school children playing on the ground
school children playing on the ground

This finalist team from Kibera came up with a waste recycling system in the largest urban slum in Africa

The Earth Prize is one of the many initiatives run by The Earth Foundation. It is a competition open to all institutions from leading schools in London to the poorest slums in Africa. The Prize  encourages schools, students, researchers and young entrepreneurs to educate themselves and be mentored in order to find innovative solutions to  solve the planet’s environmental challenges. With the winner of The Earth Prize being announced on Friday 25th March 2022, Candice Tucker speaks to Angela McCarthy, CEO of The Earth Foundation, about the importance and impact of this Prize.

A woman in a black top

Angela McCarthy

1. Why do you think teenagers might have the solutions to some of our greatest environmental issues?

They have the ability to still think out of the box. They are in touch with their creative minds and they care deeply about the planet. This emotional intelligence is key in finding solutions. The older we get, the more we are blinded by outside belief patterns blocking our imaginations and causing us to lose touch with nature and ourselves.

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2. How important is education versus action in schools with regards to the fight against climate change?

With education, action comes naturally. Once you have opened the eyes and ears of teenagers to what is happening, how and why, they can then take steps to make a change. Once they care about their planet’s crises through education, they will want to make different choices. Those choices create a ripple effect. As we know, there are many factors that contribute to climate change. If they can start to live differently or come up with new solutions, they will help the fight against climate change.

Two girls in front of a sign

The adjudicating panel for the Earth Prize consists of leaders in sustainability, science and entrepreneurship

3. The Earth Prize is open to leading private schools in the wealthiest countries to those with the most basic education in refugee camps and slums. How do you ensure a level playing field?

Once they have registered online for free, everyone receives the same support to participate in The Earth Prize competition. This includes online video learning content and access to our 30 university mentors whom the students can ask for help at any point. I and The Earth Foundation team are available for any further advice or to answer questions that any teacher, supervisor or student may have at any time. We found that everyone was able to get access to the internet, and that is what made it all work! Our students in Lebanon had the internet go down and they would have to wait until it was rebooted, and the same happened in South Africa, but they all managed. The amazing teachers made it their mission to support their students while they came up with their own solutions. Finally, equality was guaranteed because each submission carried only a number, thus eliminating any risk of bias in the judging.

4. What was the original intention of The Earth Prize?

To inspire, educate, mentor, and empower students, schools, researchers, and young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to tackle environmental challenges. Through this process we strive to build our very own ecosystem. Peter McGarry, the founder, and I believe in the voices of the youth being heard and bringing their solutions to life, and how everyone can be part of the solution to solving today’s most pressing sustainability issues.

The Earth close up

The Earth Foundation was founded in 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland by Pete McGarry to encourage young people to find solutions to the Earth’s environmental challenges.

5. Apart from The Earth Prize, can you tell us about other projects within The Earth Foundation?

The Earth Prize is our first initiative. The second will be The Earth Foundation Awards that will support research endeavours in the environmental sustainability field with grants and scholarships by distributing $300,000 every year to university students and researchers. We are also in the process of creating our Alumni Association, a platform for networking and encouragement amongst our community of passionate and inspiring individuals.

Read more: Unilever’s Rebecca Marmot On The Sustainable Everyday

6. How do you ensure a long term effect and results from the prize?

Through The Earth Prize Alumni we will strengthen ties among its members, offering them access to educational content, mentorship, social events, and professional opportunities. We will be helping them bring their solutions to life, and invite them back to share their impact, successes and their challenging times to the next year’s participants. We believe this will become a very powerful way to accelerate change and showcase the leaders and change-makers of today and tomorrow.

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Reading time: 4 min
Westminster School
Westminster School

Westminster School, London

Westminster School in London is probably the best school in the world. From Beijing to Buenos Aires, the global elite crave a place at the institution, dating back to 12th century, for their children. At the school’s heart is the pursuit of knowledge and the fuelling of intellectual curiosity for its own sake. Its headmaster Patrick Derham talks to Darius Sanai about educational challenges in an internet-dominated world, and how to stay on top.

LUX: The big debate right now is about how the internet is affecting learning. Is rote learning over because the sum of human knowledge is available on your iPhone? And are all schools outdated (which some pioneers are saying in Silicon Valley)?
Patrick Derham: It’s a fascinating question that isn’t new; and whenever you talk to educationalists and people in education there are different opinions. However, we all agree that what really impacts on young people, wherever they are in the world, is the quality of the teaching. No matter what technological advances there are, I passionately believe that what happens in a classroom – the interaction between teacher and pupil – is crucial to the life chances, the success, and the educational journey that young people are embarking upon.

The internet is a fantastic resource when used properly. I’m unusual as a Head in that I teach an A-level history set. I believe in varying the material I present to the class: not just traditional text books or biographies, but also online materials and access to online articles. It is a great bonus for them to have a much greater breadth of potential resources than I had at their age. So, I think it is very exciting.

In terms of rote learning, I’m afraid education is tough and there are no shortcuts. And there is nothing wrong with a bit of old fashioned rote learning as part of that educational journey. The information may be out there, but you have to have the skills to detect its bias and to understand its reliability and validity. Rote learning provides a foundation of knowledge from which to make those judgements.

But you also need to be able to think, and to realise that learning is, by nature, difficult. When learning a language, for example, before you can speak fluently, you have to learn the grammar and vocabulary; there is no other way around it. It is a helpful discipline; but learning is not just that. The best educational offerings are inculcating in young people a radical, questioning, liberal tradition: an encouragement to entertain, to challenge and to scrutinise. The greatest teaching encourages interaction: that discussion, the challenge that gently steers the pupils without necessarily giving them the answers, encouraging them to find their own solutions and to deepen their inquiry, as Westminster has done for generations.

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LUX: You mentioned style of teaching, which I think is a key distinction. I will call them the new educationalists: people who are saying that facts are there, you can learn remotely and you don’t have to be in one room with a person telling you things. But what you’re saying is that good teaching is not just telling people what facts are?
Patrick Derham: The best teacher isn’t the one who points out the facts and just dictates. This is because good teachers are not constrained by syllabus requirements; they are not teaching to a test. They have the confidence in their subject knowledge and relationship with their pupils to be risk takers, prepared to go off on tangents. They will, whatever their subject, draw examples from the modern world, the past and from other disciplines so that young people realise that just because they are studying Physics, for example, doesn’t mean their learning is compartmentalised: they are led to understand how it interacts with the rest of society and the rest of life. It’s the same with the humanities and the arts. The best teachers need to be risk takers to push beyond the boundaries of the syllabus, to be seeking out connections. To understand the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, you need to have a full appreciation of cultural influences. It’s not just about learning the facts of who was king and who was the prime minister.

Westminster School headmaster Patrick Derham

Patrick Derham

LUX: Interesting. Recently, I found some work from when I was at Westminster. I did Chemistry, Biology and and English for A Level, and I found a science essay on molecular biology where I had brought in some of the metaphysical poets’ perspectives on love and how that related to molecular interaction. What struck me was that the teacher was fascinated and encouraged me to talk about it more. And that’s a Westminster thing!
Patrick Derham: That’s what I think the best education systems, wherever they are in the world, should be aspiring to do. I think there is something very distinctive about Westminster. It’s an extraordinary institution – very modest, we wear our traditions very lightly – but actually we are at the cutting edge of the finest teaching and developing the finest minds. I edited a book of essays, ‘Loyal Dissent’, which I think encapsulated Westminster well. The pupils are very loyal, but they are very dissenting; they are very radical and challenging. One of the most interesting parts of the book is Nick Clegg’s introduction [the former UK deputy prime minister] because he reflects on what he learnt at school.

We are, arguably, the leading academic school in the world. When I arrived, we took the international PISA-based test for schools and gratifyingly we came top in the three measurements. But, much more interesting and exciting was the fact that the study connected us with leading research across the world on pedagogy. The lessons we learn from PISA, the work we are doing with Cambridge and major educational studies, is all about getting the best out of our pupils and to prepare them for challenges ahead, many of which, as yet, are unknown. More than ever, we must give young people, wherever they are in the world, a skill set that means they have the ability and flexibility to move from job to job in the workplace as it evolves.

The new generation at work, the twentysomethings, are having to demonstrate much greater versatility. The best education is about giving them resilience, too – the ability to cope with disappointing setbacks: not just to throw their hands up and say, “This is unfair!” but rather, “What am I going to do about it?” We are living in very interesting times nationally and internationally. But the young people today are much more prepared to engage with big questions; they are much more interested and positive and much less selfish. This makes me hugely optimistic. When I look back to my early days of teaching it felt very different.

LUX: How do you find your teachers?
Patrick Derham: We look for the primacy of the subject, the love of subject, that infectious enthusiasm that really makes a difference and excites people. That’s what I want to see. So, we need to reduce the administrative load on teachers, and, in this, we can learn from each other. What’s happening in China is very interesting.

LUX: What exactly?
Patrick Derham: That they are given more time to focus on teaching rather than administration.

LUX: A school like Westminster, for many hundreds of years, catered to the British intelligentsia. Now it’s the international high flying set who have settled in London. Has that changed the school?
Patrick Derham: No, I think it’s exciting that London is such a cosmopolitan city. Westminster has a cosmopolitan,

Westminster school

Westminster School with view of the London Eye

international feel and this makes it very outward facing. We don’t need to talk about the importance of the global economy because it is very much here and it gives our community a real buzz. A related question for me is the issue of the affordability of fees and I worry about schools like ours becoming too exclusive. So we work extremely hard in all sorts of ways to make a Westminster education possible for those who would benefit most from it: bursary provision, for example, and we’ve appointed a director of outreach and widening access working with local primary schools to identify the right people whom we can support.

Really excitingly, we are in the third year of the Harris Westminster Sixth Form, which is our collaboration with the Harris Federation to replicate a Westminster Sixth Form education in the state system. It has been a stunning success and the admissions criteria there are for underprivileged children. We are thrilled that in the second cohort they have got 23 offers at Oxford and Cambridge, which is remarkable. This eclipses a huge number of independent schools that have not achieved that number this year.

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And again, the successful partnership with Harris, helps remove any air of public school arrogance, which I can’t stand. There is no place for it and there never was. The world owes no favour to pupils from schools like Westminster. They have got to demonstrate from their own merits, their own talents, their own skills that they are the best person – a Westminster education doesn’t give them a head start or a privilege.

LUX: You mentioned preparing people for a world where they will have multiple jobs in series or in parallel. The risk of artificial intelligence replacing many traditional careers seems to me to encourage a bias towards the creative industries where artificial intelligence is less likely to take over. Do you think that’s true? And how do you prepare people who might be studying sciences for a world where creativity (whether it’s entrepreneurial or traditional) is what might save them from being taken over by machines?
Patrick Derham: I think it goes back to the ethos of the school, and the education you’re trying to provide. If you teach science in the ways we do – predominantly experimental – it’s a much more creative approach. We want our pupils to experience scientific understanding and to gain knowledge through ‘doing’. And, you used that brilliant example of the cross fertilisation of Biology and English. In a sense that is creativity in action. Specialists need to be working alongside each other and with an open mind, in the world we are moving into. I think the best people from schools and universities are those who can demonstrate that ability to move quickly from one thing to another, making connections both within disciplines and between them. That sort of fearless intellectual curiosity comes from the best schooling

Reading time: 9 min


The elite British education system has never been more in demand. Yet some wonder whether educating boys and girls separately is an anachronism in a 21st century environment where they will work together in their business lives. Our columnist outlines her views on why sending your child to a top single-sex school could still be the best move you ever make Helen Pike

A businessman told me recently that in his native China, two British luxury brands are well-known: Harrods and Eton. It seems that elite single-sex schools not only dominate the cultural landscape and the league tables in the UK, they are part of what makes Britain distinctive globally. Some elite single-sex schools have moved into international education, an export market which amounts to £17.5bn annually, by opening in Asia and the former Soviet Union, markets hungry for top-quality education. For parents of boys, Eton, Harrow and the like are brands with resonance around the world.

That said, elite single-sex schools are a minority, even in the UK. Only 7 per cent of UK pupils are educated in the private sector, of which 20.9 per cent comprises single-sex schools: just over 250 schools in total. So what gives them their resonance internationally — what drives ambitious parents to steer their children towards schools like the above (or the school I am fortunate enough to head)?

I have spent my professional life thus far in five highly academic single-sex schools, three of which are within spitting distance of the River Thames. (Not that any pupils of these schools would do anything so vulgar as to spit, of course.) If anything, single-sex education has become more controversial globally since I did my teaching practice in a single-sex girls’ inner London state school. Elite single-sex schools in the UK are indeed cosmopolitan, exciting places in which to work and learn, the envy of the world, as witnessed by the stiff competition for entry; but in 2013, can we justify that so many of the UK’s finest schools continue to segregate girls and boys?

The most obvious answer is history. The oldest and most famous schools were for boys only; schools for girls came centuries later. So we can contrast the foundation of Eton in 1440 and St Paul’s School in 1509 with that of The Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1853 or South Hampstead High School (full disclosure: my employer) in 1876. A serendipitous combination of grand tradition, location, favourable education policies since 1945, and dynamic school leadership has meant that some — but by no means all — of the oldest schools have remained at the top of an ever-growing pile and become vanguardists in education across the sector.

Elite single-sex education can provoke the glorious British cultural schizophrenia which defends tradition with a sword in one hand, while threatening to take a hatchet to it with the other. Surely the British should not continue to champion segregated hothouses, when all but those who join enclosed holy orders will live and work in a resolutely coeducational world?

Single-sex schools have responded to this in a number of ways. On one side, the Girls’ Schools Association in the UK has been more vociferous, in part because some of its members are defending a market share in the face of boys’ schools which have recently become fully or partly coeducational, and in part because girls’ schools have always been more focused on righting the inequalities which women can encounter — which was why they were founded in the first place.

Meanwhile the International Boys’ School Coalition does what its name suggests, and organises research and an annual conference which brings together schools from the UK, USA and Australia. It argues that it is single-sex boys’ schools which are the endangered species, while girls-only institutions are more numerous and surer of their niche.

And they are right to be: there is much evidence that boys and girls — and particularly girls — make greater progress in single-sex schools and have better life chances than their counterparts in coeducational schools.

I make this point when parents of both boys and girls ask me why they should choose single-sex education. High-achieving single-sex schools are the intellectual and emotional equivalent of elite training for athletes. Crucially, children are not adults. There is so much to be said for an education which, in preparing them for the world they will inherit, does more than simply allow boys to be boys and girls to be girls: it consciously plays to their strengths and needs. Some might regard the idea that children are being sexualised at an ever-younger age is a species of moral panic, but the commodification of girls in particular continues apace. To put it more simply, there is less fuss about dress in single-sex schools.

Single-sex schools also avoid helpmeet syndrome: in boys-only schools which admit girls, for example into the Sixth Form at 16, the girls can become the facilitators of the boys’ progress in the classroom, deferring to the boys rather than testing out ideas of their own. In single-sex schools, gender roles are less marked; there is no opportunity for boys to dominate the brass section of the orchestra while girls tootle fragrantly in woodwind.

If we take the 26 schools of the Girls’ Day School Trust, of which my school is one, we find that GDST girls are over twice more likely to study A-Level Physics or Chemistry than girls nationally, and overall nearly half the students in GDST Sixth Forms take at least one science A-Level (the highest level of school qualification in the UK). This carries forward into university choices, where again over 40 per cent of GDST students do Science, Medicine or Mathematics as part of their degrees. If girls in the UK as a whole sat as many Physics, Chemistry or Maths A-Levels as girls at these 26 GDST schools, there would be nearly 9,000 more school-leavers with A-Level Physics, 20,000 with A-Level Chemistry and 21,000 with A-Level Maths in the population every year. By way of comparison, a recent study by the Institute of Physics found that in nearly half of co-ed schools there were no girls studying A-Level Physics at all.

None of this comes cheap. Annual boarding fees at Eton are now over £32,000 (and Eton is by no means the most expensive), while more competitively-priced day schools charge between £10,000 and £15,000 per year. Is it worth it in a world where a woman can be Chancellor of Germany or head of the International Monetary Fund (although this is not to say workplace equality is with us)? My view is that parents and pupils recognise that it is precisely because the rest of the world is so overwhelmingly co-ed that a single-sex education has such value.

Helen Pike is Headmistress of South Hampstead High School, London, which is ranked among the top five girls’ schools in Britain by the Financial Times;

Reading time: 5 min