Pioneer of a greener classroom

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Britain's first "green" school is a dream that has become reality for Liza Ireland, its founder and sole teacher. The independent primary school opened in September in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and has eight full-time and three part-time pupils aged between four and 10.

One of the school's main aims is to provide a comprehensive education based on environmental sustainability. The key to this is integration of subjects, an approach which involves themed learning including a number of disciplines under the same topic.

Ms Ireland says: "If you have trained just as a scientist because you did not like language or humanities, you may not appreciate the environmental problems. You have to be able to bring in the historical, geographical and linguistic perspectives as well."

Her own education in Canada followed traditional lines. She has a degree from Waterloo University in environmental studies (geography) and a master's degree in education from New Brunswick University, where she won an award as top student teacher. Her practical experience includes lecturing at a teacher training college in Bhutan in the Himalayas and as a supply teacher in Scotland.

As a student, she worked in outdoor education centres throughout Canada. "Students would come for one week and they would do all their curriculum out of doors, so I would take them skiing, or snow-shoeing or canoeing and we would do a language lesson or a maths lessor or a science lesson. I realised, wow, this is the way to learn."

But "after one week they got on a bus and waved goodbye. And I thought, oh I just reached that child and he is going back to a classroom where he is not happy, not working well. So I knew I needed to do this all year round."

Ms Ireland hoped to have a PhD under her belt before starting the school, but had to speed up her plan. "My daughter was in the state system and my son was about to start in it. My daughter's creativity was falling off completely. Learning was no longer exciting, it was a chore. I thought that was a shame, " she says.

She had considered educating the children at home, but believes many subjects are better taught in social situations. After several public meetings, she found a number of families who felt the same way. Parents are heavily involved in making the school succeed, organising provision of everything from meals and cookery lessons to low-cost premises and furniture.

Fees of Pounds 50 a term cover a third of the cost. The rest will come from fund-raising and grants. There are hopes of a specially designed, ecologically sound school building that would be of benefit to local community groups.

And, while Ms Ireland does not yet have a salary, she says of the small, child-centred school: "It's great, a dream come true. I have been working towards this all my professional life."

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