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Eco-Schools: Getting sustainable living into the curriculum

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home_image.jpgEco-Schools is such a good idea I'm surprised it hasn't appeared on Hippyshopper before. It's just common sense that if you really want to change the future then you have to approach the generation that's shaping it. Making ecologically sound living part of the curriculum means that thousands of children will take simple eco-friendly measures to be standard practice and use the time-honoured nagging technique to talk their parents and friends round.

The project provides an advisory framework for making schools more sustainable. This stimulates every child's environmental education and reduces the environmental impact of the school itself. It is not, it stresses "about environmental excellence, it is about your school starting to look at how it impacts upon the environment" and the way this can be managed.

Involving students in the process is a key part of this, and having conducted a self-assessment there is an award scheme for schools to show their progress within the community. An external assessment can lead to a coveted Green Flag.

Schools register in the scheme and then follow certain steps. First an Action Team must be set up which includes pupil representatives from a range of age groups as well as teaching staff. Eco-Schools also recommends involving senior management teams, governors, parents, non-teaching staff, caretakers and managers or a representative from the local authority. The Action Team helps conduct an assessment and decide on an Action Plan and Eco Code which must be prominently displayed throughout the school. Then the time for talk is over and the plan must be carried out and monitored.

Topics for taking action that Eco-Schools offers advice on includes litter, transport, healthy living, biodiversity, waste, energy, water and taking a global perspective.

As a former teacher trainee and in the process of working for an educational software company, I visited a school that had already employed similar principles. As far as I know, it was not a registered Eco-School, but it was among one of the best teaching environments I've ever had the pleasure to set foot in.

Abbots Green Community Primary School was newly opened in 2005. Rain water was channelled into the plumbing to flush toilets and so forth, and the children used the water monitors to work on data handling. Every roof was lined with sedum to provide ecologically sound insulation and a habitat for birds and insects, as well as being fitted with solar panels to provide extra energy for the school. Walls were insulated with recycled newspaper and plans were even made to ensure cycle and walking paths were carefully laid around the school to discourage parents from driving.

And that environmental care extended to the well-being of the children. Taking a higher proportion of children with challenging behavioural needs as well as having no specific catchment area, there were special safe areas for children to reflect such as a multisensory "den". The ethical ethos of the school could be found inside and out and embodied in the brilliant management team.

Projects like Eco-Schools are desperately important to ensure more schools like this exist. Give children an atmosphere of respect for the local and global community, and you'll have a wiser, more thoughtful generation of adults. Most schools cannot be planned from the ground up like Abbots Green, but many are literally pouring their resources away, and could be helped to make sustainable living a part of every child's life.

Alexandra Roumbas is Deputy Editor of Shiny Shiny. She knows her job encourages wasteful gadget love, but she does have a conscience, honest.

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