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Before actually embarking on the Sustainability Report, an investigation was carried out with some schools to get feedback from heads of schools. The investigation, which, for practical reasons, took the form of an interview, explored the knowledge of heads on sustainable development and asked direct questions on their current and future practices of sustainable reporting. A sample of 15 schools from Independent, Church and State schools was initially taken, but, due to availability reasons only 12 were interviewed.
The first question (see appendix) aimed at investigating the knowledge of heads of schools about sustainable development. Our bias was that heads associated sustainability with environmental issues, eliminating the three other pillars. However, all the answers were positive; i.e., none questioned whether cultural issues or the community should be included in the sustainable development of the school. The four pillars were agreed upon by the heads of schools. However, as it will be outlined below, the actual meaning of the four pillars and their implementation in the school was far from reached. The question just proves that the schools are aware of the four pillars, but does not imply in any way that they are being implemented.
Consequently we asked them if sustainable development was part of the SDP - and nearly all of them confirmed that they do. One of the heads of schools that did not include it said that:
Our school is on the way of closing down, and consequently our SDP is limited to the next scholastic year which will cater for forms 4 and 5 only. No new projects have been planned and much less undertaken.
Sustainability is viewed as a long term process, and therefore introducing it for a short period of time (in this case two years) proved to be unpractical. Another head of school that did not include sustainable development as part of the SDP had plans to include it in the future:
The school is in the process of reviewing the SDP and is undergoing an internal assessment process as part of the Quality Assurance exercise. The issue of sustainable development is going to be high on the agenda and it is my intention to initiate the debate amongst all the stakeholders in order to make all the community members aware of the moral obligations that we have towards future generations. My objective is to create the framework for a whole school approach that looks at sustainability from the social, economic, environment and the cultural perspective.
As mentioned above, sustainability is viewed as a long term plan, implemented gradually to bring about the necessary changes, and thus needs careful planning. The heads of schools that fully understood the benefits of a sustainable school declared that it is useless to try to enforce it; it has to be integrated gradually in the school system. The rest simply declared that sustainable development is included in the school SDP. However, when asked how, the answers focused mainly on environmental issues, with no reference at all to the intercultural aspect, and very limited reference to the social and economic pillars. One went far as declaring that:
The fifth School Development Action Plan, which deals with EkoSkola, deals with issues such as promotion of healthy living and healthy eating, composting, waste separation, tree-planting, energy- and water-saving procedures, and so on. These are part of this sustainable development (aren't they?).
This particular head of school was not sure whether basic environmental themes (composting, waste, etc) was part of sustainable development, let alone the other pillars. Other schools associated their involvement through their enrolment in the EkoSkola programme.
We participate in EkoSkola activity and we include some of the issues raised in the EkoSkola committee's audit. Environmental issues are also one of the six major points of the school's action plan.
These are common ways through which heads of schools translate their commitment towards sustainability. Cross curricular commitment was also mentioned, including the involvement of the EkoSkola committee and the resources available.
Sustainable development is integrated in various subjects (e.g., Science, English, PSHE and Religion). The EkoSkola council works hard to instil awareness in our young pupils and we make use of EU funds to invest in alternative energy.
A deeper investigation in the action plans of the actual EkoSkola committees would have given a better picture on how the four pillars are being integrated in the school system. Our constant work with the EkoSkola committees of the same schools gave us a clear picture on which issues were chosen and dealt with. Whilst being empowered and having a voice in the school, the EkoSkola committees, made up of students mainly, tend to view their work as directly linked with the natural environment only. Guidance on the four pillars would be necessary, but it would imply a trained adult with knowledge on the four pillars of sustainable development. Instances where children view, for example, bullying, as not linked at all with EkoSkola have occurred. Dealing with cultural differences is part of sustainable development but it still lacks behind in the action plans of the same committees. As mentioned above, energy and waste are the main topics that committees deal with, with little space to other pillars.
Another school affirmed that
Environmental Education is included in the 3 year plan: through EkoSkola, Dinja WaÄda, Flick the Switch, Friends of the Earth programmes. With young children sustainable development is presented as 'use what you need without waste so there is enough for the future'.
