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Sandhills Primary School / Sustainable energy throughout a school culture and curriculum

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Sandhills is a 200-pupil primary school on the outskirts of Oxford.

It has a long-term commitment to sustainability, and negotiated successfully for extra energy-efficiency measures when the school was rebuilt in 2003.

£1,500 saved per year thanks to a 5kW wind turbine.

34% reduction in gas consumption.

1,000 low energy lamps sold by pupils to parents.

The school

Sandhills Primary School is situated on the outskirts of Oxford in an area of mixed housing. The school has 200 pupils and 16 staff. 8% of pupils receive free school meals, 20% are from differing ethnic backgrounds and 36 pupils have special educational needs. It is a typical UK suburban school.

A new school building was constructed in 2002 and the modern design provides generous teaching areas, good levels of natural light and includes a wide range of energy efficient equipment. There are extensive grounds around the school providing space for an amphitheatre, a school garden for growing vegetables, a small, recently-planted woodland area, a pond and a composting facility. It is a haven for biodiversity studies. Environmental activities were well developed in the school before the new building was opened.

Teacher taking a class in the school’s grass amphitheatre.

Through a programme of energy efficiency work, the school was awarded level 1 and level 2 Sustainable Energy Awards from the DFES (DCSF) and in March 2007 was awarded the level 3 certificate, only the fourth school nationally to achieve that award. Their MP, Rt Hon Andrew Smith, joined a school assembly on a special Energy Day to present the award to the Energy Team of eight pupils. In December 2007 the school attained the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award, the thirteenth school in Oxfordshire to achieve the Green Flag.

Behavioural activities to promote sustainable energy use

The school has an Eco-Committee and an Energy Team whose members have produced energy saving posters and stickers for display around the school. Each day they check for energy wastage in classrooms and have produced energy ‘spy sheets’ to monitor each class’s performance. They report results in assembly, awarding the ‘Light Bulb Trophy’ to the most energy efficient class. Members of the Energy Team regularly present their ideas for saving energy to other pupils and run energy efficiency competitions based on popular television programmes such as the X-Factor and the Weakest Link.

Electricity meters are read by the caretaker and pupils at the beginning and end of each school day and readings are displayed on graphs on the energy board. Gas meters are read only in the winter, as the heating is off for more than six months of the year.

Energy spies, part of the school energy efficiency team, read the electricity meter with the school caretaker.

There are good links with parents and other members of the local community. 1,000 low energy lamps were sold locally (mainly by children to their parents) to encourage energy efficiency and to raise funds for a wind turbine. The school carried out its own consultation with neighbours regarding its plans for the turbine and invited everyone to the official launch.

In addition to energy work, the school also has a strong focus on the environment. There has been a tree-planting programme, with most pupils donating £1 to plant a tree, and some planting more than one. Sandhills uses living willow structures for fences and a tunnel for the children to play in. There is also a vegetable garden, composting area and pond (kept topped up by harvested rainwater from school roof). Staff from nearby Waterperry Gardens have been in to help with the school garden and have sponsored the tree planting.

The school believes that if it develops an ethos of environmental awareness then pupils will take that message home into their everyday life. Parents are regularly invited to join in with the energy events at the school, and are kept informed of activities through the school bulletin, which goes home to parents and also appears on the school’s website.

Children gardening in the school vegetable patch.

Sustainable energy technology

As the school building is only five years old it had to meet reasonable standards of energy efficiency. However, environmental awareness at Sandhills pre-dated the new building, and the headteacher and governors were active in achieving a higher standard of efficiency than had originally been planned. There are numerous sky lights and windows, which greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting. Newly installed lighting is very energy efficient and includes motion sensors. The caretaker identified excess lighting in the corridors and personally reduced the number of lamps. He also re-wired fans in the toilets that were running continually.

There is little need for heating in the school because of its design and construction. Each room has its own radiator thermostats for individual control. The school has recently been surveyed to have separate sensors installed, which will monitor electricity, gas and water usage, and it is hoped that this additional information will assist the school in becoming even more energy and water efficient.

A 5kW ISKRA wind turbine was officially commissioned at the end of February 2008. It is estimated that it will provide up to 20% of the school’s electricity needs, saving the school about £1,500 per year.

Sandhills 5kW wind turbine.

The wind turbine is well situated for capturing optimum wind speed and its position near the busy A40 is an excellent advertisement for the school’s commitment to sustainable energy. There is a display panel in the school hall to show the amount of electricity being generated by the turbine. The school is investigating how it can sell surplus electricity at night, weekends and during holiday periods.

Sustainable energy in the curriculum

The teaching of energy is embedded in the curriculum and in addition there are occasional ‘one off’ projects such as an Energy Free Day when lessons and activities are undertaken without the use of electricity – no lights, computers or computer smartboards.

Each year, in the curriculum, the children cover a whole range of environmental topics ranging from composting to what happens to our rubbish, the life cycle of a can and rivers and the water cycle in Year 6.


The graphs and charts displayed on the energy notice board illustrate how electricity consumption has been declining over the past two years due to the reduction in the number of lamps in the school corridors, the rewiring of the fans in the toilets and general improvement in the management of energy. In 2007 this resulted in the school using 74,976 kWh, compared to 80,272 kWh the previous year – a reduction of over 6%. This is in addition to up to 20% of the school’s electricity needs which will be met by the wind turbine.

Sandhills has also made significant reductions in the use of gas for heating, cutting consumption from 380 MWh in 2005/06 to 250 MWh in 2007/8 – a reduction of 34%.

Children in the vegetable garden.Environmental activities were well developed in the school before the new building was opened.

Potential for replication

The UK Government is committed to refurbishing or rebuilding all its secondary schools and half of its primary schools. Often schools feel that they have little say in the type of building that they get. Sandhills demonstrates that it is possible to lobby successfully for a building which goes beyond the actual requirements for efficiency. Also, even when a school has a good building, there is no room for complacency, and there will always be opportunities to optimise its use.

Management, finance and partnerships

This is a real team effort developing a whole school approach to sustainable energy. The process is very much ‘bottom up’ with the headteacher providing staff with freedom to experiment, develop and deliver. There is no specific policy on energy but the need to manage and teach energy effectively is embedded in other broader policies.

Thames Valley Energy undertook the initial feasibility study for the 5kW wind turbine. It cost £28,500 with funding coming from the Low Carbon Building Programme (£10.5k), Oxfordshire Country Council (£5k), Oxford City Council (£5k) and Eco-Schools (£5k). The pupils provided £184 from their own pocket money and sold 1,000 low energy light bulbs to their parents to raise additional funds. Friends and parents of the school were also invited to make personal donations to the turbine fund which totalled £450. The developer who built the new school and the adjacent houses underwrote the shortfall and one of the installation contractors (ELM Ltd) also ‘donated’ some of his groundwork to the project which helped the overall finances.

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