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Catholic Schools Eco Newsletter No.4

24 June 2008 :

Pupils from All Hallows choose their soundboard.

This is the fourth Eco Schools Newsletter for Catholic Schools and the last in this academic year. We are delighted with the positive response we have received so far, and we are now deciding what to do in 2008-2009. We’d very much like your feedback and also any information about how you have used the material. Do please write to us at ARC before the end of term.

This newsletter contains:

1. An interview with Debbie Niblock at All Hallows preparatory school in Somerset about the day on which the school’s curriculum became entirely environmentally aware.

2. A story about how St Teresa’s primary school in Bristol did something very similar on 5 June, the UN Day of the Environment.

3. A bike renting scheme being run by St Brendan’s Sixth Form College – and resulting already in more students taking the slower, more healthy way, more carbon-friendly way to their lessons.

4. A request for help from St Teresa’s to collect tokens for the next stage in an environmental building project.

5. Dates for your diaries.

Best wishes


1. A DAY FOR THE EARTH: Interview with Debbie Niblock

A Day of the Environment

Debbie Niblock is the Education for Sustainable Development Co-ordinator at All Hallows, an independent preparatory school in Somerset. On 22 April – Earth Day – she worked with her colleagues to create an entirely environmentally-inspired time table for the whole school for the entire day. Link here to download more details about the activities All Hallows pupils took part in (118KB file).

“I just knew that Earth Day was being celebrated and I asked our headmaster why didn’t we do something and he said “OK, sort it out.”

All Hallows children enjoy the blindfold trail in Scouts Wood.
* What did you do?

We had a complete ‘timetable crash’ for the whole school on April 22nd. All Hallows is extremely fortunate as it has its own small woodland and this provided the inspiration for the many outdoor based activities, with an emphasis on using our senses, using natural resources and enhancing what we already have. Every pupil also had the opportunity to participate in making a 2 metre high bird - a Crane which is the school emblem- from willow. This all day event was led by a local willow artist using willow grown near by on the Somerset Levels. Many of these activities could be easily adapted to other schools, along with the required risk assessments.

All of the activities are detailed in the pdf attachment on ARC's web(entitled All Hallows Earth Day Activities, and is a 118KB file), but here are some highlights:

• Reception Class (aged 5): created a sound board from tins and tyres and plastic bottles – anything scoured from bins and homes and charity shops – which they painted and filled with beans for shaking and metal spoons for hitting. The Year 6s helped them, and they all had a great time.

• Year One and Two (aged 6-7): In the morning their main activity was cloth printing of old sheets, using natural dyes like onion (which was quite smelly) and using simple tie-dye with elastic bands. These were later used by the Year 6s and 7s to make prayer flags (see below). They also did a blindfold trail in the wood (see pdf) with the idea of finding things to smell and feel. During the afternoon they had a treasure hunt; hunting for treasures such as a thorn, 3 different types of seeds, something round, a clover leaf. They also made some garden art by decorating plastic bottles and wool mobiles both using sticks they had ‘hunted’ from the Woods earlier.

• Year Three (aged 8): Worked on environmental projects all morning; making books based on story books and creating a landscape collage. They had time in the afternoon to enjoy Scout’s Wood where they had a session called “meet a tree” in which they worked in pairs with one led blindfold into the wood and introduced to a tree – with questions like “is it older than you?” “what does it smell like?” “what does the bark feel like”. Then they were led away by a roundabout route and asked to identify “their” tree.

• Year Four: Scout’s Wood is a useful resource – what would make it more useful is to know what is actually there – growing – and where. Year 4 had the task of mapping the wood, seeing what was there and why, and talking about how woodlands came about historically. They also explored it more closely through the ‘Blindfold trail’, which they really enjoyed.

• Year Five: They wanted to clean the little stream that runs through the school grounds – and while they were unearthing old plates and other artefacts they also learned how to identify the stream-life. Later they replaced water with fire as they spent the afternoon preparing an open fire and cooking goodies like popcorn and marshmallows for eager consumption.

