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Team Green

Stephen Green, from Ringmer Community College and Sixth Form, discusses effect of academy's devolution of sustainability measures

Posted by Hannah Oakman | April 24, 2015 | Sustainability

How many of us have been to a primary school and been impressed with the nature area, bug house, pond or eco warriors? The answer is, I suspect, most of us. So at what stage do those nice, caring children metamorphose into litter-dropping, graffiti-spraying teenagers? What changes in the education system to erase that care and responsibility?

As well as providing academic ability, education should furnish young people with an insight into world issues, such as the impact of climate change and fuel security. Even those who are uninspired by the threat of climate change must accept that we, as a civilisation, cannot simply go on using things as if there are limitless supplies.

In the face of such huge issues, it is a virtual impossibility for an individual to see how they can influence them – so the alternative is to do nothing. When questioned, the majority of 11–16-year-olds say the environment is of concern to them, but they have absolutely no idea what to do about it. This is probably exactly the same answer the majority of adults would give.

In primary school we believe, without question, what we are told and as such think that by recycling bottle tops we will save the planet – or at least a polar bear. As we get older we learn to question but soon realise the limited effect our actions have globally. But what about if we accept that our actions are limited on a global scale, but immense on a personal level? We all have control over the environment we’re in. We can all turn off lights, turn down the heating and save litter for bins. How about if we gave our students that right? Why is it only the teacher who is allowed to touch the light switch, close a window, or turn down a radiator? Who keeps the heating on over the Christmas holidays when only a few teachers remain? Who decides what temperature classrooms and corridors should be heated to? I suspect in most schools the answer is nobody – in pure financial terms this has got to stop.

At Ringmer we have an agreed temperature for classrooms of 19–20°C. Despite our old heating system we manage our temperature by shutting down radiators and balancing boiler loads. Students, as well as staff, can turn things off and are positively encouraged to do so. Once everyone is in the classrooms, corridor lights are turned off and external doors firmly closed. During holiday periods portable heating is supplied to offices and hundreds of pounds are saved. The cost of energy consumption is shared with students so that they know it is our second-largest budget. The expectation is that our usage will fall. Although we have various renewable energy sources on site this is simply about good management principles.

We pass on the responsibility of resource usage, with each department and student being given a paper allocation and the expectation that they will stay within it. This policy is further extended to computer usage, which results in staff being charged for leaving a machine on overnight and students receiving a detention for the same negligence.

Has this been popular? Over a quarter of the students take an active part in the project and up to 60 per cent of our new Year 7s join every year. We have reduced our waste by 50 per cent and our energy consumption by around 20 per cent. The College is tidy with very little damage of any kind and there is evidence that this culture follows the students home.

Our work has been recognised by Ashden Awards, The Energy Institute and even HRH Prince of Wales.

We hope that all of our students leave having some insight into making a difference to ‘Their Own Environment’ and that through our teaching and the experience of being with us they might have some knowledge to help them understand the complex world that awaits.

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