Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Education for sustainable development is making a difference

Ofsted has today released the findings of a three-year inspection programme looking at improvement in education for sustainable development in a selection of schools.

The small-scale survey, which followed a group of schools over a three-year period, reveals that a focus on sustainable development is not only having a direct impact on the actions of pupils and their families but on the wider community. It also shows that schools themselves are reaping benefits from improved provision through cost savings and better behaviour.

The report found primary schools making greater progress than secondary schools in improving their provision.

The report, Education for sustainable development: improving schools – improving lives, showcases examples of effective teaching and learning and the positive impact it is having on pupils’ increasingly responsible attitude to sustainable development in the sample of schools.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said:

‘It is hugely impressive to see the enthusiasm and initiative of young people leading to more informed attitudes and sustainable lifestyles. As a direct result of pupils’ activities, we are seeing more responsible use of resources in schools and beyond them.

‘This report shows how pupils respond to practical activities relevant to their lives and future well-being. Schools have shown that focusing on sustainability can also reduce financial costs and contribute to what is often a striking improvement in pupil behaviour. I hope other schools will be able to learn from the examples highlighted in this small scale survey.'

The report recommends that to meet the Government’s target for all schools to be sustainable schools* by 2020, sustainability has to be a priority in all schools’ improvement plans. It calls for a whole school approach to embed sustainability, with all pupils having access to out of class learning. The report says teachers need training and support to help them understand what is required to make a school sustainable.

Laura Wynne, headteacher of Argyle Primary School, Camden, London, one of the schools featured in the report, said:

‘Having sustainability at the core of curriculum and school organisation ensures children develop values, attitudes and the skills to be active local, national and global citizens in a culture of care.

‘Our children learn to take action on behalf of their school partners in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, for example. They learn about issues affecting rural communities in this country by visiting one and by inviting children back to London. They learn about the fairness of trade, power and waste and organise an annual “Green” summer fair.

‘Our focus on care – learning as part of sustainable development, has had a marked impact on standards and behaviour. Learning is, as the children tell us, exciting and real.'

Responses to a questionnaire in one school confirmed that families can be directly influenced by their children. It found that as a result of what their pupils had learned in school more households were recycling, composting and installing more low energy lighting. They were adopting projects such as cycling to school schemes and other local initiatives for better travel, sourcing of food, composting and recycling.

A survey in another school showed 60% of local families did not understand how their central heating controls worked, meaning that they paid high bills. This school produced a leaflet on how to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, 55% of families switched to a cheaper fuel provider and 86% took up an offer for a ‘best-saving’ refrigerator.

The report cites a pupil in a school in Kenya who asked why a friend in a linked school in England travelled seven miles to get a haircut. This led to discussion about unnecessary journeys. Pupils on the school council made a film about the journey to school. This questioned the need to use cars to get to school. A weekly ‘Walk to school day’ was then organised. Success of this led to a ‘walking bus’, with pupils organising the route, getting agreement over safety issues and securing adult involvement.

Through links with a school in Africa another school found that although the children’s diet there was less varied it was sourced locally. As a result the school changed its policy, encouraging consumption of apple juice and yoghurt from local farms. The pupils’ enthusiasm spilled into the home where families increasingly bought locally sourced food.

As part of a sustained campaign to switch off lights and computers and conserve heat, older students in one school identified that it was adults who were most wasteful with resources and the students were given permission to challenge those staff who were being lax. This contributed to a 20% reduction in energy costs, the equivalent of around £12,000.

The report highlights many such examples of strategies, ideas and actions that have led to improvement and may help others to meet the commitment for all schools to be sustainable schools by 2020.

*Based on the Government’s National Framework for Sustainable Schools.

Notes for Editors

1. The report, Education in schools for sustainable development. Improving schools – improving lives can be found on the Ofsted website

2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

3. Details of schools in the report can be obtained from the Ofsted Press Office on 08456 4040404 between 8.30am – 6.30pm, Monday – Friday. During evenings and weekends a duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

4. The report builds on two previous Ofsted publications:

  • Taking the first step forward – towards an education for sustainable development celebrated good practice and identified possible starting points for schools that were aiming to become sustainable
  • Schools and sustainability – a climate for change evaluated the extent to which schools taught their pupils about sustainability and the progress they were making towards meeting the expectations of the Government’s National Framework for Sustainable Schools.

5. The latest report draws on visits to 14 schools (eight primary schools, one special school and five secondary schools) between September 2005 and December 2008. Each school was visited three times over that period to determine how successful it was in developing pupils’ experience and understanding of sustainable development and whether an increased commitment to sustainability had wider benefits. Part A of the report provides examples of the actions the schools took to improve provision and evaluates their effectiveness. Over the course of the survey all but one of the schools improved the overall effectiveness of its provision for sustainable development, and all displayed a wide range of positive consequences as a result. The report draws on inspection reports and stands alongside a parallel study, commissioned by DCSF, into the attitudinal development of pupils in the same schools.

6. The 14 schools in the report, described in more detail in the final section of the report, are:

Alphington Primary School, Devon
Argyle Primary School, Camden
Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate Girls and Boys School, Tower Hamlets
Bowbridge Primary School, Nottinghamshire
Durham Community Business College for Technology and Enterprise Fyndoune Community College, Durham
Glebe School, Bromley
Glebelands School, Surrey
Meare Village Primary School, Somerset
Moorside Community Primary School, Calderdale
The Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool
St Nicolas Church of England Aided Primary School, Surrey
Southwood School, Milton Keynes
Staunton-on-Wye Primary School, Herefordshire


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