[First published by Headteacher Update magazine September 2015]
With the new year comes the new curriculum; an opportunity to be bold and brave in the ways that we challenge and support learning. Many schools have used this opportunity to explore and extend learning beyond that required by the new curriculum; finding innovative and exciting ways to glue together new and existing subject content.
With the new national curriculum comes also another step on the journey of our nation; improving mutual understanding and respect between people both young and old. Increasing empathy between diverse communities. Equipping children and their families to communicate effectively with a range of people in a range of places. Developing an articulate vocabulary which utilises the opportunities that our globalised world provides.
“Our new curriculum is not just about implementing the changes that have been made by government. It’s about linking our local school curriculum with the new National Curriculum, and ensuring that it all connects together in such a way that reflects the real-world, international, global, context that our children live in. We have a local, national, international curriculum”.
One Simple Question. The Curriculum is the Reply.
One of the many ways that networks facilitateschallenge and support is by bringing school leaders together to share practice. A recent session including leading Executive Headteacher Michelle Thomas from Grazebrook and Shacklewell Primary Schools, London, explored International Mindedness across the curriculum stemming from simple yet significant entry questions such as ‘How many countries have you had connections with since you woke up this morning?’ These simple questions open up meaningful, personalised dialogue so that children think about the journey of their breakfast ingredients and economics of their clothing material, the social-history of their family furniture, and the recipients of the morning’s social media exchanges, amongst so much more. Schools at this workshop discussed learning catalysts including children with families members around the world overlaying family trees with maps in order to think deeper and more rigorously about what living in a different country or culture really means – moving beyond the surface level learning that can sometimes be seen in Geography (where children’s knowledge of a country or culture is just a cursory tour of their 5 F’s; Food, Fashion, Festivals, Flags and Famous People). For example, one of the outcomes of a recent project at Grazebrook Primary School in Hackney was this interactive display which as well as an outcome of children’s work also provides a personal and human entry-point for further learning conversations between children after the lesson and project. Each child appears with their home country seen in the map behind them, and sound buttons with children’s recordings about their home and host countries. These are great for prompting dialogue between children and can be used as a living display with changing stimuli around the edges depending on events and prompts of significance; both internationally but also of personal significance to the child and their peers.
From a simple question, and a simple activity, stems such a rich tapestry of learning opportunities both for personal and local learning, to community and global learning.
The mutual relationship between Global Learning and Student Impact
There is a correlation between schools who provide deep and meaningful global learning for children with schools who also enable children to understand themselves effectively as learners. Meaningful Student Voice is interwoven with the principles of a globalised education, and the combination of these two things empowers children to take responsibility; for themselves and for their wider world.
Armathwaite Community Primary School (www.armathwaite.cumbria.sch.uk) is an Expert Centre for the new Global Learning Programme (GLP), supported by SSAT. GLP is a national programme that is helping schools to embed effective teaching and learning about development and global issues within the curriculum, and as an Expert Centre, Armathwaite received funding, training, local support and resources to help other schools inspire their pupils by embedding global issues into their teaching. This is in part achieved through a series of 8 ‘Twilight sessions’ that the GLP Expert Centres hold with their Partner School network. At Armathwaite Primary School these sessions are led by a combination of both children and teaching staff; participating in activities as an equal; demonstrating; and through informal conversation. Armathwaite wanted to involve the children in meaningful way, reflecting their ethos of ensuring children are at the heart of all school development choices.
Twilight sessions explore concepts such as interdependence and sustainability in a global context and in order to generate meaningful dialogue and learning experiences, ‘Philosophy for Children’ (P4C) principles were used. A group of children sat in a circle, with the teachers forming a second circle in a ‘goldfish bowl’ format to engage with, and start discussion based on a catalyst resource such as a poem or image. As one of the attending schools commented, ‘Experience of a P4C session in action, gave me many ideas. Thinking about my own understanding of the concepts, and ways in which I can approach concepts with children.’ Another attending school leader reflected that this style of professional development was invaluable; ‘I particularly valued the activities with the children – it gave me a much clearer vision of what could be achieved’.
Caption: Pupils engaging in a P4C enquiry observed by teachers
It is very much an emerging trend that where a school vision embodies a passion for a globally emcompassing curriculum, there is also a heavy emphasis on ‘Student Impact’. By centring school improvement around how to better equip children for their futures; through skills, knowledge, understanding and personal philosophy, the curriculum necessitates having a global dimension. More now than ever before, these connections from the classroom to the continents have significant and every-day impact on children’s lives, and in turn provide both motivation, engagement and context across subjects and catchments.
For more, visit www.glp-e.org.uk and download a copy of the Primary Get Started with GLP kit.
Planning for Global Learning and an International Curriculum
With inspirational programmes and approaches such as those outlined above, new approaches to curriculum planning and assessment are sought and used. Particularly in the light of the new accountability measures, many schools often ask how for guidance about implementing such programmes.
In the Summer Term, Leszek Iwaskow HMI, the Ofsted National Lead for Geography joined a group of schools brought together by SSAT and the Royal Geographical Society, and raised some key points to think about when planning and implementing the new curriculum. These are just a few, and relate to geography as a subject, but as other Ofsted national leads that day agreed, the principles apply well beyond geography;
- A skills based, integrated curriculum, often leads to geography becoming a context for learning in other subjects;
- Pupil’s knowledge of places remains weak in a majority of schools, and locational knowledge is particularly weak. Often schemes of work are incomplete or poorly planned because of high turn-over of subject leaders;
- Achievement is generally better in EYFS and Key Stage 1 with particular good use made of the outdoor environment. Fieldwork skills are less well developed than other geographical skills, especially at Key Stage 2, and little or no geography may taught in Year 6 until after completion of national tests.
Some of the suggestions from a workshop to address these challenges included:
- Use more first-hand experiences to prompt learning, as part of every-day school activity – think about how the spaces that you have inside and outside of your school can be used more effectively to engage children with thinking and talking about the world around them- not just through displays or bespoke equipment. How do your spaces facilitate or restrict children’s exposure to diversity? Simple ideas include small group working areas surrounded by unusual sensory planting (both good and bad scents!) to prompt vocabulary extension, or multiple fishtanks with contrasting species or creatures in them to catalyse comparisons and thought provocation. A number of schools across our network are creating rooftop classrooms and learning spaces – not just newly built schools but also older and more traditional buildings with limited groundspace (unlimited vertical potential)! Another simple example shared by one of our schools was to use diverse-but-everyday-sensory stimuli – such as children working all day barefoot in the classroom with sand and soil on the floor, to prompt their discussions about aspects of living in contrasting locations. Many school leaders share examples of how specific spaces around the school are used for specific activities or lessons, but how much more effectively could your usual classroom be used by adding unusual stimuli or sensory catalysts? A good place to look for ideas is the Learning through Landscapes charity who have a number of booklets to prompt thinking about alternative uses of space (http://www.ltl.org.uk/resources)
- Engage with the subject specific curriculum and assessment resources available from subject associations to ensure that every class and year group see appropriate challenge, support and progression. There are a vast array of resources available – for example through the Royal Geographical Society (http://www.rgs.org/) and Historical Association (http://www.history.org.uk/).
- Network with schools with similar curriculum design but contrasting locations or buildings to see how principled curriculum design doesn’t need to be constrained by practical attributes of your school estate. Rebuilds or refurbishments can often be catalysts for change, but SSAT’s Primary Network has a vast range of schools with stories to tell about huge progress and achievement leaps being made ‘on a shoe-string’. As a number of headteachers recently observed, sometimes not having a budget for something can make our minds focus more sharply on what it is we are aiming for and what it is that we are seeking to achieve as an outcome which in turn makes the planning and execution of school improvement better align with the impact that it seeks to achieve. There are a number of Innovation Tours, Curriculum Open Days and school-to-school sharing twilights coming up across SSAT’s Primary Network this term – come and join us.