Schools: Sharing good environmental practice and ideas

St Mary’s Catholic school has put Laudato Si’ at the heart of its curriculum, carrying out a wide variety of environmental activities that give children the chance to see how social action can make a difference throughout the whole community.

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St Mary’s Catholic School, Swanage, Dorset, Diocese of Plymouth.

Between 2017-2019, St Mary’s looked at how to reduce single-use plastic in the school and in the local community. The pupils delivered a local advocacy project over two years which included:

  • Writing to businesses that supplied items to the school to ask them to reduce single-use plastic and asking parents to avoid purchasing items using single-use plastic.
  • Writing to local businesses, the Bishop, the Queen, the town council and others to ask about their environmental policy and singled use plastic. The school received many positive replies, including from Buckingham Palace.
  • Visiting local shops and businesses to audit their use of single-use plastic, talking to shoppers and the general public about the environment, and offering certificates designed by the pupils to businesses they felt deserved recognition. The school Green Team visited the Budgens and Co-op supermarkets in the town to look at how much unnecessary packaging is being used. They also asked members of the public what they thought and found that they agreed unanimously that it should be reduced. Following this, the Green Team wrote to the supermarkets to ask if this is possible.
  • Setting up a table outside the supermarket and gathering a petition of over 500 signatures calling for an end to single-use plastic.
  • Undertaking a climate march with posters designed by the pupils, reading out poems written by the children.
  • Speaking in public at the Town Council and on local radio
  • Undertaking beach cleaning and litter picking

St Mary’s was also winner of the Plastic Free Schools award in June 2019. Members of the school Green Team have also joined a new Sustainable Swanage Youth Group run by the Town Council. In recognition of St Mary’s status as a Plastic-Free School, some of the Green Team were invited in January 2020 to present awards to local businesses as part of Swanage’s application to become a Plastic-Free Town (which it now is).

The school has also undertaken a range of other actions including recording original song material which has been used by the diocese, setting up a stall in school to share ideas with parents about how to avoid single-use plastic.

Since beginning this project and embedding social action and Laudato Si’ into the school curriculum, Headteacher Maria Gadston has noticed increased confidence and improved public speaking skills in those students that have taken part. She has also noted changes in attitudes to recycling and other activities in the homes of the pupils and the wider community. This work ‘has really excited and enthused the children’, who have ‘been enabled to see that they have a voice and can make a difference to the world around them’.

There are of course challenges in taking pupils out into the community to advocate. Maria discussed concerns over the school potentially being seen as ‘politicising the pupils’, although there was no negative feedback – ‘indeed there has been a very positive response from local people’. This work provided an excellent opportunity ‘to learn how to deal with people who may not agree with their views and how to challenge respectfully’.

While the project has been less active during Covid there has been a real legacy for the younger school pupils and a strong ethos continues in the school. The students at St Mary’s plan to carry on with their campaigning work, in particular getting out and about in the town, continuing work on Fair Trade, supporting CAFOD and developing a wildlife area to share with the community.

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