How can schools help tackle climate change?

An adult male in a black top and beige trousers plants a sign in long grass. The sign reads 'scruffy area' and is written in crayon.
Published: 20/09/2022

Collaborating to make Scotland’s school grounds climate-ready

We are living in a global climate emergency.  Our climate is changing, and we are already seeing the impact in Scotland. 

Could we do more to use school grounds to address climate risks, while creating an outdoor environment that supports learning and play?

A new collaborative project between Architecture and Design Scotland and Learning through Landscapes is exploring the opportunities.

The outdoor areas of Scotland’s schools are often at the heart of communities. They make up 14% of local authority-owned land in Scotland. However, 97% of that area is either grassland or hard surfaces, which are poor environments for biodiversity, learning and play.

Jim MacDonald, Architecture and Design Scotland Chief Executive, says “Taking a whole-place approach to schools means that we will look at everything from how the user shapes and engages with their school buildings and their outdoor environment, through to the clear opportunity to tackle the climate emergency. This project is exciting because it will provide practical examples of how schools can play a critical role in climate-conscious places.” 

An area of tall grass in the foreground with a three storey school building in the background and a visible wind turbine behind.

The potential of school grounds

There is great potential to use school grounds to support climate-ready school environments. This could include creating shade or windbreaks, forming natural barriers to noise and pollution from heavy road traffic or designing responses to frequent risks like flooding. 

Leading on the project for Architecture and Design Scotland, Karen Ridgewell, Principal Design Officer, said

“While the Scottish Government’s key policy and delivery strategies for schools and learning places - the Learning Estate Strategy (LES) and Learning Estates Investment Programme (LEIP) - both include outdoor learning and play, they do not currently note the role of the design of school grounds from the perspective of adaptation planning.”

That’s why we at Architecture and Design Scotland and Learning through Landscapes are working together on the Climate Ready School Grounds project.

Our partnership will enable the project to connect national, regional, and local place-making and education estate strategies with building users, teaching staff and the wider school community.

A young boy in a black track suit is holding green grass in his hands as he works with an adult on a raised planting bed

Benefits to schools

The Climate Ready School Grounds project offers the opportunity to support all schools that are keen to understand and develop their grounds to do more, to adapt to the anticipated local impacts of climate change, help to increase biodiversity, improve air quality, and encourage community engagement and participation in climate action. 

As Matt Robinson, Learning through Landscapes Scotland Director, says, "School grounds represent a place at the heart of our communities. A place where children spend significant amounts of time learning and playing daily.

They are a place where any improvements and changes are highly visible and deeply beneficial.

This project aims to bring pupils and their communities closer to the impacts of climate change and the simple changes that can be made to create cooler, healthier, and happier environments for all.”

A group of three primary school age children review a large map standing in a green bush

Using school grounds for learning

The project aims to inspire and support schools in Scotland to develop their school grounds and provide a rich learning environment for pupils to engage with the impacts of climate change.

As Carley Sefton, CEO at Learning through Landscapes, reflects

“High quality climate education has never been more important. As the stark reality of the impact of climate change is seen we need all children and young people to not only understand the science of climate change but witness real world adaptations in their school grounds and communities. This will inspire them to think critically and creatively about what can be done to tackle and mitigate the climate emergency.”

An adult and two teenagers look at checklists on clipboards working together outdoors.

How we will share our learning

Through collaboration, we will bring a range of our specific expertise to create rich learning resources to help support climate-ready school grounds.

Many people from different backgrounds are involved in the design, management construction and adaptation of school grounds, and many more, with different needs, use and occupy the space for teaching and learning. We will create resources that can help this broad range of users, including:

  • Designers such as architects and landscape architects
  • Local authorities and their asset managers, landscape and greenspace managers and planners
  • Schools including pupils, teachers and the wider school community.

The Climate Ready School Grounds project partners

Learning through Landscapes has designed and delivered ground-breaking school grounds projects since 1990. The outdoor learning and play charity encourage children to connect with the natural world, become more active and be more engaged with their education through learning and play outdoors. Its transformation of school grounds and teacher training, alongside an unrivalled knowledge and expertise gained through practical action and research, has led to its reputation as the UK’s leading school grounds educational charity.

Architecture and Design Scotland is Scotland’s design agency and provides leadership on place-based collaboration to help change how Scotland’s places are planned, designed, delivered, and sustained. We support the learning estate to develop sustainable, co-designed environments driven by user collaboration and the values of good design. 

All images on this blog courtesy of Learning through Landscapes. 

How are you using your school grounds?

Is your school already modifying its grounds to adapt to the impacts of climate change?  We're looking for examples from across Scotland so please get in touch to share your experiences.

Get in touch