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Why green fingers are first class

Phil Revell explains the rewards of recycling

Each year, English schools spend pound;70 million on water and pound;400 million on heat and light. Schools account for 25 per cent of public sector energy costs, and the least energy efficient schools are using three times as much energy per pupil as the best.

"The average school would save around pound;20 per pupil per year through implementing energy efficiency measures," says Anne Evans, chief executive of Heads, Teachers and Industry (HTI).

HTI works with the Government to promote sustainability in schools and has just launched a website that should allow schools to evaluate, monitor and improve their environmental performance. "Think Leadership" allows heads to carry out a "green audit". Using asset management information from every school in England, the website's audit tools enable heads to measure their school's environmental impact. "If schools lead on these issues," says Stan Terry, HTI's environmental leadership consultant, "they can save money and enrich the curriculum. It's a double benefit."

That's certainly true at Copp primary school. Copp - Great Eccleston Copp Church of England school - is a rural primary on the Fylde, between Blackpool and the M6. Its green agenda is led by deputy head Lynn Holloway, who has been at the school for 29 years. "It started more than 20 years ago," she says. "We collected cans, made pound;5 and bought a plant container."

Since then, the school has become a hive of green activity. You name it, Copp recycles it; it was one of the first schools to gain the European green flag eco award, in 1996. The award, run in the UK by the Tidy Britain group, is given only to organisations that meet stringent criteria. "I looked at what you had to do and thought, 'We are doing all of that already'," says Ms Holloway. In 1998, the school won the NatWest Business Environmental Achievement Reporting Award, and a year later another prize came with the North West Region Powersavers Award. This year, its big project is the renewal bid for the school's eco status.

People who think eco status involves little more than litter collecting and a recycle bin should take a look at this bid, which can be seen on the school's prize-winning website.

Ofsted visited earlier this year and demonstrated that investment in the green agenda has real curriculum benefits. "The environmental work has a tremendous impact on pupils' personal development and is helping them gain social skills and a strong sense of citizenship," said the inspectors.

Ms Holloway is pleased that the curriculum has caught up with Copp's practice. "We had to justify this before," she says. "But since the changes in the curriculum focusing on citizenship and the environment, it's just slotted in."

There's a cost in teacher time, however: Ms Holloway has to juggle her schedule to make sure everything gets done. But there have also been clear savings: some of the recycled materials are sold - old clothes net pound;30 a tonne - and good energy advice saved the school pound;3,000.

Further south in Birmingham is another school entitled to fly the green flag. Great Barr has just over 2,400 students, and has been an eco school for nearly four years. Like Copp, it has green flag status. Its current project is to "green up the site" with trees. There's an active recycling programme, light sensors for rooms, and a plan to use rainwater for radiators. The list goes on. If possible, the recycling benefits charitable causes: mobile phones go to Oxfam and printer cartridges to the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Both schools acknowledge that the highest hurdles are at the beginning, when hard-pressed teachers spend hours trying to chase information and make the case for change. Which is where the new website could save time for school leaders keen to follow their example. "Eco schools can make significant savings," says Mr Terry. "At the moment, too many schools are letting money slip through their fingers simply because they haven't considered the issues involved."

Think Leadership: Eco Schools website: Copp school: Oxfam's mobile phone recycling scheme: Find out how old printer cartridges can help the RNIB at

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