DECOs Newsletter

The DECOs (Downe House Eco Committee) meet each month to discuss how we can make our school more sustainable and environmentally aware. Upper Sixth student Zoe writes up what is discussed after each meeting.

3 July 2020

Update: waste-free staff lunches and eco messages

Monday 28 September

With the move to grab and go lunches for the majority of staff, I am delighted to announce that all things are now in place for waste-free staff lunches! Please do be part of this initiative. The information below has been circulated to all staff and is displayed on digital signage around school to help remind girls and staff about the recycling options available.

Mrs Rachel Phillips-Morgan
Teacher of History and Politics, Environmental Awareness Co-ordinator

Downe House achieves Eco-Schools Silver Award

We’ve done it! We’re absolutely delighted to announce that we have received the Eco-Schools Silver Award in recognition of our ongoing commitment to improving our sustainability and environmental awareness. Read more about how we won the award here.


Environmental awareness in our curriculum

Thank you to all of the staff who demonstrated how their schemes of work contain links to environmental issues. This information will be used towards the Eco-Schools Silver Award. From English to Drama, Chemistry to Art, it’s amazing how many subjects contain opportunities to discuss the environment. An outline of the range of curriculum links we have at Downe House can be found below.

Printing and paper

We compared the printing stats for April 2019 and April 2020. For one month, from 1st April – 30th April 2019, Downe House printed almost 80,000 sheets of paper (79,914). That’s a whole pallet stacked full of paper per month!

In contrast, the amount of printing undertaken this April, unsurprisingly due to remote teaching, was down significantly to just under 10,000 sheets (9,972 to be exact!).

Our DECOs and Staff Eco-Committee are encouraging us to think a little more before we print and to consider in our planning how we might build upon the progress we have made during the lockdown. Since all students from Remove to Lower Sixth will have their own Surface next year, can we continue this trend of limited printing in 2020-2021?

Printing guide

With this aim in mind, the DECOs and Staff Eco-Committee would like to put forward the following guide for us to think about in our planning for next year:

  • Could worksheets be loaded onto OneNote instead of being printed out?
  • Could textbooks be used more instead of worksheets?
  • Could electronic textbooks be used?
  • If a student wishes to have a hard copy, could they print it out themselves?

Celebrating World Environment Day

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June every year and the theme for this year was biodiversity. One million plant and animal species risk extinction, largely due to human activities, and therefore the DECOs decided to mark the day by challenging members of the Downe House community to do something to help wildlife or biodiversity in their local areas or homes.

Girls, their families, and staff alike took up the challenge and you can see their contributions here!


World Environment Day Quiz

Friday 5 June

How eco-friendly are you? Take this short quiz to find out!

Update: we’re in the news!

Monday 1 June

We were delighted to see that the news of Downe House securing funds for the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust reached Newbury Today.


You can read their coverage here.


8 sustainable switches to reduce our waste

Led by our Eco-Committee, we’ve been making some simple switches to significantly reduce the amount of waste we produce around School.


4 must-read books for eco-friendly living

By Nellie (Lower Sixth), one of our DECOs

From tips on reducing plastic to celebrating endangered animals, these books will inspire more eco-friendly living.


Eco-Committee secures £1500 donation for the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust

Thursday 21 May

Following our visit to the BSI we were delighted to be able to support the work of a local environmental charity, the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust.


Update: Bronze Eco-Schools Award!

Wednesday 15 April

We are delighted to be share some very positive news – we have achieved the Eco-School’s Bronze Award. The Eco-Schools programme provides a unique opportunity that empowers pupils to lead change within the School and have a positive impact in their wider community. We are delighted to have made real changes and started great conversations about how we can do more as a School community to be more environmentally aware. Onwards and upwards!


Our action plan

Based on our environmental review, our DECOs created an action plan to target different aspects of School life which they would like to make more environmentally friendly. The action plan is also an important record in our application for meeting the Eco-Schools Bronze Award criteria. You can read the full action plan here.


Update: Food waste and mixed recycling

Thursday 27 February

I am delighted to inform you that the Catering department have placed food waste caddies in the Staff Common Room and Wakefield House. Please place any food waste (fruit peelings, crusts, used tea bags etc.) into them, instead of the landfill bins. The caddies can include meat, as the food waste will not be used for compost but will be converted into energy from incineration. (Composting is certainly something we may look into further down the line, particularly since the AGS gardening club is now up-and-running and have been busy cleaning out the greenhouse and planting seeds!)

There is also a bin in the Staff Common Room for mixed recycling. Please can all dry and clean paper, cardboard, plastics and cans go into this bin as opposed to the landfill waste.

