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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Leading schools towards sustainability

Annette Gough
Associate Professor, Science and Environmental Education, Deakin University

It is now over a decade since the Victorian Primary Principals Association and the Victorian Association of Secondary Principals first published Leadership in learning to care for the environment: an Environmental Education strategy for Victorian school principals (1993/1997). The purpose of this strategy was to provide a framework of school level principles and actions to develop the whole school community's awareness, understandings, skills, attitudes and involvement in addressing the environmental challenges facing society.

The implementation strategies it outlined include:

  • developing school policies on Environmental Education
  • implementing environmentally responsible school operations
  • investing in appropriate professional development
  • achieving savings through reduced resource usage (such as paper, power, water)
  • opening up the school as a community resource
  • having flexible timetabling
  • ensuring the school site is developed as an indigenous habitat and that it follows environmentally sound design principals
  • changing the curriculum.
That principals play a key role in the successful implementation of educational change is well documented in the literature (for example, in the writings of Michael Fullan), but it has also been a strong finding from the recent work of the Victorian Science in Schools Research Project (see, for example, http://www.scienceinschools.org).

Specifically, the principal's roles include:

  • legitimising the change process
  • providing a context of security and challenge within which change can flourish
  • providing moral support for change agents in the school
  • sustaining the momentum of change.

The key role of the principal and school leadership team in leading schools towards sustainability also emerged strongly from the recent evaluation of the Sustainable Schools Stormwater Action Project 2003/2004 (Gough 2004), part of the broader Sustainable Schools initiative. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and implemented by the Gould League and CERES, the Stormwater Action Project aimed to develop, trial and evaluate water-related projects in a number of schools.

However, embedding an educational change like Sustainable Schools also requires ownership by and involvement from the whole school community, and the evaluation report illustrates this point too, in relation to one of the participating schools, Antonio Park Primary:
The keys to the success of Sustainable Schools at this school have been the broad ownership of the program across the school and the support of the school leadership team. The immersion of all the staff in the professional development program at CERES was a major factor leading to their ownership of the program, as was the engagement of the whole school community.

The Assistant Principal, Robert Webb, has been a major driver for the program, but there is also a very strong Sustainable Schools Coordinator, Janet George, and a school Environment Committee who are all taking responsibility for the planning and implementation of the Sustainable Schools Program. The school community and staff are involved in the planning and operations of the program, and there is a teachers' Environmental Committee who discuss and implement sustainability initiatives. The students are involved in the day to day sustainability operations (especially recycling, worm feeding, gardening, the animals program), and each grade has a Student Environmental Leader who attends monthly meetings with the school's Sustainable Schools Coordinator and reports back to their grade.

Recognition of the school's achievements by outside groups is also important in maintaining momentum in the program. (Gough 2004, 16)
The outcomes of the Stormwater Action Project reflect what is possible with whole school involvement. For the school quoted above, the following outcomes have been achieved.


  • Water savings: from installing a rainwater tank for use in toilets, wetlands and gardens
  • Waste savings: reduced number of skips due to recycling activities (e.g. worm farm, feeding the chickens).


  • Water has been incorporated across all integrated themes in the curriculum for 2004 (particularly in science)
  • The rice paddy will be used within the Indonesian LOTE program
  • The animals and vegetable patch programs have provided an additional educational site for the integration program
  • The local nature reserves are incorporated into school programs
  • Biodiversity, water and waste are all part of the curriculum.


  • An increase in the school's biodiversity index
  • 50% reduction in landfill waste - much of which is providing food for chickens and worms
  • Stormwater collected by rainwater tank and used in wetlands and for toilets.


  • The animals program has provided an additional venue for student activities at lunch time
  • The vegetable patch provides opportunities for social skills development (group work and cooperation)
  • The toilet fed by the rainwater tank in the Activities Centre (used in the aftercare program) provides a community role model, as does the whole rainwater system
  • The program has provided opportunities for teachers and, particularly, students (as environmental leaders) to take on leadership roles
  • The school works with a wide range of organisations and community groups
  • Parents are involved in many aspects of the school's sustainability program.

It is up to a school community to decide to become part of the sustainable schools program and then to decide on their priority areas for action within the current choices of waste, water, biodiversity and energy. These priority areas are then implemented across all aspects of a school - operations, administration, curriculum and professional development. This is the approach that is likely to be advocated as part of the foreshadowed National Environmental Education tatement for Schools (Woods, 2004).

Schools are often familiar with the rhetoric of Environmental Education but do not know where to start in terms of implementation. The Australian government's Sustainable Schools Initiative, combined with the National Environmental Education Statement for Schools, provides a framework and strategy for everyone to get started as we move into the United Nations Decade of Education for sustainable Development 2005-2014.


GOUGH, Annette (2004) Evaluation of the Sustainable Schools Stormwater Action Project 2003/2004. Burwood: Deakin University. Access at http://www.gould.org.au/QBL_outcomes.htm.

Victorian Primary Principals Association/Victorian Association of Secondary Principals (1993/1997) Leadership in learning to care for the environment: An Environmental Education strategy for Victorian school principals. North Melbourne: Victorian Primary Principals Association/Victorian Association of Secondary Principals.

Woods, Peter, 'Environmental Education for a sustainable future: formal schooling', Curriculum Leadership 23 July 2004.


Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Education policy
Educational planning
Environmental Education
Science teaching