Any strategy for communities must look at what we teach children

Strong and vibrant communities are the bedrock of society. The actions of families, friends and neighbours during the Covid-19 pandemic have often demonstrated communities at their best. Sadly, however, for many people community breakdown is a fact of life, and its effects are perhaps more apparent than ever.

Any long-term strategy to build stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Today, more than ever, we need to raise the profile of community education to ensure that our children have the knowledge, skills and values to contribute positively to community life — to the mutual benefit of both.

Vibrant communities nurture and enrich us as individual human beings. The website Reference captures this well:

Communities are important because they allow people to interact with each other, share experiences, develop valued relationships and work toward a common goal. Without communities, people would have to live isolated lives with minimal or no contact outside of their immediate circle. Getting to know new people is essential to the enrichment of a person’s life.

Why Are Communities Important?, Reference

Conversely, community breakdown damages us and breaks us down as individual human beings. Consider this analysis from psychotherapist Dan L Edmunds:

One of the most destructive problems is the breakdown of community, and it is this breakdown that has often led to the breakdown of persons. Though we may put many around us, we are alone. Relationships have become superficial, there is no longer concern for the other, and we are pressed by societal and financial pressures to focus on our own survival. We do not concern ourselves much with the plight of others except a few we may call family or friends, and even then, our concern and attention is waning.

Distress and the Breakdown of Community, Dan L Edmunds EdD, BCSA

Life-based learning raises the profile of community learning by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.

Life-based learning organises learning to address the modern-day challenges we face. The Society area of life — how we interact with each other — is taught through the themes of Communication, Relationships and Community.

The Community learning theme aims to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.


Find out more about the Community learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to tackle community breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

History in schools can heal divisions and create a more tolerant society

It is crucial that children learn about what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.

The Guardian reported in October on research from the education charity Teach First, which found that children could complete their GCSEs without having studied a single literary work by a person of colour.

The same article quoted from the ‘lessons learned’ review of the Windrush scandal, which spoke of “the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.”

Black History Month, which runs every October, is now well established in Britain. ‘Themed’ days and weeks (and even months) can play a part in highlighting important issues, raising public awareness and galvanising people into action — provided that the message is not all but forgotten once the occasion is over. On the other hand, if a ‘theme’ is of such importance that it merits its own week or month, it is surely a legitimate question to ask why it is not embedded in the curriculum rather than being an add-on.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, touched on these issues in remarks introducing Ofsted’s 2019–2020 annual report. She spoke of “efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns.” Arguably, neither ‘commandeer’ nor ‘worthy’ are neutral terms in the context of her remarks.

With regards to growing calls for a more diverse curriculum, she posed two questions:

Is it because there is a fundamental issue with the national curriculum that limits exposure to diversity in literature, history, or geography? Or is it because there’s a widely held and justifiable assumption that changing things in school is the key to changing wider social attitudes?

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools

Life-based learning was first developed as a response to weaknesses in the National Curriculum. Community is one of the nine learning themes of life-based learning. It is an attempt to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.

At the Forum for Life-Based Learning we believe that the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. They should learn that they are part of a country with a rich and vibrant history.

The use of the ‘community’ concept to frame learning in history, social geography and citizenship deepens children’s understanding of — and strengthens their commitment to — society.

You can read more about the community learning theme here.

Image at the top of this post credited to Contraband Collection/Alamy, retrieved from this page on 19 December 2020

Why should KS1&2 geography be taught with a community focus?

I am passionate about the need for young children’s subject learning to be taught through life themes. I welcome your comments and suggestions about how we might develop our message about learning through life themes.

An example of teaching subjects through life themes is The Community Theme. Studying both human and physical geography from a community perspective brings the learning to life by finding answers to questions starting with where children live.

Human and physical geography

How large is the community you live in, e.g., the road you live in, the village, the housing estate, part of a city, a town or rural area?  How is the community resourced through human activity, e.g., the shops, water supply, sewage system, waste disposal, amenities, transport?

Place knowledge

What physical characteristics determine the size and shape of the community, e.g., is it in a valley, on the coast or on flat land? What are the land and water characteristics of the community you live in, e.g., where you live, the school, and the local area? What environmental threats are there to the community, e.g.,  its climate, coastal erosion, landslide or flooding?  What environmental pluses are there to the community, e.g., its climate, how sheltered it is, or water supply.

Do you agree the learning of geography can be taught from a community perspective?

Do you agree the learning of geography would be more relevant to the child by taking a community perspective?

[Life-Based Learning takes the development of a sense of community in children seriously as one of nine equal priority themes through which all subject learning is channelled. The Community Theme uses the subjects of geography, science and PSHE [citizenship] to encourage community cohesion and activity.]

Children Delighted with ‘Standing Ovation’

Life-Based Learning channels all subject learning through its nine life themes for children between the ages of 5 to 11. One of the life themes is the introduction to the concept and practise of pupils growing up to be participating members of the community in proactive ways.

It is a concept given, as yet, only token practice by schools. The question is, ‘What constitutes genuine practice?’

Well, there is an example I came across on the internet – a superb example.

“The ‘Standing Ovation Project’ works with schools to raise self-esteem and confidence of children through the creative arts. In 2017, it won Outstanding Contribution to Local Community at the Education Awards in association with Birmingham City University.”

I am not sure how active the project is in the current circumstances, but that does not detract from its description of how it has worked and can work.

Diversity as a fundamental aim

An interesting letter in today’s Guardian from Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University.

His letter was one of three published in response to an article by Melissa Benn, arguing for the ditching of GCSEs as part of a transformation of schools.

… to focus only on exams misses the real point. There is much more at stake.

The heart of what schools do, what teachers do, should not be simply determined by children and young people’s attainment against narrowly defined criteria of knowledge, but about what they could do as citizens of the future. That is more likely to depend on their understanding and respect for each other, and their ability to collaborate rather than compete.

Today’s attention on exam results reiterates a debate founded on competition and individual ranking; with winners and losers, it is an exclusionary debate. What is needed more than ever is a curriculum that enables young people to learn about difference, diversity and civilised society. The main transformation of education should therefore have an aim of promoting inclusion.

Simon Gibbs, Professor of Inclusive Educational Psychology and Philosophy at Newcastle University

I omitted a couple of sentences at the start of the letter. The full text can be read here.

Society is one of the three life areas around which the Merged Action Curriculum is organised. Its focus is on building healthy relationships and stable, inclusive communities.