Retired teacher Sandra McLeod on making Hackney a ‘beacon borough’ for educational sustainability

PUBLISHED: 12:29 03 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:29 03 January 2020

Sandra McLeod, who helps run the eco schools network. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sandra McLeod, who helps run the eco schools network. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

When she was a teacher Sandra McLeod encouraged her pupils to enjoy the natural world. She tells Emma Bartholomew how - now she’s retired - her dream is for all schools in Hackney to become sustainable.

Sandra McLeod, who helps run the eco schools network. Picture: Polly HancockSandra McLeod, who helps run the eco schools network. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sandra McLeod decided the natural world should be part of the curriculum when she started out as a primary school teacher four decades ago.

"The first thing that got to me was, when I took the children out onto the Rainham Marshes, as they got out there they just ran," she remembers the 74-year-old of Victoria Park Road.

"They enjoyed it so much and we saw owls in the daytime, and they were just fascinated.

"It was so great to see them enjoying the natural world and it just grew from there. Everywhere I've been since I've made a pond."

Sandra taught in Hackney primary schools from 1991 to 2005; firstly at Shacklewell then Whitmore, which has become Shoreditch Park.

Now retired, Sandra set up campaign group Sustainable Hackney's Education for Sustainability Network with Merle White, another retired teacher. Together they are working as volunteers to make Hackney a "beacon borough" for educational sustainability.

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"Our aim was rather grandiose," said Sandra, who is also a volunteer assessor for the free Eco-Schools programme they try to encourage schools to sign up to.

"We are trying to get Hackney's schools to take on sustainability, and to teach the truth about climate change with varying degrees of success.

"The idea is that all the things one should be doing to live sustainably are embedded in the every day life of the school, like cutting down on energy, recycling and saving water, and that the curriculum contains lessons and programmes about sustainability. So if you were teaching history you might take climate change back to the industrial revolution, and try to explain to children how it's come about.

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

Successful participants are then assessed for bronze, silver and green flags to fly over their schools.

So far only Orchard Primary in Hackney has reached this status - but Sandra would love to see more schools come on board.

"Orchard is also an Ofsted outstanding school, and to my mind that speaks for itself - you can get great results and you can be a green flag school," she said.

"You can still teach the national curriculum and be creative - and just a little bit subversive if you really want to - and it doesn't detract from exam results, and you end up with children who are far more rounded. "We are working on trying to get support from the council and the Learning Trust for our work, because we think it's very important and the council has declared a climate change emergency.

"It's the children's right to know the facts about climate change."

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