The term sustainability, which used to be unfamiliar to children up to a few years ago, is now being used sparingly in schools. The definition given above coins the meaning of the word, but here again the school focuses on the common themes such as waste, energy and water. The need for guidance on how to integrate the four pillars especially the culture and social dimensions keeps emerging intermittently from various different entities.
The Gozitan heads of schools felt the need to commit themselves through the launch of the eco-Gozo programme. Eco-Gozo is a vision which aims at transforming Gozo and Gozitan society into a sustainable reality in its wider sense - not only environmentally, but also socially and economically (Ministry for Gozo, 2009). Such initiatives in themselves offered an incentive to change attitudes and traditions. One Gozitan head of school declared that "...we have integrated sustainable development in two action plans respectively - Environmental Education and Emotional Intelligence - Celebrating Diversity together..." giving a strong definition of what sustainability is all about. In this instance, where cultural differences were directly referred to, the integration of the four pillars is implemented easily as the head of school recognised the integration of such issues. The recognition of the four pillars by the SMT, and the direct reference in the SDP is then reflected in the action plan of the individual committees when they embark on the issue. Heads of schools declared their wish to make pupils and staff aware of the impact they have on the environment, on themselves and on the need to help protect the world. This also satisfies the perception schools should have of sustainability. The commitment shown by schools in these issues relates to the transmission of beliefs which will be passed on to future generations.
The schools, as mentioned before, are not required to fill in any sustainability reports at the end of the scholastic year. However, when asked, half of the heads of schools said that they do in fact fill in such a report. When asked to explain the procedure adopted, the heads of schools once again associated the EkoSkola programme with sustainability reporting. The EkoSkola programme includes an environmental review as part of its methodology and the heads of schools linked the sustainability reporting to this review.
Reporting is drawn up through minutes and activities of the EkoSkola committee: meetings, activities such as 'eco-wardens', questionnaires to parents and pupils, etc.
Such reporting is only an evaluation of the work done by the committee, and not a proper sustainability report. This implies that heads of schools need to be familiarised with how to conduct a sustainability report, and the inclusion of the four pillars needs to be addressed. Having said that, some schools do have a good insight of how a sustainable school should function. One particular head of school said that
...yes, we actually do the school audit of every action plan including the sustainable development. Besides, children themselves conduct the environmental review each year within the EkoSkola committee and school's work is illustrated and evaluated by personnel from national NGOs which promote sustainable development.
The involvement of local NGOs strengthens the wider dimension of sustainability and refers to the direct link to the community. In a small island like Gozo the community link proves to be much more effective. The eco-Gozo initiative is binding the staff to report the work done in relation to sustainability, and in return they are give credit for the work done. However, the same initiative has its negative side too. A Gozitan school revealed that the eco-Gozo directives imposed that they draw up a report on energy consumption to which they adhered. The enforcement of such reporting does not reflect the needs of the school, but rather imposes themes and actions that are not directly relevant to the requirements of the school. Empowerment is a key concept in sustainability. Anything that is imposed will not be effective. Initiatives that recognise the work done by schools should be encouraged, but compelling schools to adopt themes should not. The sustainability report designed would guide schools on where they lag behind and stimulate them to work on their weak points.
A local independent school gave a different view as to what sustainability meant in their reality. The views of the SMT in this regards focused on the economic sector; being their main focus to keep the school going.
The issue of sustainable reporting is linked mainly to the economic perspective since as an Independent school we need to address the issues pertinent to the financial situation which is becoming quite challenging and requires continuous monitoring. The other aspects related to sustainable development are tackled within the context of the school reality especially as part of a strategic plan to render the school more attractive and marketable in view of the present scenario.
Just as eco-Gozo is an incentive for the Gozitan schools, the Independent schools view sustainability as a way of attracting more students to choose an Independent school. The current prominence given to climate change and the environment as a whole gives the school a higher market value if promoted as a sustainable school. In this regard, sustainability reporting is seen as a necessary requirement and is carried out on a regular basis.
With such requirements, the school administration needs to be properly instructed on how to promote and implement sustainability. When asked whether they need more guidelines on making their schools more sustainable, all the heads of schools felt that, although motivated for one reason or another to be sustainable, they lacked the proper information and guidelines. Hence the need of a sustainability report as outlined herewith. Apart from indicating the level reached by the school, the report would also shed light on the steps to be followed to acquire the desired level of sustainability based on the four pillars.
