02 Oct 2023
by Edd Moore
Top Tips to Becoming a Greener Primary School
As primary school educators, we want every child to have knowledge and awareness of local, national and global environmental issues. Positive action all schools can take is to teach learners about the impact they can have to become Zero Carbon.
In this post, I will discuss events throughout the year that schools can get involved in, some brilliant DK books that can support teaching and learning of sustainability topics, and initiatives and organisations every school should be aware of. So you can start taking action towards making a positive difference today!
There are many great school initiatives being run by environmental organisations helping children to be empowered by environment topics.
Let’s Go Zero supports schools to follow eight actions that will help them become Zero Carbon by 2030. This links well with Eco-Schools. This is a global programme, the largest educational programme on the planet, involving 20,000 schools in England.
Form an eco-committee
A good place to start is forming an environmental action group of ‘Eco Warriors’, with a child representative from every class. This committee should then meet regularly to work on eco projects and to share ideas.
Conduct an eco-audit and create an action plan
It is also important to carry out an audit of your school’s current eco status. Celebrate the good sustainability work you do already then use the information to draw up an action plan of eco topics your school can prioritise in the current school year.
Consider your school’s sustainable curriculum
Most schools use environmental focus days or weeks throughout the school year as a foundation to their sustainable curriculum.
Let’s take a look at some of the topics and ideas you could focus on in your primary school.
Plastic Pollution, Recycling and Waste
Reducing waste in school is always a great topic, and can easily be extended to the wider community.
Adventures with Finn and Skip: Fish by Brendan Kearney identifies the problems of litter pollution in our oceans and the harm to wildlife. Adventures with Finn and Skip: Forest by the same author is a perfect introduction to the environmental concerns facing the world’s rainforests. These wonderful books help even the youngest of children to learn the importance of ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Repurpose, Recycle’.
Litter picking near your school in litter hot spots is a great way to get everyone involved. There are many great initiatives and national litter picking days throughout the year that you can link your learning to, including:
- Keep Britain Tidy
- British Spring Clean in April
- Marine Conservation Society Beach Clean in September
- Oceans Day in June
- Refill Day in June
- Plastic Free July
I get the children to keep a tally of what litter is collected. Make sure you have two bags, one for rubbish and one for items that can be recycled. This is a great link with maths, children can draw their own bar charts. They can even put together a campaign to try and reduce the amount of litter they have picked going back every month to see if the amount decreases.
Take part in The Big Plastic Count
As a school, you can take part in The Big Plastic Count organised by Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic. It’s easy to sign up and get the whole school community involved in this investigation into how much plastic we use in the UK and what happens to it when we throw it away.
Switch to reusable resources
Learn Play Nexus have the world’s first reusable glue stick called U-fill. Schools keep the glue container, refilling with a new glue stick. The empty containers can be reused or sent back to the company to be reused.
Switch your milk from cartons and straws to reusable glass milk bottles and beakers. Go green with your milk scheme by getting your milk from Cool Milk.
Adopt a policy with refillable bottles for all children and staff. Include guidance on how to pack a waste-free lunch in the form of a short film clip or tips in the school newsletter.
Collect printing cartridges and toners
Collect cartridges and toners from parents, local businesses, and the community. These can be sent off, refilled and sold or recycled, raising funds for the school. Collect points for outdoor nature equipment at Empties Please and The Ink Bin.
Recycle school uniform
Have you set up a second-hand uniform shop yet? This is an area overseen by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in many schools. A great website company where parents and carers can buy, sell, give away & recycle outgrown school uniform is Uniformerly.
Used book sales keep books in the recycling loop. This should be a stall at every Christmas and summer fair, but you could make it a more frequent occurrence, such as at the end of every term. Another great idea is to host a regular book swap.
Become a Plastic Clever School
Sign up to Plastic Clever Schools, with Common Seas and Kids Against Plastic. Work through the three levels Inspire, Investigate and Act to a single-use-plastic free school.
Amy and Ella Meek’s book Be Plastic Clever has great ideas to inspire children to campaign on single-use plastic issues in school and the community.
School Gardening and Climate Change
School gardening is one of the major actions to help schools become Zero Carbon by the
Government’s target of 2030 – 2035. Gardening has many benefits for our environment but also for children. These include teamwork, social interaction, health and wellbeing, physical activity and self-confidence.
Teach pupils about where food comes from
Children need to learn to grow fruit and vegetables seasonally to help them know more about where their food comes from, and the benefits for their carbon footprint.
Be Climate Clever by Amy and Ella Meek supports this, informing their readers that food that travels zero air miles to get to our plates and uses less packaging and resources, is therefore better for the environment.
