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Recycling tyres to green a school

17.09.2015

(Other)

I am a fairly new governor at a local secondary school near my home. The school gives 

its name to a ‘multi-academy trust’ a grouping of schools which are not subject to local 

democratic influence: actually the words to say this that first came to mind were 

‘…schools freed from local democratic control’ which would indicate the official view of 

the matter emphasizing freedom rather than new constraints, but I spotted my typing 

and changed it. The fact that the name of the group of schools is carries the name of one 

of them creates a sense of hierarchy. I see the valuing and devaluing of staff and children 

as a key influence on their wellbeing and performance.

 

I have attended a few meetings at the school, which have largely consisted in passing 

around a mass of sheets of paper on which test and examination results are tabulated. I 

do not think that spending my time in this way is particularly useful for myself or for the 

learning and wellbeing of students and staff at the school. I voice this at various points in 

the meetings but this is seen as an isolated perspective and viewed, by some, with 

irritation. I went to one meeting to be trained to be a good governor. I found I was being 

instructed to comply with a managerial view, all about my role in external 

accountability. Government documentation on school governors presented at this 

training made no mention of the idea that governors might try to help the flourishing of 

learning, teaching and relationships at the school.  

 

There was some discussion at that meeting of the values of the school. I see values as 

expressed through action and I suggested that the actions at the governors’ meetings 

illustrated different values from those I might find expressed in staffroom and 

classrooms. I decided that I would not last long as a governor if my only role were to 

challenge the prevailing approach at these meetings. I expressed an aim that a good part 

of meetings should be about teaching and learning activities and challenges faced by 

children and staff and how these might be reduced. But I looked for a way of making a 

contribution in the shorter term.

 

I asked the head teacher if I could visit and explore with him, away from the governor 

meetings, my contribution to the school. I took a copy of the Index for Inclusion as a 

present. He was glad of this contact and took me on a tour of the school, classrooms and 

grounds, meeting teachers and young people and catching snippets of lessons. There 

was a good relaxed atmosphere. In classrooms I saw children engaged on topics that 

interested them. As we walked down a corridor we bumped into the Head Chef in the 

school kitchen run by the private company, Cucina. Before my time, Cucina had been 

asked to pay the living wage to all their workers in the school of £7.85 an hour, but when 

they said that they would insist on passing all the increased costs onto the school, the 

chair of the school federation governing body backed down. I mentioned to the head 

teacher as we walked on that in I had read an article in Resurgence by a Japanese 

educator who said that in starting up a school he ‘begins with the kitchen’. I had in mind 

eating together as an important cultural ritual for any community but also the 

possibilities of linking school dinners with planting and growing vegetables, recycling 

and composting and local sourcing. I thought that this might be difficult with this private 

company with its limited sense of social responsibility. 

 

On my way to one governors’ meeting I had tried to look at the school with fresh eyes, 

not having seen it since my daughter attended it 21 years earlier. The school grounds 

are very limited, mainly concrete with a few plants and a couple of small trees in odd 

corners. As I entered on that occasion it seemed that there was little, which lifted the 

spirit. Even the sign at the gates is dull with small apologetic writing. I raised the 

question of doing something to improve the look of the entrance and one parent 

governor immediately offered her experience: “we raised that years ago and there is no 

money for it”.  As we went round the school, however, the head showed me an area 

behind the car park at the back of the school presently planted with a few untidy shrubs, 

where staff were thinking of creating some raised beds. Then in one preparation room 

we met a science technician who was particularly keen on growing vegetables with 

groups of children as part of their science education. I mentioned to them the idea I had 

seen in a Norfolk school of creating raised beds with arrangements of used car and truck 

tyres. I suggested that could be a way of improving the look of the playground at the 

front of the school leading to the entrance. The technician was keen but the head 

seemed doubtful, thinking perhaps of a tyre dump, and asked if I could send him some 

pictures.

 

 

I wrote thanking him for the school tour and a glimpse of some delightful lessons. I sent 

photographs with a suggestion for working on a plan to ‘green the school’, starting with 

tyre beds.  

It would be a fine exercise in participatory school improvement. Beauty is one of 

the sixteen values headings that make up my proposed values framework. If the 

governor's approve it, then it can happen since costs are very small. If they do 

not then it will still be a success for participation. So we cannot lose. 

 

His response was swift. He liked the photo and had been struck by the idea of ‘greening 

the school’. He saw this as opening up all sorts of possibilities for teaching and learning. 

A meeting was arranged with the technician and the head of learning support within ten 

days. It was a brief, practical meeting. We shared experience and our hopes for these 

developments. We agreed that there were several aims; making the school more 

attractive with flowers, other plants and growing vegetables; giving some students, 

finding it hard to engage in other activities, pride in their accomplishment and the 

pleasure they could bring to others; engaging parents and supporters of the school; 

creating a new gardening club; integrating planting and growing across the curriculum; 

extending this beginning into a range of conservation activities, that would begin to 

‘green the school’.  The technician went away to draw up a plan. I went away delighted 

at having found an opening to work with the school on improving conditions for 

teaching and learning that did not involve a fixation on statistical outcome measures.

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