The benefits of an environmental education


We have come a long way in how we address the subject of the environment in schools. It is now a formal part of the curriculum, so students are able to learn about the impacts of climate change as part of their ongoing education.

This is important, as it means the way students learn about the environment in general and climate change in particular form part of the pedagogic experience. These subjects are not ‘add ons’ or ‘nice to haves’ but form part of subject teaching which is tested and evaluated. This helps position environmental issues as serious ones in students’ minds.

As a school, we are committed to educating staff and students about environmental issues and last year established an ‘Eco Council’ as part of this drive. This works alongside the Student Council and influences the decisions that are made on environmental issues within the school.

The Eco Council felt the staff needed the most help and education when it came to the environment! In this way, the students are taking leadership on environmental issues which means they are more engaged and better able to influence their peers.

When we were asked by Waste Watch to take part in a low carbon project, I felt this was a fantastic opportunity for the school to extend the work we were already doing in this area.  It was also encouraging that we were part of a pilot project, as this meant we were able to feed into the development of the idea for other schools.

The project was designed to show students how they could reduce energy use at home. Tesco, which funded the pilot, provided pupils with Smart Monitors to help measure their home energy use. We included the project as part of our Science lessons for the Autumn term and Waste Watch came in every two weeks to take lessons and we followed up on the learning in intervening lessons. We kicked off the project with an assembly, and, with three of the classes in Year 8, this was followed up by hands-on workshops.

This was a real eye opener for our students. Obviously they learn about the environment, including climate change and recycling in the lessons, but this helped to make it real for them. When they see how much energy they are wasting, how much this costs and then can link it to the impact on the planet the message does finally hit home. The work that we did in class to plan actions to reduce their environmental impact at home has had a lasting effect.

 Two months later the students are still talking about this project. One very simple, but impactful message was around turning off the lights. Even though this is such a basic thing to do, it hadn’t occurred to most of them to link this with the energy they were using and the subsequent environmental impact. Many said that they always used to leave lights on at home and now they make a point of always switching them off when they leave a room.

In fact, we seem to have been causing a bit of a stir as one girl became so evangelical about switching off the lights that she came to do it automatically. One day she arrived back at the house in the dark to discover all the lights shining and saw no good reason for them to be on. She switched them off and her poor father who was trying to get to the bathroom and almost fell down the stairs!

The realisation of how much energy costs, as well as the damage that not conserving energy has on the environment, had a powerful impact. All the students were shocked by the amount of money that was wasted. The students also had the chance to come up with creative ideas to reduce their energy usage, and map how those ideas worked.

I would certainly recommend other schools to get involved in this project. It was a perfect fit for the curriculum and really helped bring the subject to life. Waste Watch were incredibly supportive, so far from being complicated or difficult it was one of the easiest projects that I have been involved in. It was really appropriate for our Year 8 students as it was so well suited to their age and stage.

We are now planning what we will do during Climate Week (21st-27th March), and have joined many other schools in signing up for the Climate Week Schools Challenge, which will be Britain's biggest live environmental competition. Taking on board the students’ desire to ‘educate’ their teachers, we will make the staff the target of a ‘power down’ during the week, with short bursts of activity they can take part in. We’re planning different actions for different days including a day without photocopying, and another where staff are asked not to use Powerpoint Presentations or projection in lessons to help save energy. The aim will be to show students that staff are on board and taking action on climate change. This will be very powerful in showing them that their actions and involvement are making a difference.

Waste Watch’s School Programme

Waste Watch were asked by Tesco to develop a project which helped raise awareness as well as supporting people to save energy in the home, as part of the company’s community programme.

All of the schools involved in the pilot already had environmental activities taking place so this programme fitted in well with those, and with the curriculum. Most of the schools used the programme as part of the geography lessons, covering the topic of sustainability.

The programme aims to increase knowledge and understanding of climate change, how it relates to our lifestyles and the actions that can be taken at school and at home to reduce carbon emissions. It wants to encourage students and their families to take action to cut their own carbon footprints.

The project kicks off with a year group assembly outlining all of the aims of the project. This is followed by three workshops, which include two different homework assignments.

The first workshop covers ‘Measuring Your Baseline’ which covers electricity use in the home and its impact. It explains which types of appliances use the most energy. Students are then told about a Smart Monitor, how it can save energy, and how to use it to establish a baseline for electricity use, carbon emissions and cost for a week. For homework, they are given a Smart Monitor to take home and measure their electricity use. They are asked to create a home map of energy using appliances and how often they are used.

The second workshop is ‘What are the results and how can we improve’? This includes sharing of all the baseline data and then a discussion about why different people and homes might use different amounts of energy. This workshop also includes energy efficient products and behaviour such as low energy lightbulbs and washing clothes at 30C. It includes an introduction to UK carbon reduction targets and legislation.

The final part of the lesson involves the creation of a personal action plan for improvement in their own home. As homework, the students are asked to put this into practice and use the Smart Monitor to measure their energy use for another seven days.

The final workshop looks at all the data gathered so far, celebrates the success of reduced emissions but also looks at why there may not have been changes. It includes an investigation of further energy saving, looking at what might be achieved across a whole year. As a final step, students are asked to write a ‘household carbon pledge’ naming three things students would continue to do once the programme has finished.

Nicola Brown from Waste Watch said that the programme had a big impact on all of the students who took part. She said they were ‘wowed’ and ‘shocked’ by how much energy they used and the impact of that on the environment. Schools can contact Waste Watch if they are interested in finding out more.

The Climate Week Challenge is open to any school in any part of the UK. The Challenge is part of Climate Week, for which Tesco is the Headline Partner. It will be Britain's biggest ever live environmental competition, and thousands of schools are expected to participate. The exact task will remain secret until the first day of Climate Week - 21 March -  and schools will have one day to respond, before submitting their ideas to be judged by a special panel of experts. Businesses are also being invited to take part so we can see who will come up with the best solution to the problem. This is a challenge that pits Classroom against Boardroom. Any schools who think they are up for this challenge should visit www. and sign up.

Lorette Ashwell, School Co-Ordinator, Holy Cross School, New Malden, Surrey.

February 2011

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