Case study: Weetwood Primary School

Despite not having a single member over the age of 12, Weetwood Primary School’s sustainability team is one of the best in the business

Weetwood Primary School: 9%

It's the first week of summer term at Weetwood Primary School in Leeds, and lunch break is in full swing.

Teaching assistant Rosie Atkins is leading a small group of students across the main hall. They stop outside a classroom and peer around the door. Apparently satisfied, they tick something off on a clipboard and move on. 

Switching off

Switching off

This is the daily switch-off check, where each classroom gets a once-over to make sure lights and computers are powered down. And like anyone who works with kids for a living, Rosie has mastered the art of the well-chosen incentive – at the end of each term, the class with the best switching-off record gets an extra break time.

This group, called the Eco Team, is the closest thing Weetwood has to a sustainability department, and despite the rotating membership (every student does at least one half-term stint during their time here), 5–11 age range and the competing pressures of lessons and sports practice, they’ve played a big part in the school’s 9% carbon cut. “I’m always amazed by how excited and involved they get” says, Rosie. “The vast majority really enjoy this stuff”.

While 10:10 wasn’t Weetwood’s first foray into carbon reduction, it was an opportunity to be part of something bigger. “Knowing there are people all over the country doing it is an encouragement, and the children seem to understand that. With 10:10 you feel like you’re working together, and that’s a good feeling.”

Knowing there are people all over the country doing it is an encouragement. With 10:10 you feel like you’re working together, and that’s a good feeling.

At the last count these changes had saved nearly £6,000 in reduced energy bills. This extra money will now go towards other school running costs, including staffing.

Getting staff involved

Weetwood’s carbon reduction programme started as Rosie’s baby, but how do her colleagues feel about it now? “That’s actually one of the best things about working here – I get lots of support and involvement from all the staff – including at a high level. The headteacher is actively supportive and makes sure all staff are able to meet with me for briefings, and Mr Clarkson, our site manager, is totally committed.”

Rosie describes this support as “absolutely critical”, but she had to work hard to build the school-wide enthusiasm that’s so obvious today. “You’ve got to keep people informed and show them that it’s working. For some of the teachers it started out feeling like yet another thing to have to do, but the more they realised we were actually saving energy, the more engaged people became. Now there’s a lot of pride and excitement about it.”

At the last count these changes had saved nearly £6,000 in reduced energy bills. This extra money will now go towards other school running costs, including staffing.

This excitement has translated into action – teachers have started to dream up energy-saving tricks specific to their own classrooms, including appointing specific pupils to remind them to switch off at the end of lessons.

The same even applies to Weetwood parents, who were won over by progress reports in newsletters sent home with the kids. One parent even donated a domestic energy monitor that others can now borrow for a few weeks as they get to grips with their home energy consumption.

Tech fixes

Back on school grounds, Weetwood’s progress on behaviour change is complemented by a range of technical fixes, many of which were inspired by Rosie’s regular meetings with her counterparts in Leeds’s other schools. “We used to have the doors propped wide open during break times”, says Rosie, “but now we use those Mothercare ‘slam stoppers’ so kids can still get in and out without losing too much heat from indoors.”

Mr Clarkson has also put time into tinkering with the heating controls, carefully striking the balance between keeping everyone warm through a harsh winter, and making sure the boiler wasn’t running for a minute longer than necessary. “It might seem like a lot of extra work messing about with timings”, he says, “but it does make a difference.”

If it’s been a few years since you set foot in a school classroom, you might be surprised by how ubiquitous computers have become. Laptops, interactive whiteboards and PC suites are a normal part of primary education these days, and this presents its own set of energy challenges. While many unsuspecting office workers have fallen foul of automatic shut-down software while working after hours, Weetwood’s ‘PsTools’ system is sophisticated enough to recognise when a machine is in use, sparing teachers the trauma of losing their work during an after hours session.

If it’s been a few years since you set foot in a school classroom, you might be surprised by how ubiquitous computers have become.

Lighting is another area benefiting from technical upgrades. Motion sensors have been fitted in store cupboards, and half of the school’s old strip lights have already been replaced with modern, low-energy fittings. The Governors are trying to find funding to do the rest – if they succeed, the finished system should cut Weetwood’s lighting bill by around 50%.

The future

The playground at Weetwood School

The playground

With a new cohort of pupils arriving each year, Rosie’s behaviour change work is inherently open-ended. There are plenty more technical upgrades on Mr Clarkson’s wish list too, but these are at the mercy of the council and other funding bodies. In fact, Rosie identifies funding as one of the biggest obstacles to further carbon cuts. “We’re hoping to get a Salix grant for the next round of improvements, but the team at Leeds council are so snowed under, it’s hard to get the information we need to apply.”

Despite these frustrations, Rosie sounds confident about the prospect of another 10%. Salix isn’t Weetwood’s only option, and they’re currently exploring a range of alternatives. And while Rosie clearly has a knack for carbon-cutting, the infectious eagerness of her fellow eco-team members is unmistakeable. “The enthusiasm of the kids is key for me. They’re so much fun to work with, and when you realise how much they want to do, it really gives me a buzz.”