The Keep Britain Untidy group has released a report: Eco-Schools England: exploring success to inform a new horizon. This is the gist of the Executive Summary:
In February 2013, Keep Britain Untidy commissioned independent research into the Eco-Schools programme. This research engaged directly with schools to explore what success means for Eco-Schools, and how that success is achieved. More specifically, the research looked at what makes Eco-Schools successful as a framework and how the programme could be made even better. In this report, we outline and respond to the key findings, summarised below.
What success looks like: The Eco-Schools programme does create positive environmental change, but environmental improvement is only half the story. Encouragingly, the research also found evidence of positive impacts on wellbeing, behaviour, motivation and cognitive skills that benefit the whole school community.
Achieving success: There are three factors critical to the success of Eco-Schools:
- A framework that remains easy to follow and realistic to implement;
- The presence of professional internal and external support networks for eco-coordinators and committees;
- A continued emphasis on the importance of sustainability education in the National Curriculum.
Building on success: To make the programme even better we need to focus on:
- Developing the framework to better engage secondary schools;
- Improving the supply of direct support and peer support for eco-coordinators;
- Further engaging school leadership teams to enhance their understanding of the Programme benefits.
The research concluded that the Eco-Schools framework positively supports schools to deliver effective environmental education. This report contributes to the growing body of evidence that indicates that schools that embrace education for sustainability are also schools who succeed and do well.
I should declare a position. I think that the Eco-Schools framework provides a sound way for schools new to the idea of sustainability to get involved and make some progress. I am more dubious, however, about whether the limited demands that the Eco-Schools framework makes on schools is appropriate, if significant difference is to be made to the experience of all students in a school. In particular, I think it remains very easy for schools to get, and retain, a green flag, which leads to schools potentially having a quite false idea of their own achievements.
I read the report with these views in mind. I also read it looking for issues that might provide a counterpoint to its generally positive and encouraging tone. I did not find this difficult. I'll give one example: the second quote on page 13 is from a 9 year old student:
"Our other classmates want to be on [the Eco-committee] as well but we’ve been chosen!"
This is supposed to be a positive comment, but it seems to give the game away especially as whole-school populations are supposed to benefit from Eco-schools, not just individual students. This is evidence for one of the more pertinent criticisms of Eco-Schools – that it only reaches a minority of teachers and students.
I understand that new brooms in Untidy Britain are set on sweeping such problems away. All power to their arm ...