In a review of research, Elisabeth Barratt Hacking and William Scott from the University’s Department of Education found evidence that young people care about the environment and engage with ways to protect it when given the opportunity by schools.
The researchers presented their findings in the report, Evidence of Impact of Sustainable Schools, which they prepared on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools & Families (DCSF).
The aim of the report is to set out the educational and social benefits to young people and the community of learning in a sustainable school, and is written with leadership teams in schools and other educational settings across England in mind.
It suggests activities such as monitoring and reducing electricity and water usage; auditing and planning sustainable transport to and from school; making improvements to the school’s gardens and habitats and growing food for the school kitchen all help to embed the culture of sustainability within schools and help young people’s learning.
Elisabeth Barratt Hacking said: "There is evidence that young people care about the quality of their local communities and environment and want to have a voice and contribute to local improvements yet they perceive few opportunities to do so.
"Participating in constructive, meaningful activities helps young people see the point of getting involved, aids their understanding of what they can do themselves and when collaborative social action is needed.
"If you provide opportunities for young people to discuss and respond to significant issues that are important to them, this will help the acquisition of confidence and skills to support active citizenship."
Previous studies have shown that sustainability captured the interest of young people because they could see its relevance to their own lives and futures. There was evidence of an increase in knowledge and understanding of the importance of leading more sustainable lives, and there are examples of more positive attitudes and improved standards and achievement.
This in turn results in positive benefits for young people’s learning and well-being and also for the staff and wider community.
The reports suggest the following examples of how schools can help students to get involved in sustainability:
- Create a timetable to look at sustainability in cross-subject ways, integrating these with extra curricular and out-of-classroom and community activities, and how the school is managed.
- Involve young people in monitoring and improving the school and community’s use of energy and resources.
- Give young people active experience of the wider world, integrating this into school based learning.