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Green fingers

From playground turbine to solar powered school, these pupils are saving the Earth, reports Elaine Williams. Children at Cassop primary school have long been leading citizens for environmental improvement.

Cassop sits between two former pit villages in County Durham - Cassop and Quarrington Hill - but where there were once old spoil heaps and quarries, there are now nature reserves, thanks partly to pupils making presentations before MPs, House of Commons' select committees and their local council on issues of sustainability.

Now a wind turbine sits in the school field, solar panels are on the roof, the school is heated with recycled wood pellets, and a team of pupils has become the fiercest of sustainability watchdogs, checking the school's energy efficiency and welcoming Cassop's many visitors from home and abroad.

So when Cassop became involved in Cultural Hubs, a pilot project set up by Arts Council England and the Museum, Library and Archives Council, to establish partnerships between schools and art providers in three regions, it seemed obvious to create a project on sustainability.

The children wanted to research the effect of climate change on Antarctica and Years 5 and 6 worked for two terms with theatrical practitioner Jane Arnfield putting together a lecture on the subject. Pupils researched the effects of global warming, gathering statistics on melting ice and its impact on wildlife.

After visiting Newcastle upon Tyne's Literary and Philosophical Society, with its archive material of heroic exploration, they created a ghostly narrative in which the spirit of Ernest Shackleton returned to ask what was going on in the world and happening to Antarctica. Pupils formed a ghostly chorus, reading out their poems on seven deadly sins related to climate change - for example, the effect on the environment of our craving for luxury - followed by their poems on seven virtues.

In the end the pupils gave their Annual Theatrical Lecture in the London theatre of the Royal Geographical Society, taking questions from an audience of other schoolchildren. Jill Jackson, their teacher, says: "The children already knew a lot about sustainability, but they became more and more ambitious about this project as it went along. Parents were amazed at their knowledge and skill in presenting their arguments."

The school was a winner in the sustainable schools category in the Teaching Awards announced on Sunday. This academic year, Cassop intends to create a film-based lecture which children will make about the effect of climate change on Kenya. Cassop has links with a school in Pokot, an arid, nomadic area suffering from drought and facing famine due to abnormally high temperatures over the past few years.

For more info visit Cassop's website:

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