Doorways to a sustainable future

13th July 2007 at 01:00
The Government wants schools to become 'green' role models, but Jeremy Sutcliffe finds there is still a long way to go

"masana says no to plastics." To pupils at Crispin secondary school in Street, Somerset, the slogan on their trendy re-usable cotton shopping bags are more than a fashion statement: they sum up what the school is all about.

"Education for sustainable development is something we feel passionate about," says deputy head Frances Thompson. "It's part of our vision and core purpose."

For 20 years now, the leading-edge 11-16 comprehensive has been a pioneer of environmental education. Driven by its "green committee" of teachers and pupils, with its recycling sub-committee and fair trade co-operative, its commitment to sustainable living is everywhere you look.

Not long ago, pupils from its link school in Kenya were on hand for the opening of the Masana building, a new block of four classrooms made from sustainable timber and recycled aluminium, named in their honour. Next month, the school is planning an extension week when 40 pupils a day will work on environmental projects, including the creation of a clay pizza oven and an allotment.

Crispin has just been named sustainable school of the year for the South West region in the 2007 Teaching Awards. This is the first year that the Platos have included a category to encourage sustainable living and reflects a new government drive to get schools to lead by example, tackling climate change in their own buildings and grounds by cutting carbon emissions and waging war on waste.

Last autumn, the Government set aside pound;375 million to help schools invest in energy and water-saving technology. It is the start of an ambitious but little-known campaign to persuade all schools to become models of sustainability and prepare pupils "for a lifetime of sustainable living" by 2020.

The scheme, set out in a national framework document, identifies eight "doorways" that schools have to pass through by 2020 in order to be considered "sustainable". These include not just energy-saving measures and recycling, but also schemes to encourage healthy eating, inclusion and good citizenship.

To find out how well schools are doing, The TES and education suppliers The Consortium carried out a survey of 300 school leaders. The results show just how far most schools have to go. More than seven out of 10 (72 per cent) had never heard of the initiative.

Four out of five schools (79 per cent) had made no attempt to ascertain their carbon footprint, while fewer than one in three had taken simple green measures such as fitting rainwater collection systems or draft strips on windows and doors. Only a handful had installed solar panels, smart metering or other carbon-reducing gadgets. Disappointingly, only a third of schools relied on natural ventilation, presumably relying on air conditioning, a major offender in the production of greenhouse gases.

While most schools actively encourage pupils to eat healthily, most fail to buy food from local suppliers. One in five, however, grows at least some of its own food, while two-thirds prepare their school dinners on the premises. When it comes to recycling, almost half (41 per cent) don't bother, the survey found.

With transport, too, there is still a long way to go. Just one in three says more than half their pupils walk, cycle or take the bus or train to school. But the real carbon villains are staff. Just 4 per cent of schools reported that the majority of teachers leave their cars at home. Yet more than half provide cycle racks or paths and 61 per cent are developing policies to encourage pupils, parents and staff to walk, cycle, or use public transport.

But there are signs that increasing numbers of schools are taking up the green cause, with 39 per cent saying they have fitted energy- efficient light-bulbs and 44 per cent that they have their own compost heaps to encourage recycling.

Some schools have gone much further, raising money to buy their own wind turbines, for example, or setting up wildlife clubs and organising "walk to school Wednesday" and other schemes to teach pupils about energy conservation and healthy living.

At Crispin, it's all about going that extra mile. Recently, the school has conducted its own travel survey and spoken to the parish council about the need for safe cycle paths. A new ground force sub-committee is working on plans for the school to start growing its own food.

"For us, it's about living sustainably and thinking about the key attitudes and values our pupils need if they are to live sustainably in the future," says Mrs Thompson.

* schoolsframework

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