Carolyn O'Grady reports on a project that is bringing together schools and businesses to protect and revitalise the environment
Thrislington Quarry, near Durham, is a spectacular sight - a vast hole in the ground that stretches almost as far as the eye can see. Owned by Redland Aggregates, it has some of the best deposits of magnesium limestone in the country.
Although it is certainly an interesting spectacle, it must arouse in any observer questions about the environment: will the land be returned to its original state and, if so, how? What kind of chemicals are used in the processing of the magnesium limestone? And what is done to counter the effects of all this industry on the environment?
These are questions that pupils at Ox Close Primary School in Spennymoor, County Durham, have been asking. During the past year the entire school - more than 200 pupils - has visited the Thrislington works. They have watched stone being blasted, and investigated the machinery and materials used in the processing.
"It has increased children's knowledge of local industry and its role in local community issues and in environmental protection," says Jenny Smith, a teacher at the school. Work arising from the visit has included maths, poetry, artwork, technology and geography. An author, poet and artist have visited to the school and a mathematician from a local university spoke on "maths all around us" to parents and teachers, using the quarry as a theme. Science work was also linked to the visit.
The relationship between the school and Redland Aggregates was fostered under Greenlink, a project organised by the environmental charity Groundwork, in partnership with Esso. The project aims to bring together schools and local businesses in schemes investigating environmental issues. In January this year Greenlink celebrated its tenth anniversary.
In the 1995 review of the national curriculum it appeared that environmental education was being abandoned. However, 1996 was a morale-boosting year for the subject. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority published Teaching Environmental Matters through the National Curriculum, a dissection of the aims of environmental education, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Council for Environmental Education brought out Our World; Our Responsibility, which complements the former with clear practical support for schools and teachers.
One particularly strong strand in both these publications is the need for "partnerships" to link environmental education to the real world. "There is a need to integrate what is delivered through the national curriculum with what is delivered elsewhere in town and country in the way of environmental improvement and schemes for sustainability," says Tim Osborn Jones, director of the Council for Environmental Education.
Hands-on experience in local communities to complement work in the classroom is what Groundwork aims to bring to the subject. In the past 17 years it has become the leading UK environmental partnership organisation, active in 120 towns and cities, working with businesses, schools and government departments. Recently, it received Pounds 22 million from the Millennium Commission to regenerate 21 derelict industrial sites throughout the UK by the year 2000. Working with the local community, it will create new resources including parks, wildlife habitats, sports facilities and cycle-ways.
There are now around 123,000 young people engaged in various Groundwork educational and youth projects in the UK. Greenlink, in which over 200 schools and businesses are now involved, is a typical Groundwork schools project.
Others include GreenIT, which encourages young people to play a decisive role in improving the physical environment of local business sites, for example, helpingcreate a landscaped garden from derelict land on a company's site where its staff can relax.
With an emphasis on the use of information technology, pupils identify what needs to be done, produce a design within the constraints of a budget and then argue the case for their idea in a presentation to the company. They might also be involved in maintaining and improving the site. On the way they cover a multitude of attainment targets in geography, design and technology, maths, science and art.
Another Groundwork scheme, the Esso Young Energy Savers (YES) project encourages pupils to do an audit of energy use and to suggest and put into practice ways of reducing energy consumption within their schools.
The National Grid-sponsored Four Seasons programme brings schools to environmental centres. Pupils do pre-visit and follow-up work on the weather, the seasons and energy using the Internet.
Farm Link, which is organised in association with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, puts schools, especially those in the urban suburbs of big cities, in contact with farms to increase pupils' understanding of agriculture.
In all these projects, pupils are encouraged to take what they have learned into their homes to help reduce energy consumption and to spread the gospel on environmental protection.
The latest Groundwork project with schools emphasises this particularly. Called UK Waste Savers, it is sponsored by UK Waste Management Ltd. Schools taking part work with a local landfill site on materials recovery. They might, for example, examine how much waste the school generates and then visit the landfill site, look at different sorts of waste collection and disposal, at the technology used to handle it, and at recycling schemes.
Follow-up work has included producing a waste audit of a school and an activity book on waste for distribution to other schools. Drama productions on the theme have also been staged. This is the sort of work that will hopefully bring environmental issues home to young people.
* Groundwork National Office, 85-87 Cornwall Street, Birmingham B3 3BY. Tel: 0121 236 8565.
Education Show stand G90