However, this could mean a heavier demand on workload with a lot of paper work to be filled by the head of school. The main advantage of the sustainability report proposed by this study is that while requiring just ticking in letters, it still manages to provide a clear picture of the current situation of the school.
Eight out of the eleven heads of schools who sat for the interview said that schools should be required to draw up sustainability reports because:
â€¦ so much is taken for granted. Schools tend to focus too much on syllabuses, often leaving sustainable issues on the sidelines. Students need to learn about sustainable development because that is the only way we can hope to guarantee a future for the next generations. Students (& staff & the community) need to learn that whatever they do has an effect on others. We have become too selfish. Perhaps if we had to fill a sustainability report at the end of each scholastic year, there'd be a greater chance of us opening our eyes and to realize that it doesn't take much to make a sustainable school.
The sustainability report is thus seen as a means of control. Since it is considered a priority by the authorities, heads of schools will automatically dedicate time for it by putting it in their long list of chores. Heads of schools also stated that a sustainability reporting would "make sure that the person in charge is accountable and that this [the reporting] is evidence of work being done."
Sustainability reporting is sometimes delegated to a person outside the management team, and thus the work done needs to be verified. The report would justify the work done and the themes covered during the scholastic year.
A member of the SMT justified the reason for enforcing a sustainability report:
I cannot explain my answer. I can merely give a reason for it. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, we occasionally tend to act with a whip cracking at our back. So, at least as an initial step, I think it would be wise to have schools draw up a report. Of course reports are not meant to be shelved. One can eventually think of a form of recognition of the work done - until hopefully good practice becomes a way of life within the school.
This statement focuses on the need for schools to be forced to adhere to sustainable practices until it becomes a way of life. Unfortunately this is often the case in most spheres of life and in the case of sustainable development it would help to raise awareness and start adopting the lifestyle that would enable a promising future for the coming generations. Things may start as chores and end up as a way of life because persons start believing in them. In the case of sustainable development, schools may start off with seeing it as an added burden, but end up believing in the benefits that are reaped. Although we believe that a voluntary approach is more ideal, sometimes things work out differently. Both sides of the coin may lead up to the same result. One particular head of school, who has recently conducted a study on sustainable development in schools, affirmed that
I think that schools need to create an operative framework that helps the school to develop through concrete action plans and specific check lists to assess the progress and effectiveness of the policies and strategies being implemented to enhance sustainability across the board. The issue of financial viability is of paramount importance especially for the Independent sector that at the moment is being undermined by the Government's lack of vision and its inability to create a level playing field for all the stakeholders. In this context sustainability gains more relevance in promoting social, economic, environmental and cultural coherence within the local scenario. Through sustainability reports schools will become more accountable of their policies and actions. This is the first step in enhancing sustainability as envisaged in School Agenda 21.
The reporting procedure is thus viewed as a necessity and would eventually have to be adopted by all schools. Though not ideal, the imposition on schools to report would lead to the adoption of practices that are somehow being ignored at the present stage. Including a report that will be counter assessed by an external auditor, (as proposed in the report) would actually standardise the perception of sustainability and eventually integrate the four pillars in the day to day running of the school.
Other heads of schools who conformed to the idea of having a sustainability report declared that through a sustainability report "schools will do their best to engage in sustainable projects like waste separation, recycling of waste, caring for the school gardens, if available, etc."
On the other hand, the minority who opposed the sustainability report justified their answers by lamenting on the amount of bureaucratic work heads of schools have to deal with - work that is perceived as a waste of precious time "God forbid! Another file or report to fill in is all I need!" and "Schools are already overloaded with too much work" were common comments.
Other heads of schools were more positive and declared that even though overloaded with work, if offered assistance, they would agree to a sustainability report. The report, they declared, has to be workable, user friendly and with the correct guidance to make it functional.
A factual, unbiased report is ideal to help you plan for next year. Ideally it should be integrated in the SDP. However, lack of staff (in my case no assistant head) is a hindrance to this exercise considering the already full load that we have to cope with.
