Living and Breathing the Eco School Agenda – Victoria Wright

As a geography teacher, and a lead teacher for humanities, I spend everyday teaching my students about issues of development, climate change, and inequality in the world. These are such topical issues, but it can be easy for students to think of them as theoretical problems that exist in a textbook, rather than as problems we can work together to solve in our communities.

I have been personally inspired by the zero-waste movement, and remind myself that a series of small imperfect actions taken by a community of people will make the difference we need to see in the world. Since joining NLA, I have been empowered to put this into practice, build on their historical commitment to the environment and bring my geography teaching out of the classroom.

We have partnered with Action for Conservation, a brilliant charity who have a reputation for doing excellent work with secondary schools in urban areas. Action for Conservation have supported us – despite the challenges of lockdowns and virtual learning – to inspire our students to become the next generation of conservationists. They hosted an amazing online Wild Ed club for our year 7 students to explore the natural world around us.

They were so impressed by our passionate young people that they have made 4 fully funded student places available on their summer environment camp taking place in the Peak District this summer. We can’t wait to hear how our students get on.

We have committed to the Eco Schools agenda and are working towards achieving Eco School Status. This has been a brilliant opportunity for students to connect with their locality, to feel proud of where they live and to protect it for the future.

Students started the process by working to understand why they should care about the environment. They reviewed local and global events to understand the context of their learning.

They then had the opportunity to carry out an audit. We wanted to encourage students to look at data rather than make assumptions. Asking questions and studying behaviour of staff, students and their community allowed them to look beyond popular press and social media soundbites and see the reality in the numbers. Their fresh eyes and challenging questions have been so refreshing to us as a staff team as they have encouraged us to question our own routine behaviour, simple things like turning off the whiteboard when it is not in use and reusing more scrap paper can have a big impact in a large secondary school. This will help them to be critical consumers of information in the world around them.

Students then worked in small groups to analyse their data and create solutions that could be implemented to make positive change in our school. Their teamwork was exemplary. Students asked thoughtful questions and provided each other with gentle challenge to explain their ideas more thoroughly. It was brilliant to see their oracy skills in action.

Students pitched their ideas in a Dragons Den style situation to build their confidence in presenting their work, and public speaking. We were so fortunate that LUSH donated some wonderful prizes and we were able to award a winning team in both years 7 and 8.

This programme has been a fantastic opportunity for students. It has already started to show impact in how students care for their school surroundings. It has helped them to be more aware of the consequences of their actions, such as making the extra effort to walk past a bin to the recycling facilities. We have been keen for students to think more critically and evaluate information in their humanities lessons. This has helped them to achieve this in a practical way without even realising that they are building key GCSE skills.

The whole school, student led approach has encouraged students to work pro-actively. It has also given them the confidence to ask adults for help and share their ideas. It has helped them to model advocacy and understand their own power as active citizens. Students have also been able to monitor and understand their own impact, making small changes and seeing how people behave as a response to them. We believe our students can be changemakers. This will have a massive impact for them both now in their school career and in their future lives.

Students have since been inspired to continue their work in their local community. Our students are so proud of where they live and are committed to giving their time to make it a place for everyone to thrive. Some students have attended peaceful, socially distanced climate change protests in the run up to COP26. For example, on Sunday, our students went to Everton Park to support ‘Craftivist-collective’. They made canaries (alive – a symbol of clean air, from the days of mining) and had the opportunity to speak to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor about issues that concern them.

Others have planted wild flowers in the school grounds. They have planted trees, completed a litter pick and contributed to assemblies for World Earth Day. Significantly, they have understood that they have a role to play in creating cultural change. It makes me so proud to be a teacher at NLA.

Victoria Wright is the Lead Teacher for Humanities at North Liverpool Academy