This study for the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) aims to identify and develop the leadership skills and knowledge needed to deliver school buildings which embody both sustainable learning (environments that will remain fit for learning into the 21st century) and sustainable environments (centres of learning that have a minimal impact on the biosphere). Both these aspects are critical. However, as research exists elsewhere on sustainable learning, this study places more emphasis on the creation of sustainable environments.

To fulfil this purpose, we identified six objectives:

  • Develop a set of principles for good practice in leading sustainable building projects
  • Explore what makes a good leader when building sustainable schools
  • Identify the key people involved in school procurement, design and building and their roles in making or influencing big decisions related to sustainability
  • Prepare a process map that identifies the points in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) process when leadership intervention is needed to ensure that sustainability requirements are implemented or retained
  • Compile case studies of school projects that exemplify some or all of the features of a sustainable school, including details of how school leaders have achieved their sustainability outcomes
  • Make recommendations for future action to school leaders and NCSL, including possible next steps within the current BSF Leadership Programme

Our approach involved dividing the work into two distinct phases:

  • Desk study: examining existing guidance on sustainable building principles, sustainability leadership skills and key sustainability intervention points in the BSF procurement process
  • Primary research: conducting semi-structured interviews with leaders from 11 schools, an online survey of 364 school leaders and detailed consultation at events and workshops