The average airmiles of an onion flown to the United Kingdom is 1819 miles, strawberries 907 miles, potatoes 2938 miles. These fruit and vegetables can be grown in the UK. A super website for children to find out how far their food has travelled is Food Miles.
Teach pupils about climate change
Topics on time, weather, and seasonal change link well to many National Curriculum objectives across various subjects.
What’s The Weather? by Judith and Fraser Ralston has brilliant facts and information that will help students understand why our climate is changing and make you become a weather expert. Put together your own weather station measuring rain fall, wind direction/speed and temperature recording this daily over several weeks or a term. Put the weather results on your website or newsletters.
School garden projects
Find a seasonal growing calendar of what can be grown when and plan what you will grow throughout the year. Have a floor plan of your school garden and get the pupils involved in planning, planting, tending to their crops and harvesting.
RHS Let’s Get Gardening has 30 easy gardening projects for children. It’s packed full of ideas
for children of any age about what can be grown and how. It includes how to start planting for wildlife with their top eight flowers, trees and shrubs.
Other ideas include making a frog home, a container pond and bee and bug hotel from reusable materials. Build your own compost heap. My school invested in a Ridan Food Waste Composter so all food waste can be composted. They make lovely compost for school gardens and it can even be sold to the local community.
The County and Country Gardens Trusts are independent charities engaged in caring for gardens and designed landscapes throughout England and Wales. They give funding to schools for garden projects.
Sign your school up to RHS Schools Gardens and work through the 5 Levels. At each level there is a reward for the school when completed. For example: national garden gift Vouchers (£50 and £200) and bundles of seeds worth £100.
Grow Your Own Potatoes give out a free box of seeds as part of a national growing competition, so get your pupils planting potatoes pronto!
Reduce your school’s energy consumption
Take part in Fortnight Switch Off in November and WWF Earth Hour in March.
Sign up to Energy Sparks, an online, school-specific energy analysis tool and energy education programme for children and staff. There are many great free curriculum resources to help reduce school energy consumption.
Organise a power down day or a lights off, blinds up day to create awareness of electricity being used. Take a reading a week before and after the power down day to see the impact. Money saved could pay for equipment, a workshop or class trip.
Teach pupils about energy consumption
Science Squad Explains by Robert Winston demonstrates the impact of renewable energy on our electricity consumption.
What’s the Weather? by Fraser and Judith Ralston has great examples of weather power.
I’d also highly recommend visiting a solar farm, if it’s possible, to help pupils understand how solar panels work and how we can produce electricity from them. Earth Energy Education provide fantastic learning experiences that your pupils will remember.
Biodiversity and Nature
Get involved in biodiversity and nature events
Become Nature Detectives
Take inspiration from the BBC’s Springwatch and put together your own ‘Nature Watch’ and encourage the community to take part. You might even put a night nature camera in the grounds. Pupils could report on what they observe and do further research on the local wildlife in their area.
Take Up Nature Journaling
Take part in nature journaling with your class exploring your school grounds and identify the native wildflowers, trees and insects using Seek iNaturalist app. Document what you find using pictures, writing and I wonder questions. John Muir Laws is a great starting point for nature journaling beginners.
When introducing my Year 1 class to nature journaling, I have found the children get really inspired and at the weekends they explore the wildflowers and trees using the knowledge they have learned, teaching family members too.
Go on a bug hunt
Learn about creepy crawlies with The Book of Brilliant Bugs by Jess French. It has great information about common insects and pollinators, including how they contribute to life on the planet. Pupils can then go on a bug hunt of their own, in school or at home.
Going Green: Next Steps
Since the release of the Department for Education’s Sustainability Climate Change Strategy, in April 2022, there has been more urgency from schools to teach children about how they can support their school to become Zero Carbon by 2030 and take climate action.
Embedding nature and the environment in the curriculum, making it part of the school’s ethos, creating a legacy, is something that all schools are beginning to focus on.
The Harmony Project is a great example of this and something I have developed in my school. An important part of the approach is the role of the natural world in the curriculum. Building understanding and appreciation of the natural world is the first step to nurturing a generation who actively want to care for that world.
Once children have gained these environmental foundations, they need to be built on in secondary education and beyond if our climate is to be protected for future generations.
You can start today with the smallest of steps – and even that could make the world of difference!
Edd is a primary teacher on a mission! As a national award-winning eco-coordinator, he works tirelessly to empower schools and their pupils to become eco ambassadors. Edd is a Young Enterprise expert and holds a Forest School level 3 qualification. He also speaks out on marine pollution and is a gardening enthusiast. Edd believes knowledge is power so is always researching and sharing information and initiatives that he believes will make a positive difference to our precious planet.