How sustainable schools are meeting the Every Child Matters agenda

Green is the new black. With political parties vying to see whose ideas can save the planet first, we all know the importance of being green. But perhaps less appreciated is the impact that being green can have on children’s well-being. Those in any doubt of this link need look no further than the Every Child’s Future Matters study by the Sustainable Development Commission, which says that poor environmental quality will inhibit the delivery of the Every Child Matters outcomes.

This makes sense. Take the five outcomes, for example: being healthy staying safe enjoying and achieving making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being. Undoubtedly, all of these are compromised by exposure to pollution, traffic, lack of green space and play areas, less active lifestyles and poor diet.

The study concludes that it may not be possible to deliver the ECM agenda at all unless sustainable development – and in particular the environment – becomes a leading consideration. As one local authority participant to the study said: “We should not so much be considering what sustainable development could contribute to ECM as what it must contribute in order that the outcomes of ECM are themselves achievable.”

Clearly there are more factors at work in children’s well-being than first meet the eye. Consequently, it’s not just down to children’s services professionals to push this agenda transport, housing and other council services all have a role to play.

This thought process is being reflected at national level with the cross-governmental child well-being forum, which has now met twice. The forum is hosted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and attended by representatives from, among others, the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is symbolic of the arrangements that DCSF wants to see at a local level.

But given the results of Unicef‘s report into children’s well-being published at the beginning of the year, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have some way to go: UK children were found to have the lowest levels of well-being in the developed world.

However, the report has been criticised for using out-of-date statistics that paint a worse picture for the UK than is apparently the case. Indeed, there are promising indications that the UK isn’t such a lost cause after all. The government is aiming for all schools to be sustainable by 2020, for example.

Awareness of sustainability

Sustainable schools put a high value on the well-being of their pupils and the school environment. The strategy comprises eight sustainability doorways incorporated in the curriculum: food and drink energy and water travel and traffic purchasing and waste building and grounds inclusion and participation local well-being and global dimension.

Additionally, schools can sign up to be eco-schools, run internationally by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Part of the programme’s aim is to raise awareness of sustainability issues, not just in school but back in the home too.

In embracing the eco-schools programme, Tameside Council has gone a step further by developing its rainforest model. Ian Smith, executive director for services for children and young people, says: “I felt that all five ECM outcomes were interdependent and wanted to get that across to our partners.”

The imagery of the rainforest was chosen as a symbol of the perfect eco-system: the forest floor provides the nutrients to enable sustained growth the under-storey and canopy aim upwards and the emergents are evidence of success, in turn feeding the floor and sustaining the whole system.

It is a clever analogy and one that also relates back to the eight doorways for sustainable schools, Smith adds. The model is used in primary, secondary and special schools as well as in children’s centres. In one centre for children with learning and physical disabilities there is a giant picture of the rainforest model on the wall. The children have added two kinds of leaves one set is their objectives and the other the outcomes they want, such as access to leisure facilities. When an objective has been achieved the leaves fall to the forest floor.

Tameside is also on board with government thinking on involving other council services. The council’s recycling and transport teams visit schools to discuss purchasing and waste, cycling, walking and public transport. “It’s not just education or children’s services doing this, we have a whole process of sustainable development and these [other departments] see themselves as part of the school agenda,” says Smith.

Worcestershire Council is also ahead of the game. As well as having 180 of the county’s 250 schools signed up to the eco-schools programme, it has a wealth of initiatives linking being green to children’s well-being. It is working with educational charity Peace Child International in several schools to train pupils to become sustainability ambassadors, and uses the Danish environmental education programme Forest Schools, which gives pupils an appreciation of the environmental, social and economic importance of trees, woodlands, forests and wood products.

As if this wasn’t enough, Worcestershire has one of the first schools in the country designed to be climate change-ready, with a sustainable urban drainage system (it coped with the floods last July), rainwater harvested for flushing toilets, a ground source heat pump and 26% of the building materials were recycled.

By March, the DCSF’s child well-being team is expected to respond to the Every Child’s Future Matters study. Most government departments will be producing sustainable development action plans by the same deadline. Given this and the work being done by local authorities, it looks like being green is set to stay in fashion.

Related article

A sustainable community on the Isle of Wight

Essential information on going green

Further information

Sustainable Development Commission report 

● A Vision for Services for Children and Young People in Tameside

Learning for Sustainability in Worcestershire

Contact the author

Natalie Valios

This article appeared in the 10 January issue under the headline “Lessons from the eco-schools”


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