M&EA Borough Council's Story
The resources for use with P6/7 primary school pupils provide the basis for practical learning around electrical energy use in the home using a smart meter. The project's key underlying objective was to find a way to communicate effectively with families in a way that was engaging, accessible, and practical and that encouraged behavioural change. It aimed to raise awareness of energy use in young consumers and their families and assist households in measuring energy use costs, as well as challenge their behaviour to take positive action to reduce energy consumption and wastage.
The components of the programme form a storyline based on the idea of each child being a member of an Energy Detectives team, detecting sneaky electrical appliances that gobble up electricity within their homes. It invites pupils to use their imagination, their technical and language skills, and the use of an energy monitor, a novel visual tool demonstrating a clear picture of day-to-day household electricity use.
The Energy Detectives are set the tasks by Energy Detectives HQ: identifying 'energy gobblers' – counting the number of electrical items in the home; producing a line-up of suspect items (those using the most energy) - family members are interviewed to discover which items they use the most and which use the most electricity to draw up a list of three suspects for further investigation; questioning the suspects – each appliance is tested using the monitor to determine which is stealing the most energy.
Individual task sheets are completed to be used in class discussion, and each Energy Detective provides a Detective Report on their mission findings. Schools are encouraged to run a class competition for the best Detective Report and all children are given a Certificate of Participation.
Useful Learnings from M&EA Borough Council
In 2010 the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety encouraged the development of new joint working health improvement teams. This led to the development of a joint working cluster between seven local authorities around fuel poverty issues. With approximately 42% of households in Northern Ireland deemed to be in fuel poverty, the programme focused on tackling ways to address fuel poverty issues locally.
Local research during 2010/11 identified several areas of concern, and one of its recommendations was around budgeting/cost reduction measures regarding energy costs. This was the basis for the development of the Energy Detectives programme.
Initial challenges included developing resources in a language and format suitable for school settings, getting schools on board, and ensuring parental support. Parental support is integral to the programme as they are required to set up monitors and return them to school, sign off tasks, and contribute to their child's Detective Report. Teachers were consulted on the format and language of resources, and links with the curriculum were used to encourage school participation. Effective ways to engage parents, such as introductory talks and letters, were also devised.
The programme was initially implemented in two phases: phase 1 tested a month-long version and phase two a shorter week-long version. Phase 1, undertaken in 2013, had five tasks in total, including an energy challenge. External evaluation of this phase identified that two of the tasks were considered difficult and complex for pupils to undertake and required more organisation and input from teachers. This led to the development of a shorter one-week version for phase 2. Further evaluation after phase 2 has resulted in the final version now in use.
Funding for the programme was provided by the Public Health Agency and most of the initial funding was used to buy energy monitors, torch pens for detective work and pupil/teacher toolkits. Ongoing costs are minimal, largely staff costs regarding liaison with schools and delivery of resources. Costs equate to approximately £10 per pupil which provides excellent value for money.
The programme has been used by schools both in classroom-based and eco-committee settings and it is recognised by Eco-Schools as meeting their award criteria.
The programme is currently limited by the number of energy monitors available which restricts the number of schools that can participate each year to approximately five. If additional funding was available to purchase more resources and perhaps make these available through the Education Authority, the programme could be provided to a much wider audience.