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Case study: Hummersknott school, Darlington

When I became citizenship co-ordinator in September 2003, the school was in decline as regards litter. We had received complaints about pupils dropping litter in the streets and in the nearby shopping complex, and Darlington council was about to name and shame the school. At the same time, a group of students complained to me about the state of the school grounds.

It was time to tackle the problem. The first thing we did was bring together the school council reps, who arranged for a survey of the school to identify litter hotspots. These turned out to be near the tuck shop, dining room and in two copses of trees where pupils congregated. We invested pound;1,000 in new bins, which were strategically placed where the survey had highlighted a need.

The school council also went to the shops to ask owners what they saw as the root of the problem, which turned out to be not only pupils dropping litter, but a lack of waste bins in the shopping complex and on the route from school. Bins that were in place were not emptied often enough, resulting in overspill of litter and food waste.

We asked the council, through the community services department, to partner our fight against litter. They helped us with posters, which we put up round school and at the shops. They provided extra litter bins between the school and the shopping complex and they agreed to empty the bins more frequently. They also provided materials for litter-picking safety: rubber gloves, overgloves, pick-up sticks and fluorescent jackets. Now our lower-school forms take it in turns to do a week's litter picking. The environment has been transformed. When we changed our school day we had to move litter picking from afternoon registration time to morning registration. We employed an extra caretaker, part of whose duty is to help keep on top of the litter that accumulates after lunch.

We've been lucky in our partnership with the council, but the key has been to change the pupils' attitude towards litter and the environment. Litter picking used to be a punishment. Now we emphasise the positive side of it, and they see it as helping the environment and the local community. We also stressed the health and safety hazards of having litter around school. I did a series of themed assemblies about the problem and the possibilities of litter causing disease and encouraging rats.

We're proud to have been awarded a Darlington council environment award for our success in tackling litter and are about to enter for the BT Awards. We have also won a Healthy Schools award for increasing pupil participation; we recently appointed two pupil governors to put forward pupil views on improving the school, and are also setting up a schools council website, specifically to address pupil issues. Whether or not we are successful in these innovations will not stop the ongoing process of making the local environment an important issue with pupils. We hope this will raise awareness of global environmental issues as well as concern for the local community.

Roger Sharpe is head of history and citizenship co-ordinator at Hummersknott school and language college, Darlington

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