Schools today seem to be facing an unprecedented challenge. School behaviours follow trends in society and the tone and approach of both the Brexit and US election campaigns have made the expression of opinions unheard openly since the 1970’s acceptable once again. It seems the need to address the issue of diversity is coming to a head.
Miranda McKearney, OBE, who leads Empathy Lab’s programme exploring the building of empathy through storytelling says, “Many say that curriculum demands are in danger of squeezing out social and emotional learning. Yet Public Health England research shows that social and emotional skills are more important to children’s attainment than their IQ.”
A 2016 survey by the Learn2Think Foundation found that 40 per cent of the UK’s primary school students had experienced some form of intolerance because they were different. According to Shahab Adris, Yorkshire & Humber Regional Manager at MEND, current teaching support around anti-Islamic sentiment is poor.
This is especially important since the release of the Casey Report, which has been criticised for a focus on Muslim communities and for confusing race, religion and immigration. Adris says, “Our goal is raising awareness around Islamaphobia and changing people’s view about what it means to be Muslim”. Not only does this result in a better understanding of Islam but it also helps develop a sense of belonging in Muslim students.
So what are schools to do? There are programmes for schools, such as PREVENT, Education against Hate and the teaching of British Values. While most agree that there are opportunities within these programmes to address the challenges of managing diversity, Tom Franklin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation warns, “The government is looking at a particular problem around extremism and radicalisation rather than looking at how to develop the well-balanced citizens that we need. The reality is that the government is not providing support in how to implement these practices.”
According to Franklin, part of the problem is that the educational system has “a very narrow focus on a set of measures of school performance linked to academic performance and league tables.” He says, “At the Citizenship Foundation we believe the educational system should have people leaving school able to engage in democracy and feeling that they have personal agency to make a difference.”
Schools themselves have a wide range of approaches to the challenge. At North London Collegiate School for example, the school uses many different approaches to embed good citizenship within the curriculum, including the teaching of democracy in PSHE, visits to Parliament, special assemblies on relevant issues, debating club, mock elections, children’s rights clubs and more. Mrs Newman, head of primary says, “We’re lucky to live in a cosmopolitan area. We have diversity training for our staff as whatever we do as staff is replicated by the children.”
One of NLCS’ key tools is the use of learning habits. Learning Habits have a character from literature associated with them to identify the context and meaning of the terms, and the work is integrated into the subject teaching so that the school focuses on teaching the ‘knowledge’ alongside the character trait and these range from flexibility of mind, empathy, collaboration, focus, persistence, good judgement and more.
The school also has ‘pop-up’ learning habits and in November 2016 they celebrated the UN’s International Day for Tolerance and made Tolerance a pop-up learning habit. Mrs Newman says, “We took part in Tolerance Day, which was a great vehicle for doing all kinds of thinking. We asked all sorts of questions, like what’s the impact of tolerance? What is a stereotype, is it right to treat those who look different differently, using an assembly on Dr Seuss’ The Sneetches, we saw how are we the same but different, and asked ourselves what stereotypes are there about NLCS? Just by discussing the word tolerance and its nuances it helps children understand how to use words. And if we’ve explored the word and its meanings, we can refer back to it at a later date which helps build positive behaviours.”
If as a school you’re looking to find a systemic approach to changing your school approach to diversity, then one option is Values Based Education (VbE). Nigel Cohen at the International Values-based Education Trust says that the objective is to help children develop their personal competences, such as skills, understanding, beliefs and intelligences, pulling these together to build their social competences. The goal, says Cohen, “is the ability for students to understand themselves better, and other people better, so that they can engage better.“
The approach is based on the fact that children pick up behaviour based not on what they hear, but on what they experience. To be effective, a school runs through a process with staff and then pupils, to define the values they want to live by and ensure that these are modelled and followed throughout the school. Cohen says within 2-3 months it’s possible to see children solving their own disputes in the playground in fairly mature discussions, even if it takes a few years to fully embed the practice.
Of course VbE is not the only systemic approach. UNICEF, for example, runs the the Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) an initiative which encourages schools to place the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at the heart of its ethos and curriculum. Given that Robert Green Ingersoll once said, "Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself," the idea of educating children about rights should have a powerful impact on the way cultural diversity is managed.
Frances Bestley, Programme Director RRSA at UNICEF UK says, “The whole purpose of RRS is to provide a safe and inspiring place to learn.” The programme supplies training support, information and resources on its site. It is a standards based award with clear, expected outcomes that are assessed by UNICEF UK.
Philosophy for Children (P4C) fits well in this framework. Amelia Foster, chief executive of SAPERE, the UK charity which trains teachers in P4C explains, “P4C is about dialogue, thinking collaboratively and giving children the tools to change their thinking. The focus in P4C is the community of enquiry – where everyone works together, providing mental and social tools for managing interactions safely. In terms of managing diversity, it gives children the opportunity to explore differences in a space where everything is valued.”
Paul Jackson, head teacher at Manorfield Primary, where 60 per cent of the school is pupil premium, is a major supporter of P4C. He points out that children are always falling out, even when it’s not race or colour related. But at Manorfield every class has a weekly P4C class because he says, “Approaches like P4C lets kids explore ideas, teaches children to respect individuals, disagree constructively and that’s the approach we’re taking.” The question that he is now trying to address is how to do this as a wider community, not just as a school as he says, “We might have different lives but we are very similar.”
Sammy Rosehill, deputy head at Alma Primary agrees saying, “As educators it’s key to prepare children for the diverse, multicultural society in which we live.” She says, “As a faith school we teach the core values of the Jewish religion – being kind, better yourself, be a good person – every religion at their core wants people to be good people, better people.” The school runs regular learning days that support concepts like Creativity and Culture, even Red Nose Day which helps children learn about the importance of engaging in charity and encouraging children to share their experience.
The schools took part in Tolerance Day and Rosehill says, “It was amazing. We did all sorts, talked about the US, Brexit and the children’s opinions. We even took the opportunity to elect a school council and it was not about losing but celebrating achievements, celebrating collaboration and the fact that they might have their turn next.”
She says, “At Alma our teaching is about developing your own identity”, and says that the school is very much focused on a personalised learning experience and that levels of engagement don’t differ dependent on ability. She adds, “It’s not about imposition of an opinion, we want to help develop responsible, independent learners and enable them to take control of their learning. We want our children to be the best they can be – every child in their own way.”
One of the common threads that runs through all these programmes is a belief that education is about more than data. Most are big on nurture, providing children with a voice, thinking and feeling about thoughts and feelings, which can help children develop social skills, especially in how to deal with differences and division. This can lead to open-minded, flexible thinking and at their heart they are all about the well-being of the child. There can be little doubt that these initiatives offer tools to help any school manage diversity – and if they don’t need to, at least teach children how to value it.
Felicia Jackson, Chair, The Learn2Think Foundation
For further information:
Empathy Lab http://www.empathylab.uk/
Learn2Think Foundation www.learn2think.org.uk and www.toleranceday.org
Citizenship Foundation www.citizenshipfoundation.org and www.gogivers.org
Values based Education http://www.valuesbasededucation.com/
Rights Respecting Schools https://www.unicef.org.uk/rights-respecting-schools/
If your school is interested in taking part in an EEF part-funded P4C trial over the next five years please contact Bob House at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Education Today