Sustainability in schools

Pupil and staff thrive within a healthy, comfortable, productive place to learn and work, sustainable design can deliver these environments. Improved behaviour of children can have a far reaching impact on the school and the wider community.  Since Newport High School in South Wales was rebuilt in 2009 Year 11 students have enjoyed the schools best ever GCSE results with over 75% of Newport High Year 11 students gained 5 A*-C grades or the vocational equivalent which is almost 25% improvement in just one year.

There is an ever increasing pressure to deliver higher standards of education, to greater numbers of pupils, within tight financial restrictions, whilst providing facilities that will attract pupils.  To tackle such pressure, learning spaces must be designed and used more efficiently and more flexibly, but not be made more complicated.

It is essential that schools are at the forefront of sustainability both in the way that they are used and in their performance. It is through the education system that sustainability can become part of mainstream culture.

The term sustainable design is often used without appreciating its full implication; what it can achieve in terms of performance, the difficulties of implementation and how much it costs. There is a need to improve general understanding and provide the necessary information to help to make decisions that result in the best sustainable option. There is a misconception about what sustainability really means ‘I thought it was all about recycling and saving energy. Now I can understand how the parts fit together and have an impact upon society locally, nationally and globally.

There is a need for a clear, simple way of explaining sustainability to all stakeholders within education including pupils staff, local authorities and elected members so that an informed and consistent approach can be taken. This needs to be simple and clear using terms and descriptions that can be understood by all.

A number of approaches to introduce the concept of sustainability for schools have been developed. Simplicity is key however, a broad range of subjects need to be included.
The WAG Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) toolkit aims is to provide ‘education that will prepare young people for life in the 21st century’ with sustainability and sustainable development at its core. The ESDGC set out five common areas:

  • Commitment and Leadership;
  • Learning and Teaching;
  • School Management;
  • Partnership and Community;
  • Research and Monitoring.

This list illustrates a holistic approach to the incorporation of sustainability into education in Wales. However, the terms provided are complex and are unlikely to be understood by all involved. Seven themes are also included in order to introduce a common understanding of ESDGC:

  • Consumption and Waste;
  • Choice and Decisions;
  • Health;
  • Identify and Culture;
  • Natural Environment;
  • Climate Change;
  • Wealth and Poverty.

These themes are more likely to be used by teachers as they are more specific and likely to be understood by more people. They are based on themes identified by UNESCO as part of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. They are not to be looked at a list of topics but a set of pieces that can be put together in a variety of ways depending on the requirement of school.

The ‘Eight doorways’ approach has been developed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families as part of the Sustainable Schools Strategy uses more clearly defined, comprehensive and understandable headings. The ‘Eight Doorways’ can be used to help schools to initiate or develop sustainable activities through to design and management. The ‘Eight doorways’ cover the areas of:

  1. Food and drink
  2. Energy and water
  3. Travel and traffic
  4. Purchasing and waste
  5. Buildings and grounds
  6. Inclusion and participation
  7. Local well-being
  8. Global dimension

Although the ‘Eight Doorways’ provide a good starting point, subject areas are still very broad with topics such as waste and energy grouped together which should be considered separately.
The British Council for School Environments (BCSE) published a report in 2006 which focused on the process of delivering sustainability in schools, including existing school projects. The report presents the successes and difficulties involved in achieving good performance and uses the following sustainability headings to present its work pointing out areas where sustainability can be considered.

  • Sustainability through briefing;
  • Obtaining a sustainable school;
  • Sustainability through construction;
  • Sustainability in the curriculum;
  • Sustainability through technology;
  • Sustainability and local authorities;
  • Sustainability: energy efficiency;
  • Sustainability through good controls;
  • Sustainability and ICT.

This sample of methods for including sustainability into the school system illustrates the complexities behind the subject whilst demonstrating the need to present information in a simple format to allow for clear understanding.

WLGA - CLILC Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru / Welsh Assembly Government