Watching schoolchildren the world over demand that world leaders take action against the climate crisis has been inspirational. It is encouraging to know that the next generation already recognise our present trajectory is unsustainable, and that they are prepared to rise up and call for change. As vehicles for social justice, schools have a part to play in teaching children about sustainability and what individuals and communities can do to ensure that future generations inherit a habitable environment.
Hatchlands Primary School takes our collective responsibility for the planet and their local environment very seriously. Headteacher Chris Jowett and his team have made sustainability an integral part of the school’s curriculum and ethos; from the hessian display boards to the use of recycled materials in the playground, Hatchlands Primary School, which opened in 2018, is successfully delivering its vision of a cohesive whole-school approach to sustainability.
The staff use topics about ecological issues to promote skills in literacy, numeracy, decision-making, problem-solving and working in groups. Pupils explore sustainable development through imaginative activities, and learn how to grow into active, sustainable citizens. When we visited the school, the pupils were eager to tell us that they were currently learning about all creatures great and small. Some pupils took us on a hunt for some critters nesting under a log in the forest school enclosure. One informed us that he’d found some ants and woodlice, but his favourite “little beast” was the bumblebee which pollinates crops and wild plants, so must be conserved. We were then ushered along to admire the insect ecosystem, or “bughouse”, that the children had created. It was delightful to see children enjoying their time out in the natural world, connecting with and learning from nature.
In keeping with the Reggio Emilia approach, learning and play at Hatchlands is predominantly child-directed. Pupils are encouraged to think critically and creatively. Children can choose whether to learn and play inside or outside, and it is up to them to decide which of their pieces of work are put on display in the designated “expression areas”. Having been taught about the impact of single-use plastic, pupils are encouraged to make use of the school’s impressive recycling facilities. In under a year, this has instilled the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling in all children, their parents and the local community – so much so that parents now bring their recycling to the school to sort into the assorted bins.
In addition to this, the school is committed to sustainable travel – everyone takes part in the daily mile, in which pupils walk or cycle to school. At the beginning of the school year, a ceremony is held in which each new pupil plants a tree in the forest school enclosure so that they can reflect on how much they (both the children and the trees) have grown at the end of their time at the nurturing primary school. It is the responsibility of all pupils to look after the school’s growing woodland. In September, headteacher Chris Jowett and his team intend to establish a pupil leadership team and an eco council to take the lead in promoting sustainability in the school and the wider community.
From the sandpits and the mud kitchen, to the tyres and forest school enclosure, the playground is equipped with locally sourced recycled and natural materials. The impressive story-time chairs which once belonged to a local independent school have been repaired, re-varnished and now sit in a shady enclave of the playground. The children use recycled and natural materials in their learning, putting the sustainable vein that runs through the curriculum into context. Pupils’ creative writing and illustrations about environmental awareness decorate the walls and ceilings of the school. The impressive progress pupils are making week on week is evident in the materials on display. One five-year-old pulled us aside to inspect his writing. Chris showed us the same child’s work from a fortnight ago. From his handwriting to his spelling, it was clear that the boy had come on leaps and bounds in that short space of time.
When it comes to funding, the key, Chris told us, is your local community. While the Sainsbury’s community fund contributed to the forest school, local parents, carers and friends helped to bring the enclosure to life in their free time. The school employs a volunteer force to help with outdoor craft, recycling and woodland group activities, and local businesses contribute recycled and natural materials for the school’s outdoor area. Hatchland’s forest school and outdoor learning programme was also made possible thanks to the Woodland Trust’s free trees for schools, a grant from The Ernest Cook Trust, and contributions from the RHS campaign for school gardening.
At Hatchlands, pupils are aware of, understand and respect the environment in which they live. We were impressed to see how much the small primary school has managed to achieve in the space of a year, demonstrating that it is possible to put sustainability at the heart of a state-funded school in a short space of time.