You Said…We Did

Oakbank's journey to Green Flag status

On the 20th September 2019, many people around the world took part in a planned strike to protest for more recognition of Climate Change by international leaders around the world. Arriving in school at 8am that Friday, I was greeted by a number of students (led by our Head Boy) who were refusing to enter the school site, all in the name of climate change. A very small number of banners were erected on the gate. Steadily momentum grew and a high proportion of students then joined this protest. As the Head of Geography at the school I felt anger rather than admiration for this protest. Yes, I agreed with the theory behind it but going out and policing the event in my PPA it became clear that most of the students who had gone on strike had no idea why they had done so and the Head Boy had no idea that we, as a school, would have supported and backed the strike if he had come to us with his thoughts and need for action. All staff left the school that day feeling really upset about the way in which the strike had been conducted but also about the lack of understanding the students seemed to have of the whole climate change debate.

In the weeks following the climate change strike we took two approaches. Short term we held a Global Community Day and many year groups took part in a variety of activities such as learning going over the causes and consequences of climate change. We also ran sessions where the students could suggest ways in which we could improve our school’s carbon footprint and become more active global citizens. We then invited any students keen to be part of an Eco-Club to a designated classroom one lunchtime. It was here that established an Eco-Club, to be run by myself and another member of staff. The aim of the Eco-Club was to build momentum on the climate change debate and to begin embedding in school a culture of active citizenship and green living. Our first challenge was to empower students to feel like they were making a difference on a global scale. Here, we joined the Just One Tree schools campaign and held a non-uniform day on 22nd November 2019. The event was run and advertised by the Eco-Club and tutor groups were encouraged to wear green for the day. The money raised was put towards replanting in deforested areas of South-East Asia and Africa. We made this very clear that this was linked to the protest so that students could identify that we were making an impact.

Our next step was to get involved in a local Terracycle scheme, which is run in our local community by a school parent. This scheme had two benefits to the school. Firstly, it enabled students to begin to take responsibility for their school site and to start to tackle the excessive amounts of plastic packaging used in the canteen. Secondly, it generates much needed funding for the school as the company pays for the items that we recycle. I met with the parent who organised the scheme to get an understanding of how the scheme worked and how it could be most effective in the school. I decided to begin by starting in the school canteen with one bin dedicated to crisp packets. This was launched on the same day as Just One Tree in order to get maximum impact that this scheme was linked to our school making an impact on climate change. During Go Green Week in February, new bins were launched around the school site in the areas that students tend to congregate. These were to include more items for recycling and have so far proved successful. The Eco-Club cleared them last week and we had enough to send off for recycling. The students are also keen to have more areas for recycling around the school site, as well as bins that are closed lidded (to avoid the birds and wind from getting the litter out). This will need to be fundraised for going forward this year. As part of a whole school priority led by SLT, all students do litter picking on a rota and this has also made students more aware of the issues surrounding litter and recycling.

Our big event in the Spring term was Go Green Week. The Eco-Club came up with a number of themed days for this such as Turn Off Tuesday (when teachers were encouraged to use as little resources as possible!) and Terracycle Thursday (when the new bins were launched). We also had a fundraising non-uniform day as one of the key priorities identified by the Eco-Club was to improve the appearance of the school site. Our school site is very run down with large areas of bare earth, areas prone to flooding and some unsightly areas that can breed poor behaviour and encourage vandalism. With the money raised from this day, I got in contact with the local independent garden centre that then came for a site visit. We identified areas of the site that could be easily improved by ecologically and visually. I then organised to purchase plants (some were donated by the garden centre) with the money we had made fundraising. The eco-club organised a community day for the school on a Saturday whereby students, staff and parents volunteered to come in and put in the plants and trees. The day was a huge success and the students were very happy with the improvements made to the site. Wild flowers are also being sown around the site and I have just secured funding from the Woodland Trust for 208 saplings to be delivered in November. These will be for wildlife and for year round colour.

Working with staff I have established (while applying for the Eco-School’s silver award) that a variety of subjects are delivering work on climate change. For example English are analysing Greta Thumberg’s speeches and Design Technology is looking about the materials they use and how they can be recycled. With the University of Reading so close to our school, I jumped at the chance to apply to take part in a debate about climate change being run in March. I secured 16 student places and 2 staff places. Students very much enjoyed the debate and are now involved in the Reading Climate Emergency strategy being launched by the council.

Our school has made huge progress towards sustainability and I believe we are very much at the start of this journey. The Eco-Club intended to organise more fundraising events well into the summer term. The site needs to continue to be made more eco-friendly with more plants for the wildlife, more bins to ensure we recycle more of our goods as well as installing water buts to water our plants and hippo’s in our cisterns to reduce our water use. Long term we would like to explore funding for solar panels.