It is interesting to note that the need for assistance and guidance is requested by heads of schools. However the lack of staff and the overload of work is building a wall which is not easy to overcome. This contradiction arises from the fact that the need to adhere to sustainability principles is there, but without having to undergo the pain of filling a report. The amount of bureaucratic work given to heads of schools leaves little space to other initiatives.
Schools who promote holistic education where celebrating diversity and environmental education are learnt and practised day in day out do NOT need to draw up sustainability reports. Since our goals are integrated in the Action Plans, every term we monitor and audit the success of our performance in reaching both goals.
Integrating prevailing policies with sustainability reporting and producing a single common report would be more user friendly for heads of schools. Their idea is to integrate it with the work they have to do already, instead of adding a totally different thing. Thus sustainability reporting would be conceived as a practical substitute rather than an added burden.
8 Added value, Innovations, Strengths
8.1 Piloting the sustainability report
Once the sustainability report was finalised and the appropriate equations inputted to provide an instant score and percentage mark a pilot test of the draft sustainability report was made. The sustainability report needed to be tried in schools before its finalisation. This exercise was necessary to identify the strong and the weak points, and amend accordingly.
Four heads of schools coming from one Independent school, one Church school and two State schools were asked to put the report to the test and give their feedback both on relevance, clarity and spread of content and structure. The pilot test also checked the appropriateness of the tool for the various local school contexts.
It was immediately noted that not all heads of schools were familiar with Excel and its setup. Consequently a more extensive explanation was included in the Introduction Excel sheet as shown below.
Figure 18 : Explanation given in the Introduction Excel sheet
A Guidelines for Users (see Appendix 2) was included to provide detailed instructions and step by step directions on how to fill the forms and how the report works. We also explained that schools were only concerned with columns A-C or A-D as it took the heads of schools some time to figure out what the other columns were for. Requests were also made to make it available as a hard copy for those who have problems with using a computer. While users could use a hard copy to compile data, the problem would arise in the final compilation of percentages and how the school fares, as the Excel sheet works it out automatically.
The main comment during the piloting was that, besides being used to assess the state of the school's sustainability, the grids could also be used as a guideline on how to promote sustainability. The availability of the grids as a hard copy would be enough for this purpose.
A further comment was that:
It is a bit time consuming but it is nice because we get to know the result immediately as opposed to other questionnaires where we never get to know how we fared.
We are well aware that the report is time consuming, but since it covers many areas and is quite detailed there was no way we could reduce it. What needed to be clarified, however, was that schools do not necessarily have to fill it all up. The report is extensive and covers many topics. A school not working on all topics does not need to fill them all up - the aim is to assess oneself on the areas worked upon. However, even though time consuming, the report gives immediate feedback and enables planning for the following year. Some of the positive comments made were:
"Detailed and covers the core issues pertinent to sustainability."
"Grids are quite straightforward."
"Very good, impressive work."
"Good to know in which areas the school is weak so as to try to improve on them - report provides an excellent means."
"The design is practical: if stopped half way through it opens up on the same page, making it practical for heads of schools to work on. The immediate feedback is very encouraging."
Although some heads of schools commented that asking for school details in the first page did not render the tool anonymous, we felt that since the tool was intended for the school's self assessment, issues of anonymity were irrelevant. There is the risk that the external assessor might divulge information about the school, but whether to have an external assessor or not is up to the school to decide. The purpose of the external assessor is to validate the work since a school might easily misinterpret situations or statements. An external assessor would provide a more objective analysis.
On the issue of an external assessor, a head of school commented:
The questionnaire is exhaustive and covers every aspect. There may be the tendency to invent answers to finish it up, so the need of having an external assessor is essential. However, the idea of an external assessor may not be welcomed by schools who do not always accept these intrusions. It would have to be made clear that the role of the assessors would be to help the school and not judge it, as it might be wrongly interpreted.
As stated throughout our work, the purpose of the grids is two-fold: providing an assessment of the sustainability level of the school and to provide guidelines on how to start working on sustainability. In fact, after filling it up, a head of school told us that
After filling it up I realised how much we still have to work on! I'll pass it on to the teacher responsible for sustainable development in the school, so we'll start working on it immediately. The work is very professional. It highlights our good points and weak points - and I'm not ashamed to say that we do have weak points. It's essential to be able to recognize the weak points in a school and deal with them. No one is perfect! The report is a good indicator of the areas we need to concentrate on.
