Woodlea Eco-School

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How the UN Rio Earth Summit Took Root in Woldingham

EcoSchools is a global programme set up in 1994 in response to the UN Rio Earth Summit. It engages 19.5 million children across 67 countries, making it the largest educational programme on the planet. Since 2007, Woodlea has been one of the 18,600 eco-schools in England and for the last 8 years has held the coveted Green Flag Award for excellence in environmental action and learning.

As soon as you walk in to the school you see bright flowers, the newly erected raised beds planted out and often a small group of supervised children with mini yellow watering cans happily tending their plants. Sounds idyllic but it involves a lot of hard work.

Maria Mayes is the school’s Eco-Coordinator and Reception class teacher. ‘In the beginning there were many adjustments we had to make as a school to reduce our carbon footprint – lessen paper usage, put all lighting on motion sensors, fit toilets with dual control flush and amend requisition procedures.’

Through a 7 Step approach the programme seeks to empower pupils, raise environmental awareness, improve the school environment and create financial savings. It links to Curriculum Key Stages 1 and 2 and engages the wider local community. To keep their Green Flag status Woodlea is assessed every two years.

Each September the children vote to elect one or two representatives from Years 1-6 to serve on the Eco-Committee. They meet weekly to decide priorities and come up with an Action Plan.

Action Plans this year have included reusing waste paper in classrooms, recycling paper and cardboard, monthly litter picks of the school grounds and The Glebe, raising caterpillars and releasing butterflies, holding 3 or 4 assemblies and taking part in Surrey Schools’ Golden Boot Competition in June, which encourages greener ways to get to school, for example by walking up from Knights car park.

What is the greatest benefit for the children? ‘I think it is extremely valuable for outdoor learning. They love it and they’re more in tune with the environment, wildlife and recycling.’

‘Litter has been a big theme. The children analysed what they collected, created a power point presentation and held an assembly with facts about how long it takes for different materials to biodegrade, how animals get trapped in plastic and how to sort litter. What impressed me most was how they ended: ‘It’s us, we’re doing this, and we don’t have to.’

Asked what they had enjoyed most whilst being on the Eco-Committee, Stanley Yr 3 said ‘watering the plants’, Noah Yr 1 ‘doing the assemblies’, Chloe Yr 3 is most proud of ‘cleaning the environment by doing litter picks’ and Bella Yr 2 to have taught ‘people to plant bulbs and seeds’. Izzy Yr 5 would say to a new committee member that ‘to be on the Eco-Committee you have to care about the environment. It’s not just about wearing a badge’.

And the most rewarding part of Maria’s job? ‘I pass on my knowledge and the children teach me things I don’t know. A four year old in Reception class told me that different types of spider make different shaped webs. They’re constantly looking things up in books. They’re passionate about it. And I love it!’

In December the first Eco-Schools Awards Ceremony is to be held in Manchester. Will Woodlea be one of the winners?

Ann Richardson

Also published in The Woldingham Magazine, October 2019

WebmasterWoodlea Eco-School