• Year Six: Had a very constructive day; helping to create a herb garden from old crates, which required painting first. They also helped the younger children during the making of the Sound Board for the Reception playground (see above) and they each wrote prayers (on the Prayer Flags made by the juniors) in different, lovely ways, thanking god for all things natural. These are to form part of a hanging mobile in the school’s chapel, reminding us all of the day and the value of the environment. They also made willow crosses for the woods, and placed them around the statue of St Francis, which marks how deep into the woods the pupils are allowed to go.

• Year Seven: Also did prayer flags, but spent most of the day building and designing dens. The challenge was to make them big enough for three students and to be as watertight as possible. Later they also made things out of recycled materials to decorate the dens. The dens are still up, although over the year they will get “raided” for building materials for other projects, in the whole theme of sharing and recycling.

• Year Eights (around 13): The Year 8s were just as excited as the youngest ones – engaging with enthusiasm in the willow making and helping the younger classes. They spent time cooking food and eating it, using implements like Kelly kettles (tins with a funnel, used for heating hot water) and open fires. The original plan was for a fire pit, but it was too complicated in the end, and could perhaps be revisited next year.

Great general warm-ups

These were good for establishing a calm mood for follow on activities:

Observation - close observation for 10 minutes, followed by a drawing from what they remember.

Listening - find a special place. Shut your eyes and listen carefully. What can you hear? How many different things? What would be different 100 years ago?

Smell - eyes need to be closed! In a wood or in a classroom this is great for focusing the mind. Does it smell good or unpleasant? Can they relocate where they were standing just from the smell?

Touch - touch a number of things and describe what they are like in three words – bark of a tree, blade of grass, a stone, a daisy ...

* What kind of feedback did you get?

It was positive from everyone – nobody said “Why didn’t they spend the day doing maths or sport?”

The children absolutely loved it… a lot of them thanked me personally, and a lot of them started their night prayers with thanks for the Earth Day and all their activities.

There was a real feeling from children, staff and parents that they would like to do this every year (“and some said they wanted to do it every day.”)

* How much did it cost?

The total extra budget was £400, more than half of which was spent on hiring the willow artist for a day, plus willow materials. The rest was spent on a few extra materials including metallic paint and compost. The aim was to use recycled materials as much as possible, to keep the cost down and the environmental message up. It took a lot of effort to get the resources: mostly from charity shops, parents, from around the school.

* How would you do it differently next year?

We needed much more compost than I could have imagined, and next time I would order it further in advance enabling us to buy in bulk, rather than in small packets.

Some of the areas that weren’t covered included lunch – which could have had a more eco- or local- theme, although the school already uses many local suppliers. Initially there were ideas that the pupils might cook their own lunch but this was too complicated.

* What did you think?

It was hard work, but on the day there was a really good buzz: like organizing a wedding when you all have that special glow afterwards. One of the most moving moments was when the older boarders said their prayers at night, and gave thanks for the whole, special, day. The weather was perfect: about a week before I asked Father Roger if it was frivolous to pray for a beautiful day, and he assured me it was not.

* Which other schools are doing this?

I know that some schools had special assemblies, or some special classes, but I haven’t heard of any that have had a “timetable crash” in the same way. We are fortunate at All Hallows to have somebody to do this officially. I did meet one teacher at a school in the South East who was also a Sustainable Development Co-ordinator, but so far only one. I would be interested in making contact with others, especially if they are more local. It would be great to be able to share ideas.

* What is your own background?

I teach science to the older pupils at All Hallows and run an Eco-Club for pupils who want to make a difference, like me. I also have a PhD based on research into the implementation of environmental education as an approach to learning. Last year I was appointed to do half an hour a week on Sustainable Development for Education (along the UNESCO Decade for Sustainable Development Principles) but this year it has been expanded to just under a day a week. This has enabled us to really move forward in many areas and provide the impetus for memorable days like ‘Earth Day’ 2008.



United Nations World Environment Day (5 June 2008) was celebrated at St Teresa’s Primary School in Monks Park, Bristol. Pupils took part in a special ‘green day’.