On another note, a school found that some of the points were not applicable, and therefore it would be useless to fill them up because they could never implement them. The head of school's comments were:
There are areas of no interest since they do not fit within our expectations and are at loggerheads with our school ethos and identity: e.g. working with the local council....that cannot happen in a million years.... or else it can be only be on a superficial level.....
Different schools have different realities. Omitting community collaboration from the grids would, besides making it irrelevant to other schools, be in direct conflict with the requirements of the four pillars model of sustainable development. This particular comment sparked off another dimension that we had to deal with. While the tool should allow schools the possibility of amending certain statements to allow for fine tuning to the schools' realities, schools should not be allowed to radically change the basic requirements of any of the themes. A sustainability profile of the school necessitates a thorough analysis of how the school is faring in relation to all the four pillars of sustainability. It is therefore imperative that any changes to the grids made by the school are approved by the external assessor or whoever is responsible for sustainability issues in schools before the school can use the tool for self assessment.
One last comment was that
I believe that your challenge is how to render your sterling work relevant to the local context. This can be achieved by exerting pressure on administrators to include sustainability reports as part of the Audit exercise that will shortly be introduced for all schools. This will ensure that all the schools will have to comply with the guidelines and structures that will feature in your study. I strongly believe that your work can inspire schools to move towards sustainability in a more convincing way. This path will facilitate a change in the attitudes and behaviour of all the stakeholders.
Making it compulsory or not for schools is not within our parameters to implement. As a starting point, the report will be made available online so that schools may make use of it as they deem fit. If it will, eventually, be adopted by all schools, it would be necessary to provide information and continuous support. In the meantime, we will be available for those schools who wish to start using it. This applies especially for those Eco-Schools who already use our support for the running of the programme. Heads of schools who opt to start using will have our full support - and at the same time we will be testing the type of support that would be needed once it is used.
Piloting the draft sustainability report in schools was crucial in identifying inaccuracies and unclear statements as well as the need for more detailed instructions about use and data inputting.
8.1.1 Guidelines for users
Taking into consideration comments made by heads of schools who participated in the pilot test and the fact that some were not familiar with Excel, we decided to provide basic instructions about the use of spreadsheets and how to proceed with the sustainability report. These instructions were put together in an opening screen of the Excel file with the sustainability report itself. The contents of the Guidelines for users can be found in Appendix 2.
9 Actions for Development
9.1 Actions to achieve development in the school context
Compiling the sustainability report is one way a school can contribute towards society and, in more practical ways, to the immediate community around it, that is, a way of implementing CSR. In the definition proposed by the GRI, it is "the practice of measuring, disclosing, and being accountable to internal and external stakeholders for organizational performance towards the goal of sustainable development" (Mio, C. 2010, p.1).
Once a school decides to produce a sustainability report, the report should originate from the school, yet, stakeholders and the general public/community should be familiar with its contents. Issues that are to be assessed need to be communicated to the persons involved. The first step would be that the head of school, together with the SMT, share and discuss the issues raised by the sustainability report with a SWG thus enabling consensus from the stakeholders involved. The next step would be informing the rest of the school community about the issues to be tackled, and how conformity is expected. The various ways and means to disseminate information will be decided mainly by the SWG, established at the beginning of the scholastic year. It is also up to them to decide which issues are going to be tackled and which are to be postponed for years to come. The report includes a variety of themes and schools may opt to take one or more at a time. Discussion on such decisions are essential. Online availability of the same grids would make it more accessible to external stakeholders who may want to give their feedback.
We suggest the appointment of a person whose role would be that of offering support in the compilation of the grids; ensure accurate dissemination of information and clarify any misconceptions that might arise. Giving details of how the grids should be filled in, and how results should be interpreted, is also essential. The actual filling up of the grids is, however, the responsibility of the head of school (or a member of the SMT) who is ultimately responsible for the annual reporting of the school's progress and the laying out of the SDP for the successive years. The sustainability report is part of school management and the direct involvement of the SMT is essential to validate the results.
