The third winner of this year’s Ashden Sustainable Schools Award was Thornhill primary school in Cardiff.  What follows is taken from the Ashden case study which details the school’s success.

The Ashden judging panel said:

“We found Thornhill Primary School to be a real innovator.  What’s more, Thornhill is willing to share ideas with other schools and help others to make the same kind of savings.”

And Headteacher Paul Tucker, commented:

“We need to invest in our children’s future and, by safeguarding the environment for them and helping them understand our impact on the planet, we can provide a safe and healthy world for them.”

A growing school

Thornhill is a large, English-language, primary school on the northern outskirts of Cardiff.  It was built in 1991 as a one-form entry school but now has 470 students aged between 4 and 11 years old.  The school has seen four extensions over the years including a new building in 2012.  Not surprisingly, the growth of the school has led to increased energy demand, the latest requirement being a third boiler.

Being our best

Since his appointment as Head Teacher in 2011, Paul Tucker has ensured that energy use at the school is closely monitored and reduced wherever possible.  He has overseen the installation of PV panels, sunpipes and passive ventilation in the new building, and a comprehensive school-wide Building Management System.  These changes have contributed, along with behaviour change, to reduced energy use at the school.  Students and staff are engaged with energy saving and work together to incorporate sustainability into all aspects of school life.

Young eco warriors make big energy savings 
Thornhill’s crack squad of student eco-warriors keep energy wastage to a minimum with their spot checks on whether lights and appliances have been left on in the classrooms.  The school’s willingness to trial new ideas and share the results with others, along with its determination to reduce C02 emissions to the absolute minimum, is what makes it the first Welsh school to win an Ashden Sustainable School Award.  At this school; solar PV, LED lighting, a building management system and more efficient IT facilities mean that electricity consumption has reduced by almost a third since 2011/12.

Lisa Green, the school’s Eco co-ordinator, said: “We teach the children that saving energy is as important as saying please and thank you.”

Here are some key stats:

  •  30% reduction in gas use over one year
  • 32% reduction in electricity use over 3 years
  • £1,500 income from PV per year

Behaviour change

The Head Teacher has an excellent control of energy use in the school thanks to a good range of behaviour change activities and regular monitoring of energy consumption.  He has a full understanding of the energy data provided by the Carbon Culture website, enabling him to keep track of consumption and compare performance with previous years.  Additionally, the school’s Eco co-ordinator oversees a team of eco warriors.

Random spot checks are carried out by the eco warriors to check if lights and appliances have been left on in classrooms. Records are kept for a competition between year groups with a trophy presented at assembly for best performance.


Sustainability and energy use is incorportaed into teaching and students learn about the global significance of their actions. Thornhill uses the Cornerstones Skills Curriculum to provide a thematic approach to learning, so the energy theme is used in Year 3 and Year 6.  Students have made creative and artistic displays for the school, which focus on different types of energy sources and their relative environmental issues.

The Future
Thornhill plans to introduce more renewables and technology to help it to continue to reduce its energy use. It also has further projects planned such as rainwater harvesting, and aims to become as close to a carbon zero school as possible.

The LED lighting investment at Thornhill has encouraged Cardiff City Council to develop a policy on LED lighting which will hopefully encourage other schools to investigate installing LED lighting.

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