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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Sustainable Schools Victoria: some preliminary outcomes of the Victorian Pilot involving over 80 schools

Jim Grant and Pat Armstrong

Sustainable Schools Victoria is a joint initiative of the Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage and the Victorian Government. Many organisations have contributed to the development of Sustainable Schools Victoria, and to enabling schools to participate in the program.

Sustainable Schools takes a whole school approach to improving environmental, educational, social and economic outcomes for schools. It has a strong focus on student learning and involvement in strategy, planning and implementation.

What is the approach of Sustainable Schools?

Sustainable Schools is built around four fundamental approaches:

1. Cooperating with other groups

  • Facilitating partnerships with education departments, local governments, regions, community groups, State sustainability departments and agencies
  • Referring schools to existing educational organisations, networks, resources and programs
  • Building on and recognising each school's past achievements in education for sustainable development.
  • Developing and sharing case studies.

2. Providing an effective framework for implementation

  • Facilitating cultural and behavioural change in a school through a guided process
  • Providing customised workshops
  • Identifying twelve key elements for implementation (see below), which are not necessarily sequential
  • Offering schools advice on funding their programs through savings, grants and prizes
  • Providing networking and cluster opportunities for schools, teachers and students.

3. Achieving positive outcomes

  • Supporting schools in their growth from awareness through to leadership in education for sustainable development
  • Fostering school ownership and empowerment in their sustainability program
  • Focusing on student involvement and learning.

4. Building on a strong foundation

  • Building on the experiences of the award-winning EcoRecycle Waste Wise Schools Program and other excellent Environmental Education initiatives in Victoria
  • Based on extensive research into national and international culture change programs and best practice Environmental Education.

Twelve key elements for implementation

Research into the EcoRecycle Waste Wise Schools Program and Sustainable Schools suggests that twelve key elements are essential as steps toward the successful progression of schools from awareness to leadership in education for sustainable development.

  • Introduce the school community to the concept of sustainability, to provide vision, unity, an understanding of the issues and a broad plan for the future
  • Collect baseline data as a reference point against which to measure future change
  • Make a whole school commitment. A commitment from all sectors of the school to become more sustainable is crucial for whole school culture change. Without this, there will be resistance and change will occur only in isolated pockets
  • Form a committee. A committee comprising teacher, parent, student and specialist advisor representatives gives ownership across the school and a structure to share the workload. Without this, dedicated teachers burn out and there is a lack of ownership
  • Conduct an assessment/audit to guide the use of resources in the school, and identify how waste and litter is being generated
  • Setting goals and targets to provide a focus for achieving measurable outcomes. Without goals and targets, there is a lack of clear direction
  • Develop a policy to embed a program in a school. School Council endorsement gives the program long-term approval. Without a policy, the change may be short-lived
  • Develop action plans as a structured way to achieve outcomes within a given time frame
  • Develop curriculum plans that identify where sustainability is being covered in the school's curriculum and to integrate sustainability into the school's mission
  • Implement the actions and curriculum plans: lack of action can be very discouraging
  • Monitor and evaluate the program so that the school measures progress and continuously improves its program
  • Build community links to enrich the school's program by bringing valuable resources, expertise and support.

Case study: Pinewood Primary School

Pinewood Primary School in Mt Waverley, Victoria, exemplifies the twelve key elements of sustainability. Its program covers themes including waste, energy, school grounds and biodiversity and is run through the Science, Maths, Art and SOSE Key Learning Areas. The program is part of the three-year school charter and has produced a marked cultural change within the whole school community.

Winner of the 2003 Schools' Garden Awards, the school works with many organisations including Gould League, the Youth Employment Scheme, the local nursery and a range of other community organisations.

The school has seen a range of economic benefits from its sustainability approach, with

  • paper use down by 10% in first year, saving $450
  • photocopier costs lowered due to reduced usage
  • electricity use reduced by 30%, saving $8900
  • gas use decreased by 12%, saving $890
  • an award of $20 000 from the Nestle Community Environmental Program grant
  • receipt of $1000 prize money from Wakakirri Concert for 'To Bin or Not to Bin'.
Social benefits have also been felt. All students are encouraged and supported to become leaders, with a student mentoring program in place. There is enhanced collaboration, teamwork and problem solving skills throughout the school, with students, staff and parents involved in most committees. Praise and recognition are also important factors.

The community has become widely involved. According to the 2003 school level report, student absences were below the State mean in all year levels for the first time in five years. Parents rated the school higher than the State benchmarks on all variables for the first time in two years. Staff sick leave was significantly lower than the State mean for the first time in three years.

Environmentally, students are encouraged to bring reusable containers; staff and students jointly maintain compost bins and worm farms; and the photocopier use is monitored with a drawer dedicated for single-sided paper. Electricity consumption has been reduced by 30%, by means including closing external doors, which reduce heating and cooling times while maintaining a comfortable environment. Water has been saved by installing infrared urinals and water tanks, which have kept water usage constant despite an additional 150 square metres of garden. There has been ongoing development of various themed gardens to encourage biodiversity, and a wetlands system to collect stormwater run-off.

Other case studies of sustainable schools are also provided online by the Gould League.

To find out more about Sustainable Schools contact:
Pat Armstrong
Gould League
Phone: 03 9532 0909
Email: pata@gould.edu.au
Web: www.gould.edu.au

Mr Jim Grant
Jim has been the visionary planner behind much of the Gould League's work over the last five years, and was awarded a 1999 Public Service medal and a 2003 Churchill Fellowship in recognition of his contribution to Environmental Education. Jim participates in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Education Group, the Schools Working Group of the National Environment Education Council, the Australian Marine Education Alliance (AMEA), is Vice President of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) and a Key Consultant to the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Ms Pat Armstrong
Pat has been instrumental in developing and managing the EcoRecycle Waste Wise Schools Program, as well as Sustainable Schools, and has empowered thousands of teachers and students through her vision and enthusiasm. Pat is a leader in Australian waste and litter education, as a member of the Executive of the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) and the WMAA (Victoria), Convener of the Waste Education Working Group (Victoria) and Chair of the WMAA Education Division. She regularly presents at national and international sustainability education conferences.


Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Education policy
Educational planning
Environmental Education
Sustainable development