Honour for first wind-powered school

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The Independent Online

A village primary school was celebrating last night after bringing a new sense of pride to a former mining community devastated by a pit closure. The 107-pupil Cassop Primary School in Durham has become the first in the UK to be wind-powered through a wind turbine located in the school grounds.

It also became the first to win an award for the country's greenest school as part of the prestigious National Teaching Awards – screened live on BBC2.

The school's dedication to teaching about the environment, which has led to a host of educationalists visiting from abroad to see what they can learn from it, stems from a biologist, Jim McManners, becoming its headteacher thirty years ago.

At that time the local colliery was the main employer. It closed abruptly in 1983 – a year before the miners' strike – on safety grounds because of flood fears.

"I thought there were great possibilities about using the environment because I thought it was something that people in the village could be proud of," said Mr McManners.

One of the school's first initiatives was to campaign for part of the pit heap to be turned into a nature reserve after pupils discovered its natural habitat was being destroyed by tipping.

One pupil, Leanne Gott, wrote to the body left in charge of colliery land, saying: "I'm writing to say please would you help save the wildlife because a very cruel man is destroying important land and we need all the help we can get. The animals that are there are in great danger." The quarry is a now a nature area often visited by the children.

The school introduced measures to save energy years before climate change and sustainability became major issues. It has solar panels on the roof for heating, while the school boiler uses recycled wood chips.

It also has its own "green team" – pupils who make sure lights are turned off and energy is saved. A gadget also shows how much carbon dioxide is being produced by the school every hour – enabling the "green team" to watch the figure falling as they work.

A report last week produced by the Cambridge academic Professor Robin Alexander, noted that today's seven to 11-year-olds were anxious about climate change, but that in schools that involved them in tackling the energy crisis that fear evaporated.

Mr McManners believes this is the right approach. "You don't want to frighten them to death so they think there's no point in doing anything," he said.

The school also encourages the green team to come up with their own ideas – and one adopted recently has been to extend the school's recycling scheme to include papers. Pupils are also being encouraged to grow their own vegetables at the school.

Cassop Primary received its award at the London Palladium from Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls, who said: "We are lucky as a society to have such a talented group of people working to improve the lives of our children. The value they bring to our society is priceless."

The school is even trying to persuade parents in the village to conserve energy. "One dad has made a wind turbine out of old car parts," said Mr McManners.

It has also achieved another of the head's aims as the local community has something new to shout about. After the pit closure, pupil numbers plummeted. Now the school is oversubscribed and people are moving back into an area that is considered to be one of natural beauty.

The winners

* Primary headteacher: Kevin Harcombe, Redlands Primary School.

* Secondary headteacher: Jo Shuter, Quitin Kynaston School.

* Special needs teacher: Gundi Shaw, Woodford Valley Church of England Primary School.

* Outstanding new teacher: Nick Wergan, Sackville school.

* Enterprise teacher: Matthew Evans, Forest Boys School.

* Teaching assistant: Anne Hegarty, St Brigids Primary School.

* Primary teacher: Andy Bell, Meadows Primary School.

* Secondary teacher: Ian Jamison, Kingsbridge Community College.

* Governor: Lynette Kirk, Belle Vue Girls' School.

* Lifetime achievement: Dennis Richards, St Aidan's Church of England High School.