Sustainability isn't just a buzzword, says Helen Fraser
“Sustainability – taking what we need to live now, without jeopardising the potential for people in the future to meet their needs.”
There is a wealth of evidence to support the notion that a healthy school environment raises standards, increases motivation, improves behaviour and enhances young people’s wellbeing. Research by Ofsted found that in the most successful schools sustainability was an integral part of a well-planned curriculum alongside special events and activities.
Within the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) network of 24 schools and two academies, sustainability is certainly more than a buzzword. Rather than impose a set of values on students without any context, our schools go to great lengths to promote sustainability as a concept that benefits everyone – from manufacturers and retailers to individual consumers – while providing experiences that bring often complex ideas to life in a tangible and accessible way.
The physical and psychological benefits of walking or cycling to school, eating more healthily and spending time outdoors are clear to see, particularly when they become part of a young person’s daily routine. Protecting resources such as energy and water can also save schools significant sums, while the application of scientific processes to real-life scenarios can enhance lessons for students of all ages.
In 2015, through a partnership with School Energy Efficiency (SEE) and SASIE Ltd, one of the UK’s leading installers and trainers of renewable energy, 100 of our year 12 students had the opportunity to take part in a two-week sustainability trip to Wildpoldsried in southern Bavaria. During their excursion, they visited Energiewende, an innovative renewable energy generation project, where 600 percent of the annual electricity demand is generated through renewable technologies.
Students were given a tour of biogas plants, wind turbines, a district heating system and biomass and combined heat and power plants. Back in the UK, their interest piqued by what they had seen in Germany, students initiated a variety of campaigns to raise awareness of the human impact on the environment. The trip succeeded not only in broadening their horizons but raising awareness of the many opportunities available within the fast-moving and constantly evolving sustainability sector. Another trip will take place this month.
At Brighton and Hove High Junior School, students have made huge efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and recently took part in a campaign to help improve road safety and reduce road traffic congestion. A points system was initiated for journeys to school, with girls getting three points for walking all the way, two for cycling or ‘scooting’ and one point for park and stride/car share. The school set a target of 3,500 points by the end of term and classes were actively encouraged to compete with each other.
In October 2015, Bromley High School received an Eco-Schools’ Green Flag Award, reflecting the commitment of staff and students to making sustainability an integral part of school life. Good habits learned in school are taken back home and into the community, bringing long-term benefits and encouraging students to take responsibility for their actions.
Sustainability as a standalone subject isn’t on the syllabus, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a well-rounded education. Thinking about the bigger picture can be as simple as stepping outside the classroom to see how theories work in practice, whether that’s science, maths or geography.
Small steps can have a big impact and it’s up to us, as educators, to ensure that impact is positive and always with an eye on the future.
Helen Fraser is chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust W: www.gdst.net