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How Eco-Schools benefits pupils, teachers and communities

A blog post by Brendan Fox

In celebration of the Eco-Schools programme Brendan Fox, a Biology teacher at Auchmuty High School in Fife, shared just some of the benefits both he and the pupils have experienced with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) magazine.

Teaching for more than 30 years, Brendan started his career in London, then worked in Europe before heading to Scotland. Brendan has been an Eco-Schools coordinator in three of Fife’s secondary schools, helping them gain the internationally recognised Green Flag accreditation.

Brendan has a passion for sustainability: while in Fife, he has helped to plant orchards, created new woodland and hedgerow areas, built vegetable, flower and sensory gardens, coordinated environmental cleaning up, set up bat and bird boxes, expanded habitat corridors and cultivated wildflower meadows. He has also worked with Rotary Clubs, Community Councils, the Woodland Trust, Scotland in Bloom, the RSPBS, St Andrews Links Trust and parents of children all over Fife.

“I began to fully engage with the Eco-Schools initiative during my Chartered Teacher studies and after being inspired and motivated by many other professionals and even now I am still realising significant projects,” Brendan said.

“I am particularly grateful to a gentleman by the name of James T M Towill, a dedicated, ardent, driven professional, who helped guide my approach to teaching for sustainability at the very beginning and encouraged me to apply for a Professional Recognition award.”

Brendan believes that every school could benefit from the Eco-Schools programme: “Eco-Schools has given me many opportunities to develop as an educator. It’s allowed me to focus more on the important issues facing our planet and encourage learners to positively confront the challenges ahead.”

Linking with communities

Learner-led campaigns around litter are key and effective elements of the programme. Working with residents, local businesses, shops and supermarkets, learners can help improve litter strategies, such as relocating recycling bins within and outside the school grounds to best effect.

Benefits of reducing or altering consumption – switching off lights and PCs when not in use, for example – go beyond environmental. Some initiatives aim to raise money by setting up Rag Bag collection points within the community to recycle clothing or selling Fairtrade produce to generate income. Other possibilities like taking collected drinks cans to the scrap merchants or selling produce grown by learners at parents’ evenings and community events are easy and fun to organise.

“The whole school community always benefits from increased family engagement during such endeavours,” explained Brendan. “They can become more involved, contributing their time, labour or expertise to the achievement of Eco-Schools projects and goals. Including the wider community in celebrations strengthens and builds closer ties.”

The health and wellbeing benefits of sharing in the learning and working within a community where school and home are visibly mutually supportive is something Brendan has witnessed. “This is especially important for our learners with additional support needs, and particularly relevant when we consider the lingering effects of the recent pandemic.”

Benefits to learners

Enabling learners to adopt leadership roles (such as Eco-Committee membership and project planning) and empowering their decision-making (such as letting them decide on topics and actions), has been proven to enhance pupil confidence. “Eco-Schools should generally be learner-led and provide opportunities to teach learners transferable skills leading to interdisciplinary cross pollination,” Brendan added.

When learners actively participate in improving their immediate environment, they are transforming the world around them. “The physical and noticeable consequences of learner’s endeavours help them to realise, that despite all the doom and gloom, change for the good is possible,” explained Brandan. He believes that the cyclical approach of Eco-Schools allows pupils to see this obvious, continual and sustained improvement around them, instilling a belief in the future and embedding a sense of pride in themselves and for their schools.

Visit Eco-Schools | Keep Scotland Beautiful for more information on Eco-Schools.

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