Eco-Schools is a program which helps schools make more sustainable and environmentally friendly decisions. This can help young people develop a better understanding of the environment and how to protect it. It allows students to make a change and let their voices be heard on a topic that will affect them more than it has affected any other generation. Since the organisation began in 1994 schools around the country have taken part in its seven part initiative to make a positive change. As a rewarding for completing the program, schools can earn themselves a green Eco-Schools flag as a recognition of their environmental stewardship.


To learn more about the process involved in Eco-Schools, I talked to Mrs Phillips, a teacher a Cottingham High School and Sixth Form College, who heads up the program, with a group of students, at the school.


Mrs Phillips started the group as she spotted a gap in what the school was currently doing and “could see things that needed doing”. As she did not have a tutor group that year, she felt that Eco-Schools “meant that 20 minutes could be used really productively to make a big impact on the school”.


During the time that Eco-Schools has been running it has been able to make a significant difference. Firstly, with a litter picking scheme, “we devised the litter picking rota that everyone has been taking part in” this has helped keep the school site cleaner and has meant that less litter has made its way to places in which it could harm the environment. There was also a program run where a group of students were given the opportunity to plant some wildflower seeds “which really helped with the diversity of the bees and the insects on the school site”. An ATA (Active Travel Ambassadors) group had also been created for the school “which has helped people to think about getting off the bus a stop early and being more active in how they get to school, which will reduce pollution and also increase the health of the people that are doing it”.


Not only has the Eco-Schools program brought positive changes to the school site it has also provided opportunities for the students involved. One example of this is in 2022 a group of students went to the Waterline Summit Student Sustainability event – an event aimed at ideas of decarbonisation – which had “a massive impact on the group” it allowed them to meet students from other schools who are doing a similar thing and see how businesses local to them are backing eco initiatives. The event allowed them to see how the importance of their work as part of Eco-Schools and it showed them “a wider version of what they could aim for and what we could accomplish”.


For all involved Eco-Schools has been a positive experience that teaches many valuable life skills, “it’s taught them a lot about group work, about how to work effectively together so they each get their voices heard”. The scheme can also instil a sense of hope for the future of the environment even when the rest of the world is constantly telling us bad news, “It’s taught me to be more hopeful... you can get a bit despondent sometimes and think the world is going to hell in a handcart, but I think when you see how keen young people are to have an impact on the environment and to improve things, it really does increase your levels of hope.”.


The Eco-Schools program is fantastic opportunity for young people to weigh in on the critical issue of sustainability and make a difference. It also can help children to build confidence and teamwork skills and “if nothing else, it’s raised awareness for people of how little things can sometimes have a big impact”.