British Standards Institute: Horizon Scanning Day

Wednesday 4 March

We were delighted that the British Standards Institute invited Downe House, along with two other schools, to participate in a ‘Horizon Scanning Day’. Following an introduction from Dr Manuela Gazzard, who gave an overview of the BSI’s role and an insight into the United Nation’s Sustainability Goals (of which many BSI leaders have signed up to), we were invited into a boardroom to present to key leaders about what young people see as the key concerns facing the environment. The DECOs presented on a number of topics after asking our full student body about their main concerns through a full-School survey.

‘Whilst taking an interest in all the matters covered by the DECOs and Miss Donaldson, they were particularly keen to hear about ideas around tax incentives for textiles companies that recycle their water, adopting a more streamlined approach to carbon labelling on food packaging, and the development of community gardening.’

The BSI have also chosen to make a generous donation of £1500 to an environmental charity of our choice which the DECOs will be deciding on.

BSI are an organisation that shape best practice across many industries and offer suggested policy reforms to the British government. Therefore it was a real privilege for us to be able to speak at their Headquarters and offer our ideas in regards to environmental problems and potential solutions!


Update: Assembly presentations

Monday 11 February

Three members of our Eco-Committee, the DECOs, delivered an assembly to the Lower Sixth this morning. The girls chose the topics based on their interests, researched them and informed their peers about the relevant effects on the environment. Zoe discussed the problems with fast fashion, Elodie informed us about palm oil and Nellie examined cobalt mining.

Update: Gardening Club

Sunday 2 February

Run by Miss Vickery, our first Gardening Club took place today. They planned what they’d like to grow and designed their green space. Afterwards they began making newspaper pots, sowing peas and beans and getting the potatoes ready for chitting!

Update: Microsoft have pledged to be carbon negative by 2030

As Microsoft Showcase School, we were delighted to hear that Microsoft has pledged to remove “all of the carbon” from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975. This goal is set for 2050, and means that the company need to be carbon negative by 2030. Read the full statement on Microsoft’s blog.


Update: magazine feature

We are delighted that Downe House is included in Families Thames Valley West magazine’s article about the benefits of outdoor learning. Read it here!


Update: free range eggs

Tuesday 28 January

We’re so pleased to announce the news that as of today the Catering department have made the switch from caged bird eggs to free range eggs.

Meeting Four

Friday 24 January

2020 has kicked off and our first meeting of the year has paved the way for a good to start the decade. After rolling out our Meat Free Mondays, a survey is in the works following our meeting this morning to find out how well it’s working and what we can do better. There was also some very productive feedback regarding our new water bottle scheme and we discussed our use of biodegradable cups where possible. The DECOs are also gearing up for a clothes swap event in the Michaelmas term to promote second-hand clothing, as well as getting organised for an electricity audit which will be happening in the coming weeks. Our meeting finished off with brainstorming ideas for our Founder’s Weekend stall to get everyone involved in DECOs, and prepping for our meeting with the BSI team in London. All in all another successful day in the office!

Update: Meat Free Mondays

Meat Free Mondays has now launched! So, why are we trialing Meat Free Mondays? There are four key reasons:

1) Greenhouse gases

According to the UN Panel on Climate Change, we need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 80% by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The Agriculture Organization of the UN has reported that the livestock sector is “one of the top 2 or 3 most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems”, and estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cows in particular produce very high methane levels, and considering that methane traps 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, mass-scale beef production presents a huge threat to the climate. Therefore, reducing our meat intake could be one step in helping avoid climate disaster.

As well as benefiting the environment, reducing our meat intake has other benefits:

2) Health

Many of the world’s leading health organisations now encourage a reduction in the amount of meat people eat. In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University found that eating meat no more than 3 times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion each year.  The healthy plate guidelines from the NHS also recommend that for protein, which is an important part of a balanced and healthy diet, we should eat more beans and pulses, 2 portions of sustainably sourced fish per week, and eat less red and processed meat.

3) Animal welfare

Animals that are raised in intensive factory farms often live in cramped, overcrowded cages, sheds and pens with no access to daylight or fresh air. By reducing our meat intake, there can be opportunity to buy better quality meat instead, which is outdoor reared, free range and maintains a high standards of animal welfare.

4) Farming communities

Farmers make a vital contribution to our society and many communities rely on the farming sector for their survival. By reducing our meat intake, we can take more time to choose our meat options carefully, buying local options which serve the community. Cheap meat usually comes at a price – one paid by the environment, farm animals and the farmers themselves. Therefore, by becoming more conscious of our meat intake, where our meat comes from and the processes involved, we can make more informed choices that can better serve those working in the meat industry, the animals reared for meat and the environment.

Remember, we would like to hear your thoughts on Meat Free Mondays and will be sending out a survey so you can feedback on your experience later in the term. You will also be able to tell us whether Meat Free Mondays is something you would like to continue.

