This is the school which I am on placement at. I have labelled the playground, which has painted lines for sports, the outdoor learning classroom, which has a blackboard and wooden benches and tables, and the bicycle rails, which are the first evidence of learning for sustainability for a fist-time visitor of the school.
From observation of the school grounds and the school environment, I have seen further engagement with sustainable education. This includes an eco-committee which have fairly regular meetings and a board near the main office which is updated with plans and actions of the eco-committee. There are also recycling bins for paper in the classroom. However there are no recycling bins, such as food bins, in the staff room. There is a garden with flower beds which was created a few years ago. However, vandalism of the garden means that it is now littered and unsafe for the children to use. My class are currently studying ‘This Morning I Met a Whale’ by Michael Morpurgo. This book focusses on the damage that humans are having on the natural environment and contains very powerful messages about the need for children to do something to prevent further harm to our planet. If this book is used to successfully capture this theme and to teach the children more about sustainability then it could be a fantastic way to engage them in the subject and make it relatable.
There is a large concrete playground for all of the children to play in during break and lunch time. This is a traditional playground with no green space and with fences all around it. It is safe but it is not stimulating. In discussion with the teachers of the school about this we agreed that they are very limited as the location if the school (in the middle of a town) does not allow for much green space. They also said that there is a forest and a play park relatively close to the school and some of the teachers take their classes to these spaces for structured play or as rewards for good work and behaviour. Although, some teachers said that they find this too stressful and too difficult to organise due to a lack of confidence, the risk assessment forms and careful planning that they feel they would need to do. Outside of the school there is an outdoor classroom. When I saw this I thought it was a fantastic idea as it makes the idea of taking the class outside a bit more structured and possibly not as intimidating. However, upon reflection I feel that the classroom may limit teachers due to limited space and traditional desks and a blackboard. So, maybe it would be a good place to begin and end an outdoor lesson and to congregate throughout, but I think that most of the learning could be done outwith this area. From talking to the teachers about this space, the majority of them reported that they have never used the space because they don’t know what they would use it for. Some of them also said that if they were to use it would be for lessons that they could do just the same indoors, and with the Scottish weather it seems that to do the same lesson outdoors would simply lead to everyone being cold! This highlighted for me that we need to consider the difference between learning outdoors and outdoor learning. For example, taking a lesson in which times of silence and deep concentration are required outdoors is probably not something which I would see any benefit in. But, taking an interactive lesson where collaboration and team work as well as physical movement are required outdoors would, to me, seem like a worthwhile task. There is also a play space inside for the primary one and two classes to use for directed play. This space has various different materials including easels, water trays, sand trays and tools to play with the sand, a tent, building blocks, Lego and paint. The number of materials in this space and the way that they are set out make it a very suitable space for structured play. There is a lot of empty space for exploration and the materials are spread out across the room and organised into areas. There are also aprons for the children to wear and low sinks around the room to allow the children to get messy and explore the materials. My first thoughts when I saw this space was how good it would be for teaching early numbers and graphic knowledge. The tent also makes it a good space for pupils to interact and to take time out if they feel they need to.
My discussion with the pupils about these aspects of sustainable education somewhat surprised me. I spoke to the two members of the eco-council in my class and asked them about their role in the school. They both said that they enjoy being part of the council and I know that they go to meetings once a week (when I am in the class). However, at first neither of them could confidently tell me about their role and about what they do for the school. They said that they are in charge of the recycling bags for paper in each class. I asked if they were in charge of anything else and they said no. I have so far attended 3 assemblies and there has never been any mention or update of the plans and actions of the eco-committee so it seems to be more of an exclusive thing rather than a whole-school approach. However, there are a lot of children who cycle to school. There is no reward system for this, simply many of them enjoy riding their bikes to school and live close enough by that they can do so. I then asked the children about the outdoor classroom to which they said they had never used and some did not know it was there. It seems to be that there are so many opportunities within this school that are not being grasped and from my experience so far, I would put this down to a lack of time and different priorities. I also think that many of the teachers seem to have a lack of confidence to explore these new opportunities and to take learning outwith the comfort and safety of the classroom. There is evidence of sustainable education, but I would say that there is room for much more. I am eager to see how my class progress in their learning using their novel study, and I hope to see that they learn a lot about sustainable development from it.