Case study: Sustainable schools

Written by: Alex Green | Published:
Winners: Marton Primary’s eco-reps with the school’s bug hotel; enclosing a central courtyard to create a library has reduced energy bills at Home Farm Primary School (Photos: Alex Green/Ashden)

The Ashden Sustainable Schools Awards celebrate schools that pave the way in saving energy and inspiring others. Alex Green looks at two recent primary school winners and explains more about Ashden’s work and awards

At the Ashden Sustainable School Awards ceremony held last term, three trail-blazing primary schools and a further education college were announced as this year’s winners.

The judges were unanimous that all four winning establishments had demonstrated their commitment to cutting carbon emissions and lowering fuel bills by taking simple steps and inspiring their pupils and students to help save the planet.

Ashden looks for winners who are driving behavioural changes that save energy, implementing technical measures that improve energy efficiency or generate renewable energy, and introducing information about energy and sustainability into lessons. Involving pupils in all of this is key.

Here, two of the primary winners share their experience of becoming more energy-efficient along with some of their top tips for achieving change within the school environment.

Home Farm Primary School

Richard Potter, headteacher at Home Farm Primary School in Colchester, together with school business manager Ceri Stammers, has managed to turn around a poorly managed heating system and a heat-leaking building to make Home Farm virtually self-sufficient in energy.

It is the first primary school in Essex to be awarded a Grade B rating in its Energy Performance Certificate. One of the simplest yet most productive moves was to enclose a central courtyard which has reduced gas consumption to 60 per cent of what you would expect from a building of this type. The school has also seen a 61 per cent reduction in its electricity use.

“Our running costs were far too high,” Mr Potter explained. “With cutbacks and low capital funding, we needed to save money. At the same time, this was a perfect opportunity to enrich the pupils’ education with learning foci regarding sustainable energies and so we tied it to the Ashden Awards and Green Flag Awards and we got our pupils involved in becoming energy champions by creating an Eco Council.

“Solar panels have cut our electricity bills massively, creating nearly £8,000 per year in real-term savings in fuel and a reduced heating bill through the added insulation they provide, as well as generating £5,000 through the solar Feed In Tariff. Infilling our courtyard has also hugely cut our bills by recycling the lost heat into heating a space effectively.

“We’re using the extra money to invest in the future in hot water systems using solar and also to change to LED lighting. We’re also investing more in pupils’ education resources. If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to be focused, set your goals in sustainable measures rather than big, short-term outcomes, and build mindsets instead of going after quick change.”

Marton Primary School

Marton Primary, near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, won its Ashden Sustainable School Award for its impressive carbon-saving efforts, and in particular the role played by the pupils in determining what measures to take.

Headteacher Ben Stephenson explained what lies behind Marton’s success: “We have an ethical responsibility to educate our children to reduce carbon emissions and evaluate the impact of our own carbon footprints. Like the effect of planting a seed, taking small steps to change behaviours and mindsets is the key to future sustainability.

“As a school, we are focused on discovering and exploring the ethical imperative of child-centred projects. The issue of using energy responsibly is a great opportunity to bring the science and mathematics curriculum alive in a purposeful and relevant way. The work the children have done as part of the curriculum has further embedded the values-based culture we have established. The children also apply the philosophy to their own lives at home.

“Initially we engaged everyone through the power of pupil voice – we set up an ECO team and a team of Carbon Ambassadors who monitored energy use, led initiatives such as ‘Switch Off!’ days and ran energy-saving roadshows, pupil workshops and presentations.

“We then built the work into PSHE, shared successes and challenges through school assemblies and weaved the learning into curriculum topics. The staff are passionate about the learning potential having seen for themselves the results of behaviour change and I believe it has become part of the school’s DNA.”

The school has made annual cost savings of approximately £3,000 as well as reducing energy efficiency by more than 30 per cent over the last three years, saving 12 tonnes of CO2 per year. The savings have been redeployed to fund an annual programme of whole enrichment projects including inspirational visitors.

Mr Stephenson continued: “My advice would be to start with behaviour change. Make your pupils leaders, train them to monitor usage of paper, electricity and so on and empower them to analyse and present the results and go from there. The children know it is about their future and they will wholeheartedly buy into it if the school creates the right conditions – for us it was like a snowball gathering momentum.”

The LESS CO2 programme

In 2010, Ashden established the LESS CO2 programme in response to requests from schools for practical, hands-on support to help them make the changes they need to reduce their energy bills and to help build a low-carbon future. More than 80 schools have completed the programme.

Stephen Green, a LESS CO2 mentor and environmental coordinator at previous Ashden Award winner Ringmer Community College, explained: “Schools make up over half of the public buildings in the country and are huge consumers of energy. For most schools energy is the single largest budget after staffing, and yet it is frequently poorly managed. Some schools have little or no idea of how much energy they use or what they can do to reduce consumption.”

Schools have a powerful role to play in educating young people about climate change and empowering them to play a role in the solutions. As big consumers of energy, schools also show the impact that investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy can have on the bottom line, saving money that can be far better spent on education.

The Sustainable School Awards

The Ashden Sustainable School Awards reward schools that have developed both an ethos and practice of sustainability, in which the responsible use of energy is a key component. Ashden looks for winners that integrate the sustainable use of energy into the curriculum, pupil behaviour and the school building and grounds.

To win an award, schools do not need to have renewable energy technology (like solar panels), although of course this is welcome. Nor do they need to have the highest energy efficiency rating on its DEC certificate. Ashden wants winners that will inspire other schools to follow them. Any school for four to 18-year-olds based in the UK, whether state, independent or academy, can apply. 

  • Alex Green is the schools programme manager at Ashden.

Further information

To find out more about the Ashden Sustainable School Awards, go to and to register an interest in 2016’s awards, visit

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