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How young people and schools in Hackney are responding to the climate crisis

PUBLISHED: 09:25 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:30 23 October 2019

Orchard Primary is the only school in Hackney to have an Eco School's green flag. Picture: James Robertshaw

Orchard Primary is the only school in Hackney to have an Eco School's green flag. Picture: James Robertshaw

James Robertshaw

"For all the years that I've had to defend young people against charges of apathy or lack of interest, it is really exciting to see them smashing those stereotypes and setting the agenda," Des Barrow, a geography teacher at Clapton Girls Academy, tells the Gazette.

Pupils from Clapton Girls' school join the climate rally outside Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Des BarrowPupils from Clapton Girls' school join the climate rally outside Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Des Barrow

He's excited about the growing youth eco-movement inspired by direct action group Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg's school strikes - although he makes it absolutely clear he doesn't condone kids missing school.

This is why he took some of his pupils down to the climate rally outside Hackney Town Hall last month during their lunch hour, with their parents' permission.

"There are students who are very passionate, and schools have no choice but to respond," he said. "Young people are saying things like: 'Why should I go to school when there won't be a planet in 10 years?' Schools have to have a response and not say: 'Stop talking. We are training you to be a good citizen.'

"People have been aware for a long time of global warming, of ice caps shrinking, of rainforests disappearing, but the twin movements have forced these issues onto the agenda. Maybe in 1900 you might have had thoughts as an individual that women should have had the vote the same as men, but until there's a movement that can force the hand it doesn't matter how passionate you might have been about it."

Orchard Primary is the only school in Hackney to have an Eco School's green flag. Picture: James RobertshawOrchard Primary is the only school in Hackney to have an Eco School's green flag. Picture: James Robertshaw

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Some of Des's pupils have set up an after-school club that he supervises where they are making a video.

He thinks climate change should be more prominent in the school syllabus.

"There is a compartmentalisation, so climate change is this one bit that we teach as climate change, but then there's all the other stuff like migration or urban challenges, and climate change could be taught and worked into all those things since it's going to pretty much affect just about everything," he reasoned.

Retired teacher Sandra McLeod volunteers for Sustainable Hackney's Education for Sustainability Network, and tries to get sustainability to permeate everyday life at schools.

Along with another retired teacher, she hopes to make Hackney a beacon borough for educational sustainability by encouraging schools to sign up to the free Eco Schools project. Orchard Primary is the only school in the borough that has gained a green flag.

"The idea is they cut down on energy use, they recycle, they save water," she said. "All the things one should be doing to live sustainably are embedded in the everyday life of the school and the curriculum contains lessons about sustainability. So if you were teaching history you might take climate change back to the industrial revolution.

"Everyone at the school should be involved and the message should go out to the whole community, parents and businesses."

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