As we start a new academic year, there are two opposing forces in play. A sense of possibility and optimism that public opinion has shifted towards the need for a major change in society to tackle the climate crisis. However, that comes up against the stories of melting ice, burning rainforest and record temperatures that make the current situation so desperate.
The past year has seen school students enter the front line of tackling the climate crisis, and Green Schools Project has grown and adapted to reflect that reality. Here is a brief outline of what was achieved last year:
- Programme Manager
Elena Pearce joined in October 2018, doubling the size of the team, and has been a huge asset. One of her main tasks was to increase the university volunteering programme which grew from 5 to 14 volunteers being placed in partner schools. Her passion and enthusiasm for wildlife also saw her develop a new project on that topic, as well as creating resources for a food project and introducing a module on the climate crisis.
Sadly (for us) she decided to start a phd on rewilding in Denmark, so left us last week, but she has made a massive impact in her year here and we wish her all the best!
- Green Kids and Communities
Last year we worked with Kelmscott Secondary School and four primary schools in Waltham Forest on a Big Lottery funded project. We supported them to set up Eco-Teams and held a launch event at Kelmscott. Throughout the year they worked on projects such as food growing, energy saving and encouraging wildlife and they all returned to Kelmscott in the summer to share their successes. Each school also had some funding to spend on their projects, and the pupils seemed most impressed with Edinburgh primary school’s wormery which provided plenty of worm tea to help with their vegetable growing!
In the autumn term of 2018 we launched a school student survey to better understand the views and experiences of young people in years 5 to 13 on the environment. The findings have been used by a number of environmental education organisations such as Global Action Plan and the National Association of Environmental Educators to call for more provision in schools. Here are a few of the findings:
- Over a third (42%) of young people aged 9-18 say they have learnt only a little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school.
- Only 4% of pupils surveyed feel that they know a lot about climate change.
- 86% agree that ‘all schools and colleges should be doing things that help the environment.’
- Half (49%) said that they would like to be involved with projects or activities at their school or college that help the environment.
We will be repeating the survey this term, please get in touch if you’d like your school to take part.
- Herefordshire and Norfolk Schools
Being based in Hackney means that most of the schools that we have worked with are in East London, but 2018-19 saw us branch out to two new regions. Beth Williamson has been working with Green Schools Project for the past eighteen months, and with funding from the Herefordshire Community Foundation she started working with six schools in the area. Thanks to Beth who has shown incredible dedication including delivering assemblies at four of the schools while 8 months pregnant!
In Norfolk, Iona Lake managed to secure funding from the RC Snelling Charitable Trust to work with six primary schools near Norwich. She visited them in the summer term to deliver assemblies and they will all be starting Eco-Teams this year so we look forward to seeing how they get on. Iona’s other big achievement is that she will be fitting her Green Schools Project work around training for an attempt to get into the GB athletics team for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, we wish her the best of luck!
- School Strikes
Attitudes and opinions towards climate and the environment shifted markedly last year. The IPCC report released in October last year, followed by the WWF Living Planet report was a stark wake up call that we are way off track in avoiding catastrophic climate and ecological breakdown. Young people were galvanised by this and following the example of Greta Thunberg carried out a series of school strikes once a month from February to July.
We went along to these protests in London, and covered them on social media to try to spread the message of the students in attendance. Young people have shown that they can be powerful agents of change as they have the most to lose yet are the least responsible for the climate crisis. We fully support the actions that they are taking and their demands of our political leaders to take action.
- Schools Climate Conference
In order to build on the momentum of the school strikes, we decided to hold a conference in July to coincide with London Climate Action Week. UCL kindly hosted us as we welcomed almost 200 students in Years 5 to 12 from 13 schools, mostly in London, but including High Tunstall College who came all the way from Hartlepool for the day. We heard from inspiring speakers and the students took part in workshops on how to communicate about the climate change and creating action plans. We’re looking forward to seeing how their actions take shape this term.
- Climate Action Programme
With the increased awareness of major changes needed to tackle the climate and ecological crises we knew that we wanted to develop a programme that was more impactful than our original package of support to set up and run an Eco-Team. As a teacher I know that in order to bring about meaningful change in a school, the teaching and support staff need to be on board.
With this in mind we developed a new ‘Climate Action’ programme that we are piloting this term. It involves a series of five continuing professional development sessions to be run in the school that will support schools to develop an adequate response to the crisis and help them to develop a richer more purposeful curriculum which uses the natural world and the protection of the living planet as a unifying thread.
Find full details here and get in touch if you are interested in running this in your school. We still have a small number of places on the pilot for London schools this term and aim to roll it out nationally in 2020.
Having seen a shift in public opinion in the past year on climate change, we now need this to be the year that the debates and conversations turn into concrete actions to reduce emissions and restore natural spaces on a local, national and global level.
Young people have shown that they have a powerful voice in this, and our aim is to help schools to inform, support and empower them to use it to help bring about the changes that are required.