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Green shoots nipped in bud

Eco-friendly schools projects feel brunt of cash cuts. Stephen Lucas and Phil Revell report

A scheme which kick-started thousands of environmental programmes in schools is in jeopardy because of funding cuts.

The Eco-Schools programme, which in 10 years has helped 5,000 schools launch green projects, is to lose its annual pound;330,000 government grant in August.

The Hope school, in Wigan, which caters for pupils aged two to 19 with severe learning difficulties is one of the schools the programme helped.

It is putting the finishing touches to a pound;3,000 sensory garden for its blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound pupils which includes cork wheelchair ramps, huge colourful pots and boards with prickly and smooth surfaces.

Sandra Jennings, head of the secondary department said: "It will be a great pity if this funding stops. Projects like our garden are important. The parents of our wheelchair-bound children can't always take them out to the park."

Schools which sign up to the Eco-Schools programme get advice on how to become environmentally friendly, and are awarded a green flag if their school is judged sufficiently green. More than 1,000 schools across Britain are taking part in the scheme this year.

At Canon Burrows Church of England primary and nursery unit, in Ashton-under-Lyne, children act as energy monitors checking taps are not left running and lights are switched off.

Alan Clark, eco co-ordinator at the school, said: "This programme has given us a real boost. Having a green flag to aim for is a real boost. The work we do will lose some of its importance because there's no award at the end.

It makes it look like the Government doesn't really want schools to be sustainable places."

Funding for the scheme comes from the landfill tax credit scheme, which taxes businesses that use landfill sites. In April 2002 it was announced that the money available from the scheme would be reduced.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Some types of educational projects are eligible for funding under the reformed scheme."

A pot of transitional funds was made available last May so projects were not left high and dry.

Malcolm Cooper, the chief executive of Entrust, which regulates how the tax credit is spent, said: "Organisations were given plenty of notice that the funding would stop, so they'd have time to find alternative funds."

A Treasury spokeswoman said: "(Education Secretary) Charles Clarke's sustainable development action plan, which he announced in September 2003, will ensure that children's active involvement in green issues continues in a similar way to how it did under the eco-schools programme."

But Sue Nelson, assistant chief executive of EnCams, the campaigning group which runs eco-schools said: " It is really hard to find pound;330,000 year on year funding. Maybe we'd be eligible for funding if we re-shaped Eco-Schools, but we are successful as we are. I am looking for funding everywhere I can, but at the moment Eco-Schools is definitely under threat.

"Schools don't have time to apply for DfES funding under its sustainable development plan. Under the Eco-Schools programme we could do that for them."

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