The alternative way to make fruit smoothies at St Teresa's!
St Teresa’s decided to have a ‘no energy’ day and switch off as much as possible. There were no computers, lights, projectors, even bells. School dinner was served cold and the staff had to have their kettles heated on a wood-burning stove!

Healthy smoothies with bananas and strawberries were made with a specially adapted bicycle. Every pupil tasted the drinks and many pedalled hard to work the machine. Even Bernard Brain, the Headteacher was seen pedalling away!

The normal timetable was set aside for the day and the teachers held workshops which explored renewable forms of energy. The junior classes made boats powered by both solar energy and tension energy, wind vanes and fairground rides. The infants made windmills, fans, jigsaws, whirligigs, twirlers and rockets.

As a maths exercise Year 5 pupils read the electricity meters every day that week and found that on green day the school used about 10% of the electricity normally used (some kitchen equipment and the emergency systems were left on), saving about £10 in a single day. We hope that staff and pupils will now be even more careful to switch off unnecessary equipment from now on!


On 8 May, St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Brislington hosted a ‘Cycle Solutions Roadshow’ as part of its commitment to ‘The Sound of Many Waters’ campaign. The roadshow took place in the college conference room, with displays and exhibits highlighting the environmental, health, and economic benefits of cycling. And it celebrated the start of a new plan, Cycle Solutions, to encourage more teachers to borrow and then later to buy their bikes, and making it possible for employers to give tax reductions to their staff who cycle to work.

In Bristol some 70,000 people travel to work on foot, by bike, or by public transport saving up to 10,000 tonnes of C02 emissions each year.

The launch of St Brendan's Cycle Solution.
To actively encourage this practice, St Brendan’s tempted staff to cycle in to work on the day of the roadshow by a ‘pastry and coffee’ light breakfast to all those who did. One quarter of the 1,500 students cycle to the college – a statistic celebrated earlier in the school year when MP Kerry Mcarthy visited St Brendan’s and unveiled the 500th sign thanking people for not driving in Bristol.

Cycle Solutions allows staff to purchase a bike at a reduced price so they can use it for travel to work. Employees opt to sacrifice a part of their salary in return for the non-cash benefit of a bicycle and safety equipment, with the added attraction of having their income tax and National Insurance contributions exempt from the price of the bike. One of the requirements from the scheme is that 50% of the bicycle’s use must be for work purposes.

There are also lots of free cycle route maps and leaflets about cycling in the Greater Bristol area. Order them through Travel Better, Live Better or contact Lifecycle UK or telephone: 0117 929 0440, or visit

Thanks to Nicholas Graves at St Brendan’s for putting this together.


St Teresa’s has made the shortlist of the latest Evening Post Building Projects competition. The competition is for an environmental project and the school submitted a bid to construct some raised beds to enable them to continue their gardening throughout the year. The winning school is the one which collects the most tokens printed in the Bristol Evening Post from this Wednesday, 25 June, until Thursday, 1 July. Tokens will be of a different value each day, and there may be bonus tokens too.

Alison Spurrell writes: “We have already contacted both parishes, the Diocese website and other Catholic schools for help so now it is over to you. It would be wonderful if we were successful, and with your support we should have a very good chance.”

Please send any collected tokens to St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School, Luckington Road, Monks Park, Bristol, BS7 0UP.

5. DATES for your DIARIES

1400-1700 hours on 20 July 2008 at Clifton Cathedral As part of The Sound of Many Waters Initiative, an interfaith event featuring Bishop Declan Lang, an Orthodox Rabbi and an Imam from South Bristol will take place on 20 July. Please check The Sound of Many Waters website nearer the date for more details:

This newsletter is also available online at, in our news archives.


Link here to read other Catholic Schools Eco Newsletters.

Link download St Teresa's Primary School's Lenten Calendar

Link here for details of a recent talk given by Martin Palmer on Saints and Sustainability.

Link here for The Sound of Many Waters environmental initiative by Clifton Cathedral.

Link here for a BBC news story about The Sound of Many Waters.

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