Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management

Headteacher Martin Ainsworth shows how it is possible for schools to demonstrate responsibility to our planet by becoming involved in a raft of initiatives to save energy and reduce pollution.

Does anyone really still need convincing that unless we start looking after our planet more proactively and conscientiously than we have to date, we will pay a heavy price? Or that the children we are currently teaching will suffer the consequences of neglect to an even greater extent?

Hopefully, we all now recognise that little things do matter and that we can all make a contribution at home and at work to conserving our energy resources and reducing pollution and waste. The opportunities to get meaningfully involved in eco-activity are abundant and will continue to grow.

So, for schools, the question is surely not ‘why should you become an eco-school?’ but ‘why wouldn’t you?’ We have all already accepted – willingly or not – a raft of personal and social initiatives such as health education and citizenship. At Wellfield Business and Enterprise College, our students have been very interested in our eco-work, have been able to sustain their interest and have initiated and inspired new activity. They don’t suspect that it is being done to them for their own good like some similar knee-jerk centralised initiatives.

Wellfield’s involvement with environmental education has been sustained over many years. It began with a nucleus of enthusiasts drawn from staff, governors, parents and students. We planned and delivered a lively and successful ‘green year’ with high-profile community events including a green fashion show (all the costumes used recyclable materials) and a green conference/fair opened by Professor David Bellamy.

As is often the case with such initiatives, one thing can lead to another and we made valuable contacts over the year and learned a great deal. We developed relationships, which were to become long-standing, with environmentalists at borough and county council level, the local Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Tidy Britain representatives, waste minimisation businesses and energy providers.

Ingredients of success The leadership provided by head, governors and senior managers is important in keeping the profile of this sort of initiative high and checking and refreshing the vision as time passes. The ingenuity and imagination of staff and students in finding curricular and extra-curricular opportunities to involve environmental matters is also vital. Using the ever changing and developing group of partners to gain knowledge, expertise and funding is a third crucial factor in our success.

Contact with Sita Waste Management plc gave us opportunities to develop our own waste management expertise and share it with a group of partner primary schools. Our enthusiastic head of geography led the project supported by our deputy headteacher. Schools use a great deal of paper and often waste it in large amounts. Recycled paper and other stationery is now readily and affordably available.

Students do not take much convincing that reducing waste is a good idea and that recycling is a useful activity. Once on board, they act as eyes, ears and many pairs of hands in growing eco-awareness and activity. In return for building specific work units concerned with conservation into their subject – recycling, green issues etc – departments were able to draw down funding to purchase resources, particularly of the recycled variety. A resource bank of teaching ideas has been developed over the three years and we intend to publish this.

Primary partnerships In each of our partner primary schools a waste minimisation coordinator was identified. They were all given a laptop computer to develop, store and share teaching and learning ideas and resources. Led by our head of art, we instituted a papermaking project for the primary students, teaching them the skills and techniques and providing the equipment required.

A number of waste minimisation days brought primary students into Wellfield to work with our staff and students in different subject areas such as art, science or technology. Sita’s financial support turned the wheels of this innovative project and much of the work will continue in the schools into the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, our deputy headteacher was making plans to bid for funding to allow us to save energy and start to create our own renewable sources in school. Grants were sought and secured to zone the heating controls within classrooms. This allowed staff to manage working temperatures in their area, avoiding the need for windows to be flung open in the middle of winter because that was the only way to control overheating. Extra doors and door closers were introduced into corridor areas to prevent heat loss and reduce energy consumption.

Funding for renewable energy When we discovered that Scottish Power was offering funding to schools to develop forms of renewable energy, we decided to see what would be involved. Following visits to a newly built primary school in Scotland that boasted several renewable energy sources, we were inspired to forge ahead with a similar project. We decided to build a wind turbine on site and to establish solar panels on a redundant building we were seeking to redevelop into an enterprise environment centre, linked to our new status as a specialist business and enterprise college. A room within the centre will be dedicated to environmental matters.

In January 2006, our wind turbine was finished and began producing electricity. The wind turbine is a 6kW model generating on average 9,000kWh of electricity. The energy we generate is credited with renewable obligation certificates (ROCs). Generators who do not themselves produce sufficient ROCs are obliged to buy them from those that do. Suppliers like us can sell their ROCs to the highest bidder. For us, this is a real example of business, enterprise and environmental work combining to produce positive outcomes.

The turbine is 15 metres high and is virtually noiseless. Reactions from our neighbours have been very positive and supportive. Staff and pupils alike are fascinated by it, checking to see how well the turbine is turning as they pass by.

School travel plan Another move in our ongoing eco-activity was to get the school council to develop a school travel plan. They attended a national conference at the University of Leicester on this subject and returned to school informed and enthused. Their plan encourages students to walk or bike to school wherever possible and as part of this programme we have installed new and attractive bike sheds.

As a school located in the centre of the town of Leyland, we also try to maximise the use of public transport. This minimises the use of private cars ferrying children to and from school – saving energy, reducing pollution, lessening traffic congestion and encouraging physical exercise. Students have worked closely with the local council and police to identify potential accident black spots and put in place measures to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Planning ahead This year we have built a new sports hall, funded by the lottery. As an eco-school we were able to sit down at the planning stage with our architect and ensure energy saving features were built in wherever possible. These include strong use of insulation to reduce heat loss, installation of sun pipes bringing natural light into darker areas of the building, movement-sensitive light switches and sophisticated climate-sensitive heating systems.

Any new building or refurbishment takes account of opportunities to conserve energy. We have also developed a garden area in the central quadrangle of the school that encourages and protects flora and fauna and is a living resource for scientists, artists and writers.

We are presently awaiting a decision by the local authority on boiler replacement. Not a subject to set the pulse racing one might think, but for an eco-school a brilliant opportunity again to be in the vanguard of environmental development. Our present coal-fire boilers are coming to the end of their natural life and instead of accepting the usual gas-fired replacements we are pushing to have wood-burning stoves.

Gas prices are going through the roof and this is a trend that will seemingly continue. Wood stoves use wood pellets from renewable sources and provide an alternative that is working well in Europe and in other parts of the UK. By installing these alternative sources of heating we will be maintaining our momentum as a leading eco-school and providing another example of an alternative to the more traditional but less environmentally friendly forms.

Wellfield is working with a number of local businesses, some large, some quite small, but our economic forum meetings demonstrate that there is considerable interest in working with us in our eco-efforts. Businesses want to minimise waste and realise that good PR can result from demonstrating a green conscience. We look forward to working with our local business and local government partners, sharing our learning and being a hub of eco-innovation at the heart of our community.

Getting going So how can schools who want to become more involved in eco-work proceed? First, encourage debate throughout the school community and beyond to allow for those with views and ideas to share them. Agenda items on school council, governors’ meetings, staff and subject meetings will help to ensure quality time is given to seeing what expertise you can tap into.

You will need enthusiasts at all levels and in all corners of the school. Start small, ‘doing the doable’ – eg Year 7 waste minimisers who collect the wastepaper boxes in each classroom and put them in the wastepaper recycling bin provided free by the local council. Contact your local authority and speak to their environmental people – what are they doing? Can you help?

Look out for funded initiatives. Often energy providers are leaders in this area. Scottish Power proved to be a great company to work with. Talk to national organisations who are often really keen to work with young people. Talk to eco-schools in your area, or talk to us. We don’t know all the answers but we do have the benefit of being on a learning journey that has been exciting, positive and has touched virtually every member of our school community. Eco-education is infectious and once you start you won’t want to stop.

Contact: [email protected]

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Apr 2006

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