When I first joined Damers School eight years ago, there wasn’t a huge level of environmental awareness across the school.
The children didn’t know about recycling or how to look after their environment, they also didn’t know where their food came from – they just thought it came from the supermarket! I saw great potential to embed the Eco Schools programme across the school.
Eco-Schools is a global programme engaging 19.5 million children across 67 countries, making it the largest educational programme on the planet. There are now 20,000 schools in England signed up to Eco Schools.
Every class at Damers First School has an Eco ambassador who forms the Eco Crew. Each class makes a termly pledge to help animals, people or the environment giving every child the opportunity to have a voice and speak passionately about environmental issues they believe in.
Pledges have included encouraging the community to feed the birds, making Dorchester litter free and encouraging other schools to be involved, encouraging businesses to reduce their single-use plastic and devising a Litter Policy for other schools to use in Dorset with Litter Free Dorset.
Children at the school have given up their weekends to lobby local businesses on environmental issues. Some of the children even asked for litter pickers for Christmas!
The school has become a leading force on environmental issues with many other schools across Dorset and the rest of the UK wanting to come and see the school and speak to children about what they have learned and see their environmental work.
The Eco Schools programme has had a huge impact on the children’s learning across the school. They have gained confidence and they believe that what they are doing will make a real difference to the society they live in.
They have the passion and confidence to stand up in front of a room full of people and talk about the changes they would like to see.
They are very determined, and they do not take no for an answer. The skills they are developing are ones they will need as adults. I would like sustainability to be compulsory in schools.
For me, children learning about the environment is just as important as literacy and numeracy.
Many organisations want to work with us on our environmental campaigns linked to work the children have already done.
City to Sea’s Refill HQ visited after they had heard about the work the children had done in signing up businesses to Refill Dorset. They interviewed the children and put a view together to inspire other towns across the UK to get on board with Refill.
The school has become an ambassador for Delphis Eco, an ecological cleaning company whose products the school has been using for four years. The children speak to other schools about the product getting them to use it. They also sell the product to parents, staff and businesses.
They have been filmed speaking about it and the CEO of the company, Mark Jankovich, has visited the school to speak with the children about how he can improve his product. Two of the quotations on the new bottle were written by the children and one of the school cleaners.
The children have been active in getting the local community to recycle – printing cartridges, pens, biscuit wrappers, crisp packets, soap dispensers, baby pouches, helping the environment and raising £1,500 towards a bird hide and wildlife area.
The school’s recycling centre has been so successful that WI volunteers come and help with sorting and boxing up the items to be sent off to be recycled.
The school became an SAS Plastic Free School in May 2018. Children launched Refill Poundbury signing up 25 businesses and appeared on Newsround.
They contacted businesses supplying school fruit and milk asking if fruit could come in card boxes and milk in glass bottles. They wrote to all local headteachers asking them to become plastic-free schools.
They put pressure on Brace of Butchers about the plastic used and they implemented their ideas, establishing a zero-waste free shop.
They created posters giving the local community ideas on how they could reduce plastic. In July 2019, Dorchester became the third location in Dorset to achieve this status.
The children have set up a steering group with influential members of the town to help them carry on their Plastic Free work making Dorchester as green as possible. They are part of Dorset Council’s climate change panel.
The children won four awards at the Young Enterprise Fiver Challenge 2018 with their product Waxtastic No Plastic, an alternative to cling film. They sold the product at local events raising £4,500, which financed a school nature area.
The school has been included in ‘Plastic Game Changer’ by Amanda Keetley which showcases the work they have done to reduce single-use plastic. The children hope that it will inspire other schools and community groups to use their ideas to start their own plastic-free campaigns.
A Year 3 class, as a pledge, took part in a CPRE Green Clean with students from Thomas Hardye School. They collected 156 plastic bottles and cans using the reverse vending machine.
Damers’ children inspired Hardyes to recycle and set up a green committee. In February 2019, the children went to Westminster to speak with Mr Gove about the importance of an “all in” Deposit Return Scheme.
The children are part of Dorset Council’s climate change panel. They presented ideas of how the county could reduce climate change.
Ideas included more electric buses, easier access to hire electric bikes and scooters, more electric car charging points and the broken ones fixed, closing roads to town centre once a month, every school to have their own Ridan Food Waste Composter with an idea that the compost could fuel cars.
The Council realises the power of their message and the influence they have had.
The children have been to Clarence House, have spoken with HRH Prince Charles, and Jane Goodall about their environmental work.
Through hard work and determination, Damers First School has achieved Plastic Free School status from Surfers Against Sewage, as well as inspiring their community to secure Plastic Free Community status.
They have taken their work to Westminster – where they met Michael Gove, they have appeared on Newsround, and they have won several awards, including Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Educational Environmental Institution of the Year 2019, Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Schools Champion 2019 and Eco Schools Primary School of the Year 2019.
I found out about the fantastic work of Richard Dunne and the Harmony Curriculum in 2017. I visited Richard’s school to learn more about the seven Principles of Harmony and how it could be used at Damers First School.
I went on a four-day Harmony Development Course at the Princes Studio of Traditional Art in London. The Seven Principles of Harmony were already embedded into our curriculum through the work I have mentioned but wasn’t under the Harmony name officially.
In the past year the children have been producing some phenomenal geometry work and have a greater depth in their knowledge of nature and the world around them.
They know that there are different coloured carrots not just orange ones which links to one of the seven principles, diversity.
The children have learned about the many life cycles around them by using the garden and wildlife areas. The Ridan Food Waste Composter has taught them about food decomposing to make compost which can then help the plants grow.
Garden volunteers from the local community with many years’ experience come and work with children each afternoon.
The children have learned where their food comes from by growing vegetables and fruit by seasons and learning what is produced in each season, as well as rotating the beds.
They have then taken this knowledge home and had a go with their parents or even taken on an allotment themselves. They have also learned how to use these vegetables to cook a dish in the school kitchen.
The children of Damers First School are fantastic ambassadors for how we would all like the world to be.
How to engage pupils with the environment
- Find a staff leader with the enthusiasm, drive and initiative to take the group forward.
- Create a passionate group of eco warriors.
- Make an audit of environmental work in the school, celebrate what you do and improve other areas.
- Make an action plan of things you are going to work towards.
- Sign up for Eco Schools and follow their seven steps.
- Inspire staff, parents and the local community to get involved.
- Embed environmental work into the school curriculum.
- Take part in national campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean.
Edd Moore is a Year 3 teacher and Eco Coordinator at Damers First School, Dorchester, Dorset