On Ballard School’s pathway along the road to Green Flag status (and beyond!), the last week has been a very significant one…
To recap the school’s “eco-journey” so far: when the first project began back in the early 2000s, with the renovation of the long-neglected Watergardens, the brains behind the operation was Geography teacher Paul Craven, assisted by a small but enthusiastic groups of Lower and Upper Prep pupils and a bit of brawn from yours truly. It was Paul who secured the National Lottery “People’s Places” funding which paid for the fencing and paving materials, as well as the decking which has sadly now perished. We hired in a JCB driver to help dredge the swamp, but the job of clearing the forest of bamboo which infested the pond was carried out with sheer muscle-power and determination – supplemented occasionally by the odd parent or grandparent, on Saturday mornings fuelled by barbecues and donuts… Pupils learned to use gardening tools safely, and how to plant, prune and provide for all sorts of flora; they found out about composting, mulching, fence and decking maintenance; care of the protected newts, frogs, toads and myriad insects which make the pond their home… The range of learning has been extraordinary, especially with the addition of Miss Travis to the staff team, who was able to bring her Lower Prep expertise to the project.
It was clear that there was the appetite to widen the scope of the project, and so the Eco-Warriors, as the team had become known, designed and built “Buggingham Palace”, a multi-layered habitat for insects, over the drive from the pond, and even dreamed over creating a “woodland nature walk” path through the woods between the school drives.
With Paul’s retirement, initially Ballard Eco took a moment to tread water, before a new impetus. Initially slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the task in managing the Watergardens, Miss Travis and I were granted the incalculable support and help of the Maintenance Team, whose work around the grounds as a whole has been little short of incredible.
Then we became aware of the Eco-Schools programme, and decided to get involved.
Eco-Schools is a global programme, engaging millions of children across 67 countries. It came into being after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has gradually gathered pace over the past 20+ years, empowering children to drive change and improving their environmental awareness – and hopefully that of their parents – through hands-on, real-world learning.
As you will hopefully already know, the now re-named “Eco-Ambassadors”, still with its core of Y3-Y8 pupils, first carried out an Environmental Review of the school, across 9 key areas such as Waste & Recycling and Energy Usage. We then drew up an Action Plan of ways in which Ballard could improve in these areas.
Over the past two years we have been monitoring and evaluating our progress, introducing concrete improvements (such as the banning of polystyrene cups from school). We have taken part in national “Citizen Science” research programmes such as “What’s Under Your Feet?” – an attempt to find out why some species of UK birds are in decline by gathering data on the insects and larvae which form a large part of their diet. We have spearheaded the school’s participation in nationwide campaigns such as “Switch Off Fortnight” and last week’s “Waste Week 2018”. In conjunction with the Catering Department and the School Council, we have carried out an experiment to introduce healthier snack options, to cut down on biscuit consumption at break-times. And throughout the process we have sought to inform and involve the wider school community in our work, as it is crucial that all are made more aware of the need to be more environmentally-minded, not just a small but highly enthusiastic group.
So last week represents, I hope, a real watershed in the life of Ballard Eco: a national campaign called “Great British Spring Clean” was timed to coincide with Waste Week, with schools and other groups and communities invited to do their bit to clear up litter in their area. This was a great opportunity to involve a far larger group of pupils than the core Eco-Ambassadors, and get them “thinking and acting Eco”, so the “Great Ballard Spring Clean” came into being!
Ballard’s communal effort saw a large proportion of the school step up to the plate. All the pupils from Lower Prep enthusiastically combed the school site for litter in a House competition; more than 60 volunteers from Y6-8, plus the Y10 House Captains, braved drizzle and soggy underfoot conditions to scour the perimeter of the school; finally the Y9 students not taking part in the WWI Battlefields Trip enthusiastically foraged through the area near Ballard Lake. They then wrote a report of what they found – in English, French, Spanish and German!
Additionally, and entirely independently, recent form assemblies led by Years 1 and 2 and, at the other end of the age-range, a Y9 form group have tackled the very topical issue of plastic in the environment, utterly unprompted by the Eco-Committee.
All-in-all, I am confident that the message is starting to seep into more and more pupils’ consciousnesses, and from there into their daily actions.
The school has progressed in relatively short order from a Bronze to a Silver Award, and with all that we have already achieved in the weeks since we announced the latter, we are clearly well on our way to the top level on the ladder: a Green Flag. Over 18,000 schools in the UK are registered as Eco-Schools… but only just over 1,000 have a Green Flag, so when we do get there, if will be a stellar achievement indeed. Watch this space – and follow the new @BallardEco account on Twitter to see how we are progressing!