Doing exciting environmental projects is all very well when plenty of funding and support is available. But it becomes trickier in times of local cutbacks.
Schools in Nottinghamshire had developed a strong reputation for collaborating on sustainability projects. However, all their progress looked at risk of being undone when the county council decided last year that it had to withdraw its centralised support for their "eco" work.
Brian Owens, head of Edwalton School, a primary in Nottingham, was concerned that no one would fill the gap created by the decision, leaving schools without support.
Edwalton set up what it called an Eco Hub, a partnership to coordinate local support for schools that wanted to develop their environmental work. The primary school hired the local authority's sustainability adviser as a full-time class teacher and hub coordinator and persuaded 33 other schools to join the network.
Edwalton already had an impressive track record in sustainability, making the most of its own wood, farm, allotment, garden and polytunnel. More than three-quarters of its pupils are actively involved in its environmental work, and Ofsted has praised how the school's "outstanding provision for sustainability" has led pupils to develop a "deep understanding of the world in which they live".
The Eco Hub has allowed Nottinghamshire schools to share their most successful schemes, with Edwalton providing many of the projects. Eight other schools have followed Edwalton's specific work on reducing carbon emissions, joining with it to form an energy efficiency partnership and trying to emulate its drive to reduce its energy bills by 20 per cent.
"But we learn as much from the other schools in the network as they learn from us," Owens stresses.
Tips from the scheme
"If you see that support you value is going, think about what you may be able to provide to take its place," says Owens.
"Be realistic." Owens says it was important for the schools to recognise that their projects may not be as big as those organised by local authorities.
If you know a local authority staff member you value, consider taking them on.
Evidence that it works?
As well as receiving positive comments from inspectors and other schools, the project already seems to be reducing carbon emissions at Edwalton. More than 75 per cent of its pupils are involved directly in eco work themselves.
The Eco Hub won Edwalton the award for outstanding sustainable school or community partnership scheme at this year's TES Schools Awards. The judges said: "The Eco Hub at Edwalton is a timely and innovative project to promote sustainability, and shows how schools can seize the initiative in the face of local funding cuts instead of going into retreat. Getting schools to work together as a local network is no mean feat, particularly if you are a primary school."
Approach: Setting up an Eco Hub
Leader: Brian Owens, headteacher
Name: Edwalton School
Age range: 4-11
Intake: Above average number of pupils with special educational needs
Ofsted overall rating: Good (2012).