Having a person in charge of sustainability issues in a school is ideal as it would ensure that the school is addressing the four pillars and integrating sustainability in all the spheres of school life. However, the availability of such personnel depends entirely on the importance that educational authorities ascribe to sustainability. As an alternative, members of the SMT and school staff alike would be capable of adopting this role, but their workload from other tasks would need to be reduced. This may pose a burden on schools, making the implementation of such a role almost impossible, with each school trying to adapt to meet its own needs.
Information about the school should be gathered throughout the whole scholastic year. This data mainly consists of:
The action plan of the SWG
The school SDP
The list of activities (cultural and environmental) planned and implemented throughout the scholastic year
Related lesson plans
Collaboration by the school's minor staff
Funds allotted to sustainable issues
Involvement of third parties
Networking / website
Whole school participation (through SWG action plan)
Use of fair-trade and environmentally friendly products
Feedback on implementation of actions
9.2 Actions to achieve development in the school system
As has been mentioned various times, sustainability reporting is meant to be part of the school management system, and will therefore influence the whole management system of the school. The SDP and the sustainability report go hand in hand and consequently influence each other. The availability and knowledge of such a report provides essential data for the planning of the SDP.
A head of school mentioned that funds to be allotted to sustainable issues had been planned beforehand, and the school went as far as installing photovoltaic cells to save energy. Such initiatives are only possible with careful preplanning since substantial amount of funds are involved at times. Similarly, timetabling and personnel management also form part of a long term plan. Teachers on the other hand need to be aware to insert in schemes of work and related lesson plans.
Moreover, should the school be involved in some kind of networking - be it through Comenius and e-Twinning projects, or with local schools/enterprises - the sustainable execution of actions is ideally included. It is therefore crucial to go through the sustainable report before actually planning such networking procedures, thus ensuring conformity that projects complement each other. We often have requests from schools who wish to integrate networking with the EkoSkola programme. Such practices are encourage as it is easy to have projects that support each other, such as networking with Eco-Schools abroad on one project.
9.3 External dissemination
Disseminating the procedures and results achieved by the school is part of the sustainability procedure itself. It is futile being sustainable and keeping it within one's own experience. Dissemination involves sharing the good practices with others in order to spread the same good practices.
Within the school, an effective means of dissemination is through notice boards, assemblies and website. Students propagate good practices amongst their families and friends, thus diffusing them into the community. Furthermore, students carry these habits to social and educational clubs such as sports clubs, doctrine centres and community centres. The availability of the grids to the general public is thus essential to enable interested persons / companies to refer to in case of adoption of procedures. An effective way of referral is the school website, where the reporting procedure and results are made available. Direct propagation should also be given to the stakeholders involved, mainly the local council, cultural groups, networking groups, parents and the local community.
10 Evaluation Method
10.1 The scores
A total score of 25% to 45% indicates that the school has approximately reached Level A of the indicators nearly throughout its reporting and is on the right track towards sustainability. Obviously, a school might have reached a higher level in some indicators whilst other indicators might have been not applicable for the school or dependent on external forces. Such anomalies balance out each other at the end. It must be highlighted that a Level A indicator increases the score with 1 mark, a Level B indicator with 3 marks and a Level C indicator with 4 marks.
The 'middle level' - 45% to 75% scores indicates that the school has reached a good level in sustainability.
Obtaining a percentage total score of 75 indicates that the school has certainly reached a very good level in sustainability, but there is still space for improvement since the sustainability report is not exhaustive. To obtain a percentage higher then 75 a school has to reach the highest level of each indicator provided in the sustainability report in 75+% of the issues which shows that there is a high level of awareness, community involvement, and a balanced treatment of the four pillars of sustainability.
Obtaining 100% in the sustainability report does not mean excellence in sustainability, but that the school has in fact reached the highest levels of all indicators provided in the worksheets under the topics provided. It must be noted that topics considered do not cover all issues which fall under that topic and that not all topics which fall under sustainability are included in the sustainability report presented.
The completion of the sustainability report is in fact not the finalisation of the school's effort but rather part of a continuous process. The result obtained is indicative of the level reached and the further action that need to be taken to reach a higher level of sustainability. It is thus suggested that once the school assessor completes the sustainability report, the result is made public and explained to the school stakeholders. This awareness is expected to attract more interest and hence involvement from amongst stakeholders towards further promotion of sustainability initiatives.