Jasen Booton on: Sustainability – Social Enterprise – So What?

This exclusive blog post has been written by a guest blogger, Jasen Booton. We encourage contributions from outside of the Bold team to inspire and share unique stories. If you would like more information about the article, feel free to contact us.

If we’re not careful we can start to use words in education that have no real meaning for children. They can become technical and bland, distant to our everyday lives – hollow and empty.

For the Y7 pupils at Witton and Westacre Middle Schools in Worcestershire, the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘social enterprise’ are not used as shallow jargon. These words evoke passionate feelings of injustice, fear, but also hope…

Both schools decided to collaborate in an action research project, focusing on developing Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) through the vehicle of social enterprise. The key concept of sustainability appealed to both schools, but needed a creative and inspiring context to bring it alive for the pupils.

With the support of a local authority adviser the idea of ‘upcycling’ was explored.
Upcycling refers to reusing an object in a new way without degrading the material it is made from, as opposed to recycling which generally involves breaking down the original material and making it into something else, using more energy. In essence upcycling is upvaluing products innovatively, instead of reusing them. You might use something purchased, to prevent something else going to landfill.

An 'upcylced' hoodie.

Pupils started by completing a PLTS Skills Self-Assessment which allowed them to reflect on their strengths and next steps with respect to self management, team-working, reflective learning, creative thinking, effective participation and independent enquiry. This data provided a baseline from which to develop individual or common group skills.

Pupils were organized into enterprise teams and took on different roles and responsibilities. In one school, these included team leader, advertising manager, support manager, secretary/admin manager, resource manager and finance manager. It was striking to see how pupils’ dispositions and demeanours changed as they rose to the levels of responsibility given.

The teachers in one school blended the project into the whole curriculum under the title of ‘Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts’, focusing on the mature and gritty issues of child labour and exploitation in India.

Putting old jeans to good use

Both schools had the common goal of researching, designing and developing upcycled products to exhibit in a showcase event to pupils, parents and invited guests from the community. The objective was to sell quality products to raise money for a charity. In the case of Westacre Middle School, a representative from Oxfam was invited to explain how money raised would be used to make lives better for children in India.

The pupils’ ideas were ingenious. There were no limits to their levels of creativity. The final showcases were led by the pupils with the teachers definitely taking the role of interested observer. Sir Alan Sugar would have been proud of the effort, energy and enthusiasm! The invited adults stood in awe at the professionalism of such young people. Some pupils even took the initiative to send their products to a middle school in New York to assess the international market.

A revamped version of a clock

After the event , the pupils commented on their increased ability to cooperate with peers. This was one of the indicators that the project had been a success.
A simple notion in theory, but a life skill that cannot be ignored… .Our futures depend on it…

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