Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

(RSPB)

 

 

Summary

The RSPB welcomes the sustainability aims of Building Schools for the Future, but is concerned that the programme is overly focused on the school building.

The returns on the capital investment made through Building Schools for the Future could be larger and longer-lasting if made alongside consideration of the incorporation of school grounds and the natural environment.

Experiences of the natural environment are critical in developing a sustainability ethic amongst children which they will maintain through adulthood.

The RSPB believes that integrating school grounds and out-of-classroom education is a key factor in ensuring the success of sustainable schools.

 

 

Introduction

1. The RSPB supports the Government's investment in Building Schools for the Future (BSF) with the aim of ensuring that schools are sustainable - environmentally, socially and economically.

 

 

Building Schools for the Future

2. The BSF programme and high levels of associated capital investment should go a long way in enabling schools to become 'sustainable' as outlined in the current DfES national framework consultation. This is particularly true with respect to those of the eight 'doorways' relating to developments in the physical structure of the school building and grounds (for instance, energy and water stewardship).

 

3. To be fully sustainable and deliver through all doorways, BSF developments should also take into account how to instil in pupils the motivation and inspiration to live sustainably. This would ensure that the full potential returns from the investment are realised, and that they continue to be realised into the future. Echoing the words of last year's Environmental Audit Commission report (Follow-up to Learning the Sustainability Lesson), the role of BSF cannot be seen in isolation from education for sustainable development in the curriculum.

 

4. To meet these aims it is important that improvements to the ecological quality of the school grounds are also an element of BSF. This would ensure that pupils could easily interact with the natural environment, and also provide a valuable resource to the local community (such as accessible green space or locally produced food).

 

The benefits of education outside the classroom

5. The RSPB believes that all children should be entitled to experience outdoor learning as an integral component of their school career and that it is a critical factor in schools becoming sustainable. School grounds provide an important springboard to the wider natural environment.

 

6. Every year 35,000 school children take place in the RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch - where children watch and record birds in the school grounds for one hour. In many cases this simple one-off activity has been a catalyst for many school-based environmental activities and curriculum-linked projects. As a result, children have been motivated to take an interest in their local environment, and schools have made improvements the ecological quality of their grounds. In addition to this, the RSPB's youth membership - Wildlife Explorers - also has over 700 school-based clubs.

 

7. Out-of-classroom or 'real world' learning broadens children's outlook, improves their motivation and personal skills, and creates a sense of place, nature, culture and history. It provides inspirational experiences, which teachers can use as a springboard for wider curriculum-based work. Ofsted and a previous ESSC inquiry have recognised and acknowledged these benefits.

 

8. By experiencing nature firsthand, children learn about the principles of ecology by seeing, hearing and touching the environment in real life. Combined with this is an emotional response to nature and the world around them which is essential in forming a sustainability ethic. It therefore reinforces and provides grounding to the environmental sustainability lessons aspired Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

 

9. Out-of-classroom learning also directly contributes to wider sustainability and Every Child Matters objectives such as health, active citizenship, risk awareness, and social inclusion. It thus also supports the BSF's social and economic sustainability objectives. In all, it is the foundation for a full and sustainable life, to which every child should have access and every school should contribute.

 

 

Government action and commitments

9. The Government has pledged 'to enhance our children's understanding of the environment we will give every school student the opportunity to experience out-of-classroom learning in the natural environment.' The RSPB hopes that the forthcoming Manifesto for Education Outside the Classroom reinforces this commitment while recognising the sustainability benefits of out-of-classroom learning.

 

10. Aim 2 of the National Curriculum states that it should help develop their [pupils'] awareness and understanding of and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secure their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national and global level. The RSPB believes that BSF can and should contribute to achieving this aim.

 

 

11. The RSPB therefore believes that out-of-classroom education should be recognised as a key factor in ensuring the success of sustainable schools. Building Schools for the Future will only be successful in meeting the needs of learners and communities now and in the future if utilises the potential of school grounds and all pupils have regular first hand experience of nature. This will not only develop an innate appreciation of the environment, but also provide the context and motivation for the actions and responsibilities taught within sustainable schools.

 

June 2006