Dreams with more than an outside chance of coming true

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Bill Lucas finds plenty in the new Orders to keep environmental educators happy, while Elaine Williams visits a school with ambitious plans for its landscape. Since the pit closed, Royston Comprehensive has be- come Royston's largest single employer. It also occupies the largest area in the very centre of this village, sandwiched between Wakefield and Barnsley.

But having a site that's unprepossessing in the best of weather and dismal in the worst, doesn't square with the school's focal position. Believing that it could be vastly improved, staff and pupils have together been working on some radical and imaginative plans. Within the next five years Royston's site is set to enhance the curriculum in ways that most secondary schools haven't even dreamed of.

A pitted tarmac playground used occasionally by joyriders, and boggy, featureless playing fields do not make an inspiring environment for young people. Royston's headteacher, Barry Hilditch, believes the physical surroundings have long been at odds with the ethos of the school and the enthusiastic work going on inside. Moreover, he believes that the village community would benefit from an improvement in the school's landscape.

"This is basically a happy and contented school," he says, "but we are let down by our immediate environment. Happily, there has been a low level of vandalism in recent years, but since the school is the village's biggest public resource, we feel we must do something to improve appearances."

Until recently, anyone approaching the main entrance faced a bleak prospect - a scruffy bank of patchy grass worn thin by neglect. Now that bank has been planted with 500 mixed shrubs and trees, the result of some astute fund-raising by staff and the hard physical labour of pupils.

This is the beginning of ambitious plans which include extensive planting to create an activity trail; a mining heritage trail; a kitchen garden; a butterfly garden; a sculpture and botany yard; a picnic area; an outdoor classroom; a re-laying of the playground, with a compass set into the middle, and planters, seating areas and a separate car park to discourage those joyriders.

Initially, pupils were asked about their ideas for the site - ideas which were firmed up into plans by a former Royston teacher. These were then laid out professionally by a team of landscape architects with funds from Barnsley LEA's planning department. Despite the prospect of a shrinking school budget, Barry Hilditch and his staff have set themselves five years to turn a substantial part of the plan into a reality.

Ken Dunn, the school's head of geography, is one of the driving forces. His idea to turn one of the site's quadrangles into an alternative technology courtyard has recently earned the school a Pounds 1,300 grant from Learning through Landscapes, the school grounds charity (see above). Royston and Aberdare boys commprehensive in Wales were the only two secondary schools among 16 prize-winners.

He proposes a micro-river system, which would include a pond and a meander, with water being circulated by solar panels, a wind turbine and a mini hydroelectric system. "As part of the national curriculum, students are required to study landscape processes and this would be ideal. They would be able to see how debris is transported down a river and how the river moves faster on the outside than the inside."

Jackie Krachai, a technology teacher at the school, has enlisted the help of Sheffield University's engineering department to design the micro-river system. The university's engineering undergraduates will design the system as part of their degree and will work with pupils and staff in building it.

She has also requested that female engineering students are included in the project - one way in which prejudices about gender might be tackled. "For many of our pupils it will be the first time they have ever had contact with a university student, and through this project we would like to de-mystify higher education. We want this environmental project to have an effect in all aspects of school life."

Apart from teaching technology, Jackie Krachai has also been appointed the school's "continous improvement manager" and spends one day a week looking at pupil motivation and raising funds and gaining resources for the school from local industry and agencies. Presently she is trying to gain sponsorship for recreating the playground.

Ken Dunn has also proposed installing a satellite meteorological system and painting the quadrangle walls with murals of the four seasons. Meanwhile he has enlisted groups of willing pupil-helpers to carry out the landscaping programme. The planting of the 500 trees and bushes at the main entrance was done in school time by pupils taken out of lessons. "If we had only planted a few trees they would probably have been vandalised overnight. But because this planting has made such an impact, it is more likely to survive."

Moreover, he had deliberately chosen some likely culprits to take part. "We had to rotivate frozen ground by hand and it was really hard work. After planting a tree one of the lads, a ruffian, said 'if anybody snaps this one off I'll duff 'em over'. I think if we provide pupils with a more pleasant environment they will behave better. If you treat them like dirt, that's what you get back."

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