a further £560m for repairs to crumbling classrooms is a good start.

But the charity warns a larger 10-year spending programme, to be be laid out in the next government spending review, must focus on making all UK schools zero carbon by 2030.

Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb says: “We welcome this long-overdue investment in the fabric of England’s schools and the mention of ‘greening’ buildings. But 50 out of England’s 24,000 schools is 0.2 per cent - so this is just dipping their toe in the water. We urge the government to take a full-body plunge.”

Ashden points out that 65 per cent of England’s schools are more than 80 years old so an energy retrofit – improving energy efficiency in current school buildings and thereby saving carbon emissions and ultimately school fuel bills – is essential, rather than concentrating on new school builds.

Ashden is among 52 leading environment and education organisations that have written today to the Chancellor Rishi Shunak calling for a Green Recovery for Education. In the letter, the organisations together with student climate campaign group, Teach the Future, call on the government to make substantial investments into the UK education estate by retrofitting it to a ‘green’ ultra-low carbon standard through fiscal stimulus and in line with the government’s own net-zero target by 2050 climate commitment made last year.

The joint letter to Rishi Shunak says: ‘Specifically, it is our view that the education estate should be prioritised for any fiscal stimulus investment. The education system can, and will, play a pivotal role in helping transition society towards a net-zero future, and the buildings the next generation are educated in must be at the heart of this.’

Harriet Lamb, continues: “We call for low carbon building retrofits to be a hallmark of the new investments. Improving existing schools provides massive benefits in terms of local employment, much needed right now.

“As energy is the second largest budget item for schools after staffing too, every pound spent sorting out leaky and energy-guzzling school buildings can be money invested into our children’s learning. The UK could become a global example of low carbon innovation in school retrofit and construction which could kickstart our national green economy. This is an example we need to set to our children - who have been leading calls for action on the climate.”

Ashden has run a sustainable schools programme for six years, working with over 500 schools to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on their energy bills. Ashden is calling on the government to ensure that all new state-funded educational buildings are zero carbon from 2022 and all existing state-funded educational buildings are retrofitted to net-zero by 2030.

“We want all schools to be zero carbon by 2030,” says Ms Lamb. “Everyone can relate to badly built or maintained schools – classrooms are often hot, sweaty and overheated in summer and leaky and freezing cold in the winter.

“We are calling on the government to use its fiscal stimulus to make school buildings radically more energy efficient which will in turn create better learning environments. It’s common sense that we all learn better when we’re not too hot or too cold.”

Ashden will be launching a zero carbon schools campaign in the new school year.

“We know schools stand ready to play their part in tackling climate change through the food they buy, encouraging children to walk and cycle to schools, and addressing energy use and building refurbishment. They look to the Government to play its part with a massive investment programme following this welcome first step.”