Secondary school managers have called on the Minister for Education to "lead by example" in relation to climate change by prioritising funding for the retrofitting of school buildings to make them energy efficient.

At its annual conference in Killarney, the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) also called for higher energy standards to be applied to new schools so that they can use renewable energy technology to achieve energy self-sufficiency in their heat and electricity needs.

The JMB represents the country's largely Catholic secondary schools.

Its president, Deirdre Matthews, said many secondary school buildings were old and inefficient, and contributing substantially to Irish gas emissions.

Addressing delegates to the organisations annual conference yesterday evening, Ms Matthews criticised a pilot retrofitting scheme that is currently being undertaken in 30 school buildings here as "not enough".

She said that at this stage, in the third year of the pilot: "If we take the urgency of action to prevent climate change seriously, we should be much further on than a pilot scheme".

She said the department should have already planned for the retrofitting of school buildings to become energy passive in a coherent way. 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said Ms Matthews was raising a fair question.

Also speaking at the conference, Mr McHugh said his department was restricted by its current capital plan, but that it would be figuring out ways of making old schools more environmentally friendly as part of preparations for a new ten year capital spending plan.

Ms Matthews said that while the organisation welcomed the minister’s commitment to a strategy "it needs to be now, not waiting for a ten year plan".

Referring to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's praise of school students who took part in protests over climate change inaction earlier this year Ms Matthews said action, not praise, was what was needed.

She said the secondary school sector had suffered from inadequate government investment in refurbishment and replacement of ageing facilities through successive generations.

She also said that new school buildings should be built to a much higher specification than currently required. 

While they are currently built to a standard that mitigates energy demands, she called for them to be built to harness renewable energy technology to achieve energy self-sufficiency in their heat and electricity needs.

The theme of the JMB's conference this year is "Care for our Common Home".