A second benefit to bringing the concept of sustainable schools to your institution is how much pupils can learn about sustainability through the curriculum. Anne Clarke explains

The new secondary curriculum introduced into schools in September 2008 has introduced the ‘global dimension’ as a key strand and this is one of the doorways of sustainability.

Benton Park School, where I was headteacher until my retirement at the end of the last school year, started to implement this global dimension into a cross-curricular pathway across various departments, including geography, history, art, science, English and modern languages. Schemes of work were written to incorporate an understanding of world affairs. Geography took a lead in this area and pupils looked at issues surrounding child labour in different countries around the world.

In art, pupils worked with recycled materials and considered the impact of their global footprint. In science, pupils set up a simulation of a school infected with a ‘plague’, which was contracted by the passing on of a ‘contaminated’ card. Pupils were given a set of cards, some which passed on disease and some that were healthy. Recipients of the cards held their breath whilst they read the card, waiting to see if they were contaminated or safe. This was to encourage pupils to appreciate the consequences of disease in countries with a lack of medical services.

In modern languages, pupils studied countries beyond Europe that speak a European language. French offered African countries and Caribbean islands to give a worldwide feel to the subject, just as Spanish offered Latin America. The head of music had visited Rio and used the experience he gained to develop the school’s samba band, which performed at local events. Thus we had community involvement, which is encouraged by the sustainable schools framework. Benton Park was supported by the Leeds Development Education Centre, which trains teachers to introduce a global aspect to their studies.

Close links with South Africa
Benton Park’s global dimension was strengthened by its close link to Meetsetshehla Secondary School in Vaalwater, South Africa. Pupils raised money through sponsored events to build a science laboratory at the African school after initial links were made following a visit to the school by Benton Park’s deputy head in charge of pastoral care, through a contact made via a local community church group involved with Benton Park. Since the deputy head’s initial visit a couple of years ago, three other members of staff have visited Vaalwater, and in the summer the deputy principal from Meetsetshehla School came to Benton Park with three students.

Through assemblies pupils at Benton Park learned about the very different culture in South Africa and issues of sustainability in a worldwide context. Hopefully, some of them will make a reciprocal visit to Meetsetshehla School before too long.

The Children’s Plan says that, ‘Sustainable development is a non-negotiable for children’s wellbeing’, and the development of eco-friendly schools is key priority. Schools are encouraged not only to use the classroom to promote sustainability but also to create an outdoor classroom to support learning.

The grounds as a classroom
This is what we did at Benton Park. In the school grounds we had a pond which was used by the science department as a natural resource for curriculum projects. The art department used the grounds as an outdoor classroom, inviting into school an artist who made totem poles with the pupils, and these are now proudly on display for all pupils, staff and visitors to appreciate. As totem poles are from another culture, there is a global link as well as an environmental one.

Pupils were also involved with local projects on the environment such as the Leeds in Bloom competition, where students successfully submitted poster and flowerbed designs. Years ago the school had a garden and used to grow its own produce. Perhaps this might be considered again, and this would link the use of the school grounds with the ‘food’ doorway.

Food, drink and health
There are many ways that diet and healthy lifestyle can be dealt with throughout the curriculum. Food technology is an obvious choice but there are other options. In PE, I have seen some excellent lessons where pupils do circuits, measure their heart rate and analyse how exercise supports a healthy lifestyle. The department also took advantage of the 2008 Olympics to run a mini-Olympics in the summer term to promote sport and the global dimension. In PSCE pupils discussed health-related issues such as smoking, substance abuse and mental health problems.

There needs to be whole-school messages, too. The school canteen is an integral part of school life, and from September 2009 will have to comply with the nutrient-based standards. It is important that pupils are able to get a well-balanced meal. In its report, Schools and Sustainability (May 2008), Ofsted said that schools should ‘give all pupils the opportunity to learn about and take an active part in promoting sustainability within the school and beyond, through membership of school councils, eco councils and other groups.’ Benton Park did this by actively engaging its pupils in the healthy eating initiative. It was the representatives from the school council who suggested that chocolate machines were removed and that fizzy drinks were no longer available. Pupils can now only buy fruit juice and water and there is no sign of a chocolate bar anywhere!

Energy and water
Pupils can look at energy and water throughout the curriculum. Geography and science are obvious choices. In geography pupils can study countries where water is a precious commodity and energy is a topic in science. Some schools have pushed the boundaries beyond the obvious. The eco-schools website www.eco-schools.org gives some good examples of what schools can do to engage pupils with the important issues of sustainability and how future generations can look after the planet. Schools that have erected wind turbines to reduce electricity are also using them as an interactive learning resource, teaching pupils the advantages of renewable energy.

Benton Park installed a weather station so that pupils could monitor rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind speed. With a little imagination the possibilities are endless. Benton Park also encouraged teachers to elect energy monitors to switch of the lights as they left the classroom in the belief that active involvement of pupils in energy-saving measures would help to reinforce the sustainability message.

Inclusion and participation
‘Inclusion and participation’ is another strand to sustainability and Benton Park has been at the forefront of this initiative. Last year we had nearly 30 pupils on roll from a local special school, Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC), who attended Benton Park all of the time. Their conditions included Down’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and autism, and there was also a wheelchair user. As mainstream pupils and those with special needs live and work side-by-side in the school community, Benton Park became a totally inclusive school and received the inclusion chartermark. This dimension of ‘inclusion and participation’ was carried into the classroom, as the pupils from the SILC attend nearly 50% of mainstream lessons.

To meet with the Disability and Discrimination Act, classrooms had been adapted to meet the needs of these pupils. In food technology, a department that was at the forefront in this initiative, we installed a sink that could be raised and lowered to accommodate a wheelchair user. Pupils of all needs studied alongside one another in a variety of subjects including art, PE, technology and modern languages. Staff from the SILC worked alongside our staff to differentiate the work for the pupils with the more complex needs.

As I left, we felt that Benton Park was well on its way to becoming a sustainable school. The curriculum work involved in meeting some of the ‘doorways’ had been dealt with in detail, and we had made a start on some of the others. New bike sheds were erected to encourage the pupils to cycle to school, and staff led by example with many of them cycling to work. We were heavily involved in the local community. Pupil participation in local projects has already been mentioned, but we also ran an extensive adult education programme and local community groups used the school in the evenings and weekends through the local authority’s letting policy.

We were not part of the Building Schools for the Future initiative, but we were taking steps to conserve energy and to encourage our pupils to be environmentally aware. Using the grounds constructively, switching off lights and having recycling bins were all part of this drive. All departments engaged with the practice of sustainability committed to teaching our youngsters to look after their future world. Schools need to approach this issue in a whole-school way and through the curriculum.