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Global learning in practice: Mill Strand Integrated School & Nursery

Location: 33 Dhu Varren, Portrush BT56 8EW

Global Learning Lead Teacher: Deirdre Doherty

Join Date: November 2015


Date of case study Interview: April 2018

Key themes: Global learning in the curriculum, community connections, topic work, learning about the environment

As soon as you come in contact with anyone from Mill Strand Integrated Primary School, you are struck by just how environmentally minded the school is. The inspiration for the school’s environmental focus is obvious once you see its idyllic location. Perched on the cliffs overlooking Portrush’s West Strand, the school is at the heart of the world famous Causeway Coast.  It is no wonder then that the school’s environmental and marine biology focus permeates everything that the school does, including its global learning practice.

And this school does A LOT. It is simply bursting with ideas and creativity.

The school’s ethos is based upon two complementary core concepts. Firstly, is this incredibly strong environmental focus. Secondly, the school has a deep commitment to outdoor learning; not for the faint hearted due to the North Coast’s volatile weather!

The driving force behind this environmental focus is Deirdre Doherty, who leads on global learning at the school, as well as being responsible for coordinating PDMU, WAU and Science. She herself was inspired by the school’s recently retired teacher, Richard Reid, who was known for his love of nature and propensity to teach Shakespeare outside as soon as the summer arrived. Upon Richard’s retirement, Deirdre did not want to lose this focus on the natural world. She took up the torch, deciding to concentrate on looking at marine life and environmental issues.

Joining the Global Learning Programme

Mill Strand became involved in the Global Learning Programme for a number of reasons. Firstly, the GLP’s focus on education for a fair and sustainable world clearly complimented the school’s ongoing commitment to environmental learning. Secondly, the school is keen to encourage its pupils to be active global citizens, something which participation in the GLP could clearly support. It was also felt that the GLP would integrate very well with the other initiatives the school was already involved in, such as Eco-Schools and Forest Schools. Together, all of this made signing up for the GLP seem like the next natural step forward for the school. 

Global learning indoors and outdoors

Mill Strand often takes global learning outdoors, using the West Strand beach as an outdoor classroom. Here, pupils can enjoy some fresh air and experience the local environment as they learn about it. These outdoor lessons are usually followed up by further discussion and teaching in the classroom.  

In an excellent example of hands on global learning, the school has been doing a lot of work on plastic waste during the 2017/18 academic year. Pupils have regularly taken part in litter picks along the beach. Plastic often turns up amongst the litter, providing a perfect opportunity to get everyone thinking about the global impact of plastic waste, including its effects on marine life. In class, pupils have been researching the causes of the plastic waste, while also thinking about how to tackle this significant global problem.  The school likes to challenge its pupils to actively consider and create solutions, rather than simply investigating problems.

Partnerships with local businesses and charities

Mill Strand’s passion and energy has resulted in the school engaging with the wider Portrush community to address the problem of marine plastic waste. For example, the school fundraised for a ‘beach clean board’, which is hosted by the local café, Babushka. Visitors to the town are encouraged to grab a bin bag from the board and spend just two minutes picking up beach litter. Babushka then disposes of the rubbish, recycling as much as possible.  With everyone doing their little bit, the condition of the beach in that area has improved substantially. The scheme also comes with a simple but powerful message: we can tackle global issues if everyone takes responsibility and does their own small bit to help.

The school has also assumed responsibility for looking after another, lower section of the beach through joining the Adopt a Spot scheme run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Mill Strand is a Surfers Against Sewage School, working with the charity to keep Portrush’s beaches clean. The charity gave away 25 campaign kits throughout the whole UK and Mill Strand were one of the few successful applicants. Indeed, they were the only school selected in Northern Ireland. 

Awards and recognition

In another success story for the school, Mill Strand won the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 category in the ‘Marine Litter Art Competition 2018’, which was organised by Ulster Wildlife as part of the NI Science Festival. To enter this contest, participating schools were asked to create works of art made from waste collected from their local beaches. Mill Strand’s entry was a colourful butterfly fish, made from many different pieces of scrap material, including plastic bottle tops.

The school’s environmental work has gained quite a few admirers over the years and even yielded some media coverage! In March 2015, BBC Northern Ireland filmed a segment about the schools work for Eco-Schools. Last year, an outdoor lesson at the school was featured on BBC Breakfast.

Environmental leadership

An element of pupil leadership runs throughout Mill Strand’s environmental work and learners at the school are very much encouraged to take responsibility to creating a positive change in their local environment. The school aims to empower the pupils so that they feel they can make a difference to the world

As part of its work for the Eco-Schools programme, Mill Strand runs a pupil-led Eco-Council. The school wants to create environmental ‘experts’. To help make this happen, pupils elected to the council in P3 stay in post until the end of their time at the school. By the end of their term, each pupil has four years’ experience as a council member, which allows them to develop a deep knowledge of environmental issues.

This approach has been extremely successful – Mill Stand has earned six Eco-Schools Green Flags and is now an official Ambassador School for the initiative. The school recently led a workshop at the 2018 Eco-Schools Conference, allowing it to pass on its good practice to teachers from many other schools. STEM and the environmental themes also run right through the school’s Shared Education Partnership with Killowen Primary School and St John’s Primary School, Coleraine.

Beyond the environment

Mill Strand’s commitment to global learning goes beyond a sole environmental focus. Each class is currently engaged in the Walk a Mile in my Shoes project raising money for poverty alleviation in Malawi. Additionally, P 1-3 take part in Mandarin Chinese Lessons. The aim of these lessons is to encourage pupils to develop appreciation for a different culture. It’s not just about learning new language skills. The lessons have included work on Chinese mythology, as well as panda bears and other endangered species.

The Sustrans Active Travel Programme ( is also going from strength to strength at the school. Every week, Mill Strand encourages pupils and their families to leave their cars at home and take part in Walk to School Wednesday. The school also recently joined Sustran’s Big Pedal Challenge 2018, which ran for two weeks across April and May. An incredible 173 pupils travelled to school by bike on a single day! This led to the school being named as a regional winner in the challenge.

The impact on pupils

Mill Strand’s success shows that when global learning and an environmental focus are brought together, it is a powerful combination. Pupils at the school are empowered to create real change in the world and are shown how to be active protectors of the local and global environment. The school is creating a generation of young people who are equipped with everything they need to make a real impact on Portrush and the world beyond.    

“Children can become leaders at a very young age. Sometimes we as teachers need to be facilitators rather than just spoon-feeding our children. As someone who has been teaching for a very long time, it’s very easy to just do things for pupils; but we have to facilitate them to do things for themselves. The ability to question is so important in this. The whole Global Learning Programme encourages that questioning, and the attitude of ‘Let’s find an answer to that question!’ rather than just giving the answer to the children. It gives power to the pupils and I think that’s wonderful.”

Deirdre Doherty,  GLP Lead Teacher

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