Sustainability In Primary Schools: A Water Usage Project By Young People For Everyone by Alice Lambert

I would like to begin by talking about why I chose to study Educating for Sustainability upon commencing my Masters at the University of Manchester. It is an ambition of mine, that one day I will manage my own educational business, offering extra-curricular activities to educational contexts from Key Stage 2, through to sixth-form colleges. I wish to create my own curriculum encompassing all of the ‘life skills’ which all too often children and young people leave school and college without. As part of this curriculum, I would like to incorporate sustainability education, both financial and environmental.

Having previously worked as a Senior Teaching Assistant in an English Primary school, I thought that it would be the most suitable context for me to apply my project to. I particularly wish to focus on upper Key Stage 2, as I worked closely with years 5 and 6 and therefore have a familiarity with the range of abilities and awareness at this age (9-11 years old). I am delighted at the opportunity to educate, inspire and empower others to be involved in sustainability, and take action, starting in their local community.

I decided that the first place to gain some insight into current teaching would be the National Curriculum. Therefore, I searched for a number of sustainability related terms including; ‘sustainability’ ‘resources’ ‘environment’ ‘change’ ‘climate’ and ‘future’. I was both surprised and saddened by the lack of references made regarding the topic of sustainability. Throughout the 200-page document there is a mere 5, what I would consider feeble, mentions of anything relating to sustainability.

Thankfully, the Eco-schools programme ( is bridging the gap in this area, along with Oxfam; both of which provide guidance for schools regarding sustainability. Eco-Schools offers a programme of seven steps which focuses on pupil-led learning. Within the Eco-Schools topics, there is a section specifically focussing on water with a couple of project ideas relating to school toilets, and hidden water; both of which have provided inspiration for my final ideas.

I have used the guidance provided by Oxfam’s Global Citizenship (a range of guides can be found here – in order to inform the design of my project. Within the Oxfam guide there is an outline of what global citizenship involves, including ‘all areas of the curriculum’ and ‘applying learning to real-world issues and contexts’, both of which have been considered in this project.

The approach chosen to facilitate this work came from Victor Nolet’s ‘Powerful Pedagogies’ chapter. In this Chapter, Nolet discusses the variety of methods which can be adopted when engaging children in education for sustainability. The inquiry-based approaches discussed in Nolet’s text were of particular interest to me, as I have previously observed children who have been completely engrossed in science-based projects that they had organised and carried out themselves. I believe that children absorb so much more when they are truly engaged in the topic or activity, which usually is a result of freedom within learning. Hence, why I chose to create a semi-structured project for the pupils to develop themselves.

I began researching global fresh water usage after being informed about Rockström’s nine planetary boundaries ( and from this moment on my interest surrounding the topic piqued. The background research which I have explored has provided me with some interesting facts and figures, including this pie chart which shows the water usage in an average UK household. This image would be shown to the children as a visual representation of the aforementioned facts and figures, with hopes that this would be easier for them to interpret.

(AMDEA, no date; Waterwise, 2017)
(AMDEA, no date; Waterwise, 2017)


The research into fresh water usage has been an extremely educational and thoughtful process for myself, one which, due to my age, I am truly able to understand the significance and magnitude of. The most astonishing information which I came across, was found on the Worldometers website ( ) which shows the constant rising figure of water usage around the world so far this year. As I write this on the 13th May 2017, the figure has reached 4,018,700 billion, which is a number that even I am unable to decipher.

I then realised that the content needed to be adapted in order to be relevant and comprehensible for the age of the pupils. Therefore, I did some research into how much water is used in bathroom appliances and have created a table to show these findings in more visually understandable format for the children.

(Waterwise, 2011; Coca-cola, 2017; DWS Wholesale Ltd, no date; Asda, 2017; ClipartFest, 2016; Alamy, 2017)
(Waterwise, 2011; Coca-cola, 2017; DWS Wholesale Ltd, no date; Asda, 2017; ClipartFest, 2016; Alamy, 2017)


The familiarity that the children have with these products will hopefully allow them to understand the exceptional amount of water that is being used every day, and inspire them to research how much they are using themselves.

The class project will therefore involve monitoring the amount of water that is used in school on a weekly basis. The children will be divided up into different groups, depending on the areas in school that they realise use water. I would anticipate that the children may identify that water is used in their bathrooms, as drinking water, to maintain the school grounds and in the kitchen for food preparation.

When the children are in their groups, they will be responsible for monitoring water usage or consumption in that area every day for 1 week. The data that they collect over this period will be used to find averages and work out water usage in school over different lengths of time. Following the week-long project, the pupils will be asked to present their findings to the rest of the school and their families.

Here, I draw upon the work of Zimmerman and McClain (2014), as they discuss the concept of intergenerational learning, which involves ‘family members working together to negotiate a common understanding’, in this case, of environmental issues. The project will also incorporate inter-disciplinary learning, through Maths, English and Science, which Sterling (2010) and Flint, McCarter and Bonniwell (2000) assert the importance of in their papers relating to sustainability.



AEMDA (no date) Water. [online]. Last accessed 14th May  2017 at:

Alamy (2017) Orange Juice Carton. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Asda (2017) Asda Semi-Skimmed Milk. [online] Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

ClipartFest (2016) Reusable Water Bottle Clipart. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Coca-cola (2017) Brands. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Eco-schools. (no date) What is Eco-schools? [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Flint, W. R., McCarter, W. and Bonniwell, T. (2000). Interdisciplinary education in sustainability: links in secondary and higher education. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 1(2), pp.191–202. Available at:

Nolet, V. (2008) Educating for Sustainability. Oxon: Routledge.

Oxfam, (2015). Education for Global Citizenship. Oxford: Oxfam.

Sterling, S. (2010). Transformative Learning and Sustainability : sketching the conceptual ground. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, (5), pp.17–33.

Stockholm Resilience Centre. (no date) The Nine Planetary Boundaries. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Waterwise. (2011) Showers vs. Baths: facts, figures and misconceptions. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

Waterwise. (2017) At Home. [online]. Last accessed 14th May 2017 at:

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Zimmerman, H.T. and McClain, L.R. (2014). Intergenerational learning at a nature center: families using prior experiences and participation frameworks to understand raptors. Environmental Education Research, 20(April), pp.177–201. Available at: