Links in a chain reaction

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
A Welsh primary is showing how to turn a whole-school policy into action for the whole community. Jonathan Croall reports. Gazing around the daisy-spotted grass of the school grounds, 11-year-old Chris Stamper reflects: "I think we're more aware of the environment than our parents are." He may well be right. For the past four terms he and other pupils at Northop Hall Primary School in Clwyd have been heavily involved in an intensive environmental project, which has brought about changes both within the school and in the surrounding village in this north-east corner of Wales.

Various improvements have been made to the school grounds; the children's awareness of matters such as litter and recycling has greatly increased; and even nursery children are becoming conscious of "green" issues. Meanwhile work is going ahead to improve several sites around the village.

"It's a whole-community, not just a whole-school environmental policy, " says headteacher Pamela Broad. "It's obviously had a great impact: adults who have come into the school are astounded at what the children can explain to them."

The spur has come from the school's involvement in the Eco-Schools Project, a national project administered by the Tidy Britain Group to raise pupils' awareness of environmental issues, and encourage action in the community.

Now in its second full year, and part-funded by the Department of the Environment's "Going for Green" initiative, the project began with eight schools, but now embraces 200, split about equally between primary and secondary.

Schools which sign up undertake to review their environmental practice, and produce an action plan and an eco-code. A key part of the process is a "day of action", when ideas are disseminated within the school and beyond. Once schools achieve a certain standard they qualify for a green flag award.

"The schools that have been most successful are the ones that have taken it on wholeheartedly," says Anne Beazley, education manager of the Tidy Britain Group. "It's also been a real motivator in waking up ones that were doing nothing before. But the work must be integrated into the curriculum."

This certainly seems to have happened at Northop Hall. Although it was initially given just one morning a week under the heading of science, by the time the day of action took place last month the project was spilling over into geography, English, maths, IT, and other areas. The work that it has inspired is on display in every classroom: specially created newspapers, pie charts, stories, illustrated accounts of work done in the village, an interactive collage that tests your knowledge of how litter or rubbish can harm animals such as frogs, squirrels and badgers.

The day of action last month included an environmental show, in which the children performed lively and imaginative eco songs, sketches and raps, recited poems, and presented a fashion show, for which they had made all the clothes out of recycled material.

A key element in the Eco-Schools Project - but one that some schools have failed to take up - is the involvement of the children in the planning and implementation of ideas, through their presence on a special eco committee.

At Northop Hall the children have taken on many responsibilities, chairing meetings, writing agendas and minutes, consulting outside experts, seeking sponsorship, all with the minimum of help from staff. "Although we encourage independence, I never thought they'd by able to do so much," Pamela Broad says. "All the planning and doing is theirs."

The work began with a village audit, for which the children identified and photographed sites that could be improved. As a result flowers have been planted in a nearby park, and improvements are being made to the grounds of the church and chapel. After another survey in the village, a paper recycling bank has appeared, with glass and aluminium ones to follow.

Within the school, the children's ideas have focused on the grounds. A new path has made it safer to walk from the car park to the school. A hedge planted around the perimeter hides a chain-link fence and creates a "mini-beast motorway". The small conservation area, which at present is two small ponds and a meadow, is being extended, and new plants and flowers are being put in to encourage the wildlife. The children have also raised money to buy a pondliner. Hanging in the hall is a poster containing ideas for the school's eco-code put forward by the infants, and later refined by the juniors. The final code has four priorities, relating to saving water and electricity, recycling materials, and putting litter in the right place.

Even the four-year-olds in the nursery have done their bit, discussing what should be done with the rubbish left over from their mid-morning break. "It starts at a small and personal level," says Gwyneth Ridler, the deputy head. "But as they get older you can build on ideas from the wider world."

The project's originators believe it fits in with the aims of the Agenda 21 document from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which emphasises the need for environment and development issues to be integrated into education. It is also providing schools with a useful focus at a time when cross-curricular themes such as environmental education no longer have much official support. And it is a model of the type of action that could be taken in response to the Council for Environmental Education's call for schools to develop a whole-school environmental policy.

Next month assessors from the Tidy Britain Group and the Council for Environmental Education will be coming to look at the children's work at Northop Hall. "It's been a terrific success, but it doesn't finish when we get a flag," Pamela Broad says. "After all, we're teaching them for life, not just for now."

* Further information from Anne Beazley, Tidy Britain Group, The Pier, Wigan WN3 4EX. Tel: 01942 824620. See also TES article 9.9.94 on Eco-Schools.

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