Update: Crisp packet recycling

Congratulations to York for recycling the most crisp packets in Michaelmas term! We hope you enjoy your prize!

Well done to all Houses that participated; the total amount of crisp packets collected weighed an amazing 5.4kg!

Keep up the good work as we continue recycling as many crisp packets as we can.


Meeting Three

Friday 6 December

It’s been a busy term! At our final meeting of the term the DECOs were congratulated firstly for announcing the results of their Environmental Audit at the Whole School Assembly on Monday 2 December. They did an excellent job of declaring their key findings and informing the school of the chosen topics for their Action Plan. The meeting then moved on to discussing feedback from using water containers on trips, as opposed to using single-use plastic bottles, and the DECOs discussed how we might remove single-use plastic in other areas of the School, including at water fountains. We also reflected on the launch of the crisp packet recycling scheme, which is going very well! The boarding Houses that have recycled the highest amount will be announced at the beginning of term and a prize awarded. The next meeting will take place in January.

Read the meeting minutes

Update: DECOs Environmental Review

On Monday 2 December the DECOs announced the findings of their recent Environmental Review in Whole School Assembly. Each member of the DECOs was given a topic to review, ranging from Litter and Transport to Biodiversity. Read the key findings here and watch this space in 2020 for news about our Action Plan, which will be based upon these findings and will focus on the three areas of Waste, Energy and Transport. Happy reading!


Update: National Tree Week

Downe House participated in National Tree Week this year with girls going out to plant trees with Head Groundsman, Ash, on the following days/times:

Tuesday 26 November: 12 noon – 12.30pm Lower School
Wednesday 27 November: 12 noon – 12.30pm Sixth Form
Thursday 28 November: 12 noon – 12.30pm Upper School

National Tree Week runs annually and more information can be found here.


Update: Crisp packet recycling

In each of your boarding Houses there is an empty crisp box which will be used to collect your empty crisp packets. By the end of the term, I will come around and weigh each box, and the House that has the heaviest weight will win a prize! The crisp packets can be from any brand and they don’t need to be washed, but they do need to be empty.

The crisp packets will then be processed by Terracycle, an organisation that recycles materials that are hard-to-recycle. Here, the crisp packets are separated by plastic type, cleaned and extruded into plastic pellets to make new recycled products. Recycling helps conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future, so by recycling our crisp packets, we will be part of this positive change.

Happy recycling!

Mrs Rachel Phillips-Morgan
Teacher of History and Politics, Environmental Awareness Co-ordinator

Event: Skype talk on Climate Change

We were delighted to be part of Microsoft Education’s annual Global Learning Connection conference. On Wednesday 6 November we took part in a Skype talk with a Pulitzer Center journalist, Elham Shabahat, who reported on her first-hand experiences of the impact of climate change around the world, in particular the changes she has witnessed taking place in rainforests.

Meeting Two

Friday 1 November

Our second meeting of the DECOs commenced with feedback from almost all our members about their Environmental Reviews on topics such as biodiversity, waste and electricity to name a few. These audits reviewed how Downe House approaches ten aspects of our school environment and community to see what we do well and where we can improve. After discussing some changes we want to see, like a reduction in meat consumption or how the staff commute to work, we chose Waste & Recycling, Energy and Transport as the three areas we are going to focus on in our Action Plan. A productive second session, which can set us up for some positive change to come!

Read the meeting minutes

Update: Plastic bottle free by Lent Term

I am delighted to inform you that in our efforts to become a plastic bottle free school, we are starting to roll out the use of water containers for school trips and events instead of using single-use plastic bottles. This has already been trialled with the Drama department. We will continue roll this out to different year groups and trips over the half-term, with the aim of implementing this fully from the Lent term onwards.

We are very excited about this initiative and greatly appreciate your support as we try to become a more environmentally-friendly school.

Mrs Rachel Phillips-Morgan
Teacher of History and Politics, Environmental Awareness Co-ordinator

Meeting One

Friday 4 October

Friday 4 October saw the first Downe House Eco-Committee meeting, with our elected body of students and a few key members of staff. We had a round of introductions followed by a quick brainstorm on what to name our newly founded group, landing on the great name of DECOs, Downe House Eco Committee! We discussed the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award and what that entails for our team, as well as allocating areas of the School for us to research, to formulate our action plan for making some changes. All rounded off with Mr Mctaggart’s amazing presentation of a prototype to help stop our use of single-use plastic bottles on school trips. A successful first meeting of many more to come.

Read the meeting minutes

Visits & Open Mornings

The best way to find out more about Downe House, is to come and experience it for yourself – arrange a visit or join us for one of our Open Mornings?