The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Celebrating 25 years of Eco-Schools in Scotland

Inspiring pupils to take the lead on the environment

This year, Eco-Schools Scotland marks its twenty-fifth anniversary. Run by Keep Scotland Beautiful, the programme provides young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle sustainability issues, improve their local environment and act on one of the greatest challenges the world faces – climate change. Never before has aligning environment and education been more important.

As a whole school, pupilled approach to Learning for Sustainability, Eco-Schools is valued as highly effective practice within the How Good Is Our School? 4 framework. Thanks to Scottish Government funding, it is free to access for all Scottish schools.

And rather than being something extra in already busy schools, the “green umbrella” which Eco-Schools Scotland provides enables schools to pull together and build on all of their Learning for Sustainability work through different initiatives e.g. Fairtrade, Unicef Rights Respecting Schools, the John Muir Award, active travel, mindfulness and global citizenship.

Today, more than 2,130 schools have been awarded their first coveted Green Flag in recognition of their work – and your school may well be one of them.

So what’s involved?

Eco-Schools Scotland is built around a Seven Element process. This provides a framework for the development of STEM skills through: evaluation of the school context; problem solving to decide on topics and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to focus on; and subsequent measurement of the progress and impact of planned work.

Its pupil-led approach develops leadership opportunities which support pupil attainment, whilst raising awareness of sustainability issues and future career pathways. It’s also a great vehicle through which to explore Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes either through a discrete subject or interdisciplinary approach.

This was well exemplified in Echline Primary School’s work in South Queensferry to map and investigate litter hotspots in its local community. The school measured volume and types of litter, establishing that cigarette butts were a real problem. It subsequently worked with the local authority to place a specific cigarette bin at the worst hotspot thus supporting positive behaviour beyond the school gates.

A framework, not a blueprint

The beauty of the Eco-Schools Scotland programme is that it can be implemented in a way to suit the school – be it nursery, primary, secondary, or additional support needs. It’s a framework to be personalised, not a blueprint to be replicated.

For example, at Bathgate West Nursery school in Edinburgh, the children have explored biodiversity and food and the environment starting from a literacy focus on The Enormous Turnip by Nicola Baxter. They have grown food and wildlife-friendly plants, harvested produce and enjoyed cooking and eating the fruits of their labours.

Over in Newton Mearns, Glasgow, pupils at Isobel Mair School, an additional support needs school, have worked hard to reduce single-use on campus, developing their very own Eco-character and Eco-code. Their Eco-Schools work supports development of communication skills and pupil confidence to work with different stakeholders in their community. At Lornshill Academy in Alloa, it’s the school’s S1 and S2 pupils mentored by older pupils who are taking leadership of the Eco- Schools programme, focusing on climate change and responsible consumption.

Building a sustainable future

The international nature of Eco- Schools, operated globally by the Foundation for Environmental Education, means that our pupils are part of a 20 million strong global community across 67 countries leading on sustainability around the world.

Considering that annually, over 840,000 young people and 64,500 teachers take part in Eco- Schools Scotland, the programme has helped to shape the career, education and sustainability choices of millions of young people over the years.

The first children who engaged with Eco-Schools 25 years ago are now today’s consumers, teachers, parents and politicians. They lead lives that are full of decisions and could easily be leading the sustainability agenda in government and in the boardroom, as well as in their everyday lives. As a result, the potential positive impacts of the Eco-Schools programme are infinite.

Eco-Schools Scotland’s benefits are recognised within Scotland’s broader environmental agenda and the encouragement of pupil-led action on climate change through the programme was referenced in the Scottish Government’s February 2018 Climate Plan.

The Scottish Government has some of the most ambitious plans globally to tackle climate change. For these plans to come to fruition, instilling values of responsible consumption and production, and understanding of how our day-to-day lives contribute to climate change is key. As Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP said when awarding St Johns RC Academy in Perth with Scotland’s 2,000th Green Flag in 2017: “Eco-Schools is a fantastic initiative that lies at the heart of demonstrating the elements of our curriculum which are so important to ensure young people are equipped for the modern world.”

If the future is to be sustainable, young people must take the lead.

To learn more about Eco-Schools Scotland, visit: