Switch off – and help the planet

A school in east London is leading a campaign to save energy in buildings and teach about global warming. Will others follow?

Although weather-beaten and a little rough at the edges, Langdon School's 1940s art deco lines retain a certain charm and aesthetic appeal. But these brown-brick, secondary school buildings were certainly not conceived with energy conservation in mind. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case; the metal-framed, single-glazed windows are hardly the most thermally efficient, and the windswept walkways between the buildings, with the classroom doors opening to the elements many times a day, seem designed specifically to maximise heat loss in the winter months.

So it is perhaps appropriate that this comprehensive on the eastern outskirts of London, home to 1,800 pupils, is being used to spearhead a national campaign to persuade schools to reduce their energy consumption, specifically their electricity bills.

The campaign, called PowerDown, is being run by ActionAid, the charity that champions, among other things, rural Third World communities whose existence is threatened by climate change.

ActionAid wants UK schools to reduce their electricity consumption and thereby their contribution to global warming and, while they're at it, to educate new generations of children on the link between energy use in rich countries and natural disasters caused by climate change in poor ones.

On the face of it, there's lots of potential at Langdon to save money in this area. Of its annual budget of £1m, £250,000 goes on energy bills, of which £80,000 is swallowed up by the electricity that powers the lights, computers, copiers, interactive whiteboards and countless bits of technology in the classrooms.

As a first step, ActionAid, working together with the technology firm DIY Kyoto, has installed a meter at the school, linked to the main electricity cables entering the school site. The meter monitors, second by second, the electricity being used by the whole school. The prototype meter is similar in principle to gadgets already used by homeowners to monitor their domestic electricity use.

It is situated in the school's IT control room, just down a corridor from the foyer. Since its arrival a fortnight ago, it has been watched like a hawk by the school's head of e-learning, Duncan Stickley.

"We're on a steep learning curve," he explains as he shows me the inconsequential-looking, A5-sized grey box attached to the wall. As he points to it, the red digital display changes from 217 to 223; evidence that at that very moment the school's total combined electricity usage has jumped from 217 kilowatts to 223 kilowatts. It means that somewhere on the site, someone has switched on the equivalent of about 50 computers, a few electric kettles or a couple of ovens. "How is that happening? I wonder what that is," Stickley asks out loud, scratching his head.

On the computer screen next to the meter, he calls up graphs representing the school's electricity use over the previous week or so. Peaks and troughs clearly demarcate day and night, and weekends show up as extended periods of low consumption. But not zero consumption; when the school is empty, the meter still records electricity usage of about 80 kilowatts.

The questions are: where is this power being used; and is it really necessary? The school has committed itself to finding the answers, and using the experience as a learning tool in lessons. "Something as real as this is much easier to teach than anything you can make up," Stickley says.

At an informal after-school meeting last week, teachers from a few of the school's departments got together for a fruitful brainstorming session on how the project could be used in lessons. Among the early ideas are: pupils keeping weather logs for geography and comparing them to the levels of electricity usage shown by the meter; science lessons that study the link between energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions; and investigating the exact wattages of all the appliances in the school.

And the bigger picture – the global dimension – is perfect for use in citizenship lessons. "As a teacher, it's my job to move beyond the science to the impact," says the citizenship teacher Amir Shah, who plans to use the school's expenditure on energy as a case study for the new financial literacy element of his subject, and to set his GCSE students a project to do an audit of electricity use at their own homes.

Overall responsibility for the school's participation in PowerDown is carried by the assistant head, Vince Doherty, a passionate believer in encouraging pupils to see links between their own lives and those of their contemporaries overseas.

"If you want children to look at the world, help them to look at Langdon School first," he reasons.

Some of Langdon's pupils star in a short DVD produced by ActionAid to promote the Power Down campaign. It features dramatic shots of an Indian boy, up to his neck in water, whose home was swept away in that country's floods last year, an event linked directly to energy usage in the Western world. The action then switches to Langdon's corridors and classrooms, with pupils zealously turning off light switches, sockets and electronic whiteboards, and exhorting their audience to "PowerDown!" A pupil in Langdon's maroon uniform is seen arriving home and persuading his mother to fit an energy-efficient light bulb to a table lamp in the living room.

One of the pupils featured in the film, Niall Doherty, 12 (no relation to the assistant head), is already implementing the PowerDown message during the school day. "Sometimes, when I'm in a lesson, I see our class is full of light from the sun outside but we still have the lights on. I said it once to my teacher and he told me to turn the lights off," Niall says.

This approach is likely to be more officially endorsed by the school as it tries to encourage pupils to drive the PowerDown campaign forward themselves.

"We might, through the school council, empower energy monitors to go round the school and challenge teachers to turn the lights off," says Andrew Dodd, who, as the school's business manager, knows more than anyone the size of the energy bills arriving at the office. On the day I visited, he was clutching the electricity bill for December, when the school was open for only two and half weeks, which came to £6,708.30.

Over the coming weeks, the school will analyse the data from the new meter more closely, and, with the help of pupils, conduct more detective work to identify where savings can be made. After that, a formal energy policy will emerge.

In the meantime, a number of informal measures have already been instituted, including: an appeal to teachers to switch off all computers when not in use; a policy of opening blinds to let natural light into classrooms when possible and switching off electric lights; switching off, or disabling, alternate fluorescent strip lights in some corridors; and escalating the replacement of old-style computer monitors with more energy-efficient flat screens.

Doherty's aim is to reduce Langdon's electricity spending by 10 per cent over the next year. If he and the children succeed, it will be a valuable learning experience – and a means of producing £8,000 more to spend on books rather than energy bills.

The PowerDown campaign

PowerDown is ActionAid's new campaign to persuade schools and their pupils to see the link between their electricity consumption and the climate changes that are causing human catastrophes around the world.

One thousand schools in the UK have already shown interest in taking part by sending off for the DVD, posters and sheets of small PowerDown stickers for positioning next to light switches and sockets. Only Langdon School has received the sophisticated meter and its supporting software.

The campaign's website (www.actionaid.org.uk/powerdown) has lesson plans and downloadable activity sheets designed to help teachers use related topics in their lessons. In the longer term, teachers at Langdon will use their experience as the lead school in the PowerDown campaign to design a tailor-made toolkit for teachers to get the most out of the initiative in education terms, as well as to save money by reducing electricity bills.

"Making it easy for schools to do this in a joined-up way is the grand design," says ActionAid's head of schools and youth, Janet Convery.



Calculating the cost of electricity:

Whether at school or at home, we pay for electricity according to how many units we use. A unit is equal to 1,000 watts of power being used for an hour. The time an appliance takes to consume a unit depends on its wattage. So, a 100-watt bulb takes 10 hours to use one unit of electricity, but a 2,000-watt kettle uses one unit in half an hour. A 10,000-watt hot shower eats up a unit in six minutes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
music
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
fashion
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
News
i100
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Year 5/6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

KS1 & KS2 Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

Year 2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

NQT Primary Teachers

£90 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Have you recently qualified...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past