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Less power to a united elbow

A whole-school approach to energy conservation and the use of energy efficiency as a teaching resource are the two main planks of a new Government guide to best practice, Introduction to Energy Efficiency in Schools.

Part of a campaign aimed at heads and governors, the free guide and audio cassette is produced by the Department of the Environment's energy efficiency office. It is based on a research project in schools including Cannons High, Edgeware, Hawtonville Junior in Nottinghamshire, Monks Park secondary in Bristol and Looe Community School in Cornwall.

The year-long project was run by the Government's Building Research Energy Conservation Unit. It has been reviewed by more than a dozen other schools.

Project manager Matt Dickinson says: "We wanted to produce a document that would reflect the concerns of teachers. It is jargon-free and is something schools can dip in and out of."

The whole-school approach means setting up a team that brings together different interests and expertise, from the head and caretaker through to staff, pupils, parents and governors. The team should be led by an energy co-ordinator (not necessarily the head) with time to oversee the resulting energy policy and action plan.

Matt Dickinson says: "A whole-school approach is the only way of carrying forward energy saving in the long term. It is as much a financial opportunity as an educational opportunity, and it needs someone like the head to captain the cause."

While the head or deputy can take the lead, setting long-term aims and communicating progress via assemblies and newsletters, other individuals have a definite part to play. The bursar or admin officer can make fuel bills and records of fuel consumption available and simplify figures. Governors can add specialist expertise and sanction investment plans and the caretaker can ensure hot water and heating systems are maintained to maximum efficiency and identify heat loss or energy wastage.

But the key role is that of the energy co-ordinator. This responsibility could be taken on by any team member but the end result should be a pulling together of information into an action plan.

BRECSU has produced a step-by-step guide to policy, organisation, education, information collection and analysis, comm-unication and investment in energy efficiency. It gives energy management teams guidance on setting targets, measuring and monitoring.

Energy teams need to familiarising themselves with the building and its services. Where are the meters and the boilers? How is heating controlled and hot water supplied? Is it too hot? Are there any major areas of heat loss? What type of lighting is used and how often are light fittings cleaned? How about energy use in the kitchens? Where are the heating controls and thermostats? Are these adjusted for current out-of-hours school use and holidays? Are there any sub-meters that can help pinpoint where energy is being used? As Matt Dickinson says: "You can't manage what you can't measure." He says meter readings, particularly if taken over a weekend, are a useful way of detecting leaks or equipment left on.

Cost comparisons between schools show wide variations which awareness of conservation could reduce. Local authorities can help by bringing schools together to share best practice. BRECSU recommends comparing consumption on a cost-per-pupil basis. The biggest energy losers are swimming pools but fitting a cover helps.

The BRECSU guide details efficiency measures and grades them according to payback. The longest payback - between five and 10 years - is for zoning the heating system and installing a condensing boiler to recycle waste heat. "Really only worth considering if your existing system needs to be replaced, " says Matt Dickinson.

If major investments are being considered, BRECSU advises working closely with the LEA. While independent schools can negotiate their own energy supply and fuel tariff, most LEAs still buy fuel on behalf of schools in package deals with single energy suppliers. Currently only schools which consume more than 2,500 therms of gas or 100 KW of electricity can negotiate an alternative energy supply on the open market.

But in two years' time the regional energy utilities lose their monopoly. Schools, like domestic users, will be free to find the best deals, though for many the LEA, with its procurement expertise, will have the edge.

Grant-maintained schools' freedom to take investment decisions can be a bonus. Funding Agency for Schools spokesman Philip Townsend says: "All GM schools get a minimum annual capital grant of Pounds 17,000 which they can spend in whatever way they see fit. Our only condition is that whatever they spend it on has to have a shelf life of more than five years so things like double glazing or energy saving improvements would qualify.

"With greater control over capital spending, GM schools have an added incentive for investing in projects that will result in long-term savings. "

* Introduction to Energy Efficiency in Schools is available free from BRECSU, Garston, Watford WD2 7JR

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