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Pupils make staff go green

Children take the lead on environmental issues at school.

Michael Shaw reports.

When a secondary school hired a catering firm offering healthy meals, the headteacher expected students to be impressed.

Instead pupils were appalled for environmental reasons. They complained that the company created too much waste and needed to rethink its use of foil containers and plastic cutlery.

After the school council informed the head of their concerns, he was forced to negotiate a change of packaging policy with the company.

This tale of a school's campaign to improve the environment was one of several revealed in a report by inspectors this week.

The Office for Standards in Education examined the work of 26 unnamed schools to see how they provided good education for sustainable development (ESD).

This cross-curricular topic has been a compulsory part of the national curriculum since 2000. The Department for Education and Skills says teachers must help pupils "develop their knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way that we do things that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future".

Inspectors found that pupils often took the lead in making their schools more environmentally-friendly and spotted issues that teachers had not noticed.

"In one school, pupils looked beyond the obvious recycling of paper and cans and concluded that they should also collect ink cartridges," the inspectors said.

At another school, pupils measured energy-use around the buildings and found that electricity and heating were being wasted. They organised an energy efficiency campaign and saved the school pound;200 during the year.

Ofsted concluded that ESD had been best at schools where pupils were encouraged to initiate changes and noted that it had been linked to drops in vandalism.

However, the inspectors said that only a minority of the schools gave their students a wide understanding of the need for sustainable change and few had fostered international links.

At Farnborough Grange nursery and infants school in Hampshire, ESD has been central to the curriculum for 12 years.

In maths, for example, the children count flowers in the garden and then plant seeds to learn about the cycle of nature.

Every class has a vegetable patch, and if there is a glut of a particular vegetable it is used for the school dinners.

Maggie Bonfield, the head, said that pupils in the "energy team" were constantly reminding staff to close doors and switch off lights.

"All the children learn with tomorrow in mind," she said. "Parents come in and tell us that their children won't let them throw anything away."

"Taking the first step forward - towards an education for sustainable development: good practice in primary and secondary schools" is at www.ofsted.gov.uk

How to be eco-friendly

* Appoint a pair of eco-monitors for each class to ensure that doors are shut and lights switched off after lessons.

* Set up links over the internet with schools in other countries so pupils can compare how much waste they produce.

* Appoint a teacher to co-ordinate education for sustainable development throughout the curriculum and make the topic a part of staff development programmes.

* Get help from the local authority's experts on sustainability issues and from non-government organisations, who may be able to provide funding for schemes.

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