Teachers and pupils have limited knowledge of the Government's sustainability plans for all schools, according to Ofsted inspectors.
Teaching sustainabilty tends to be inconsistent and unco-ordinated. Many pupils' only knowledge of recycling comes from home, and staff are unenthusiastic about Fairtrade initiatives.
While lessons on sustainability are usually good or outstanding, most schools only address the issue during extra-curricular activities or one- off events. It is rarely a regular part of the curriculum.
The inspectors said: "Its impact tended to be short-lived and limited to small groups of pupils."
Where lessons are offered, inspectors said, "The lack of a co-ordinated, whole-school approach and insufficient opportunities for pupils to reinforce and develop what they had learned reduced the impact." Most pupils are aware of recycling but few have knowledge of how to minimise or reuse waste.
The Government wants all schools to be sustainable - and efficient - by 2020. It covers saving on energy and water, promoting well-being, improving food and drink, and helping local communities to become safer, greener and healthier.
The inspectors said primary schools are more effective than secondaries at tackling sustainability. Many use healthy eating as a cross-curricular classroom topic, involving pupils in growing their own food and making school catering choices. Whitehouse Common Primary in Birmingham was one school visited by inspectors. It offers many activities, designed to teach sustainability: pupils collect and recycle all school paper and ink cartridges. And children from reception through to Year 3 grow herbs and vegetables.
Anita Hawksworth, environmental learning assistant, said: "If, when you're little, you're encouraged not to waste, it sets an attitude and a concern for your environment."
Ofsted recommended that more funding and staff training should be offered to ensure that the curriculum reflects sustainability.
But Ty Goddard, of the British Council for School Environments, believes Ofsted should not expect too much too soon. "It's not just about bunging a windmill on the roof and saying, `Now we're a green school'," he said. "We need to make teachers and pupils see sustainability as a big issue in our lives and our futures, not just another hurdle."
Schools and sustainability: a climate for change? www.ofsted.gov.uk
Sustainability debate, page 8.