The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

What is our response to the damaging effects of social networking?

The Social Dilemma docu-drama, available on Netflix, is a must-watch for parents and teachers — and a wake-up call for us all.

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American “documentary-drama hybrid” which explores the rise of social media and the phenomenon of social networking. In its own words it “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Parents and teachers know the hours children spend on devices of one sort or another and how much technology is capable of eating into family life and home learning. Many schools have banned mobile phones, worried about the impact on learning in school.

However, there is a much more sinister side to social media, according to the documentary-makers. The damage it is causing — including to our children — is alarming and perhaps not what we might expect.

If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend this 94-minute programme. If not, follow the links below to see excerpts and to watch a discussion involving some of the people who made the programme.

Official Clip 1

Official Clip 2

Discussion

As parents and teachers, we share a common desire — as well as a responsibility — to safeguard our young people. We want young people to be confident and creative users of information and communication technology. At the same time, online safety — especially in relation to young people and social media — is one of the major public health issues of our time.

In addition to safeguarding implications, social media also impacts on the way we communicate with each other and the relationships we form as well as on our mental health and wellbeing.

Life-based learning addresses those challenges directly. It prioritises giving children the knowledge and skills to look after their mental wellbeing, to communicate effectively and to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities.

Click here to read more about the Emotions, Communication and Relationships learning themes.

Taking an active interest in nature will transform children’s mental health

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay

Mental health charity: “Rising calls to helpline show need for support”


Young Minds is a children and young people’s mental health charity. Its mission is “to see a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health, and gets the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what.”

Young Minds is one of the charities being supported by this year’s Guardian and Observer Christmas appeal. The quote at the top of this post is from The Guardian. Demand for the charity’s services have been higher than ever as a result of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. In its recent survey covering the mental health impact of the pandemic, Young Minds said:

“The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were already struggling with their mental health, because of traumatic experiences, social isolation, a loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support.”

Young Minds, Covid-19 autumn 2020 survey

However, problems of mental ill-health long predate Covid-19. Young Minds’ 2018 report A New Era for Young People’s Mental Health Young Minds begins with a stark message: “There is a crisis in mental health support for children and young people.”

Much of the work of Young Minds and other such charities deals with the consequences of mental ill-health. Life-based learning promotes good mental health and emotional wellbeing by raising the profile of emotions education in primary schools.

The aim is to transform mental health and wellbeing. As children grow up with greater self-confidence and stronger self-identity, coupled with a better understanding of the emotional dynamic operating within them, so they will be more emotionally resilient.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle emotions education as one of nine learning priorities.

Main image courtesy of Design_Miss_C from Pixabay.

“Explosion” of anxiety levels in young people, says report

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

A recent report has found that anxiety among young people has trebled in the last 20 years.

The lead researcher was Professor Nick Freemantle of UCL. The findings were published in September 2020 in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The report highlights a clear generational divide, with anxiety levels rising much more steeply among young people.

Prof Freemantle said: “Given the steep increases in anxiety revealed by this research, and the sheer number of people affected, it is now clear that Britain has a really serious and worsening problem with anxiety, which can have devastating effects on people’s lives.”

Brian Dow, from the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “There is clearly a systemic problem in the growth of anxiety and depression amongst younger people. If we are to reverse this trend and prevent a problem becoming a crisis, the social contract we provide to young people has to have a better set of terms and conditions.”


Life-based learning takes the issue of mental health seriously. The Emotions is one of nine life themes, each with equal priority, that form of the framework of a life-based curriculum.

A life-based curriculum will help children to grow up emotionally resilient, able to look after themselves and contribute positively to their communities.


Explore

Find out more about the Emotions learning theme, one of nine learning themes that form the framework of a life-based curriculum.


Covid-19 and child trauma: What role should schools be playing?

Under the title ‘Every Mind Matters‘ the NHS has issued advice to parents on looking after a child or young person’s mental health.

Imagine the scenarios: an elderly relative has Covid, or has died from Covid; grandparents are socially isolating and not available to look after the children; there is no break in the monotony; one or both parents have lost their jobs; the child is witness to an increase in disharmony in the home; the child is sent home from school to social isolate due to a Covid outbreak in school and can’t be looked after; parents are visiting food banks and falling into debt; rent is in arrears and cold winter is around the corner.

Even before Covid, a quarter of children were showing signs of mental ill-health [according to a Public Health England report] and three quarters of adults separately reported they found it hard to cope at some point in the year.

What does the school do?

The brutal answer is: schools are not set up to provide the emotional learning pupils need to manage the stress, anxiety and even mental ill-health they will encounter in their lives.

The long term objective of life-based learning is to make emotional development a theme all to itself, one of only nine life-based themes — such is its importance.

Through life-based learning, children learn emotional resilience by developing self-awareness, emotional self-regulation and feelings of self-worth as a central learning objective.

We are talking serious focus on what is a serious problem for individuals and society.

In the meantime, I hope schools find whatever resources they need, and teachers give whatever time they can, to support the children in their charge through these unprecedented times.

Public Support for a Focus on Health and Wellbeing

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

A YouGov survey indicates that 82% of the British people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth during the current coronavirus emergency. It also suggests that 61% of people would choose improved social and environmental outcomes over economic growth even when the pandemic finally subsides.

The survey was commissioned by a campaigning group called Positive Money and features in a new report called The Tragedy of Growth.

Read more about the survey results here.

Life-based learning promotes health and wellbeing. The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has themes that focus on body, emotion and mind.

Please note that the Forum does not necessarily support or endorse the aims of the Positive Money campaign. We are highlighting the poll as evidence of popular support for quality-of-life priorities.

Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Photo acknowledgement: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

One of the effects of the coronavirus emergency might be to “push parents and teachers to embrace the benefits of education in the outdoors”, according to this newspaper report.

It notes that the outdoor experience is already a part of Scotland’s ‘curriculum for excellence’.

Benefits of “the exponentially positive impact” of outdoor learning may include:

  • better eyesight
  • improved ability to assess risk
  • improved resilience

Wellbeing Award for Schools

Here is a link to information about an excellent initiative, described by Philippa Stobbs, who is assistant director of the National Children’s Bureau, a UK charity that promotes children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

The Merged Action Curriculum proposes that emotional awareness, resilience and well-being should be at the heart of what children need to learn. The Emotions is one of MAC’s nine learning domains.

We’re new. Come and have a look around the site. Let us know what you think. Join in the discussion about how we make the primary school curriculum better for our children.

Children’s Mental Health Week

It’s good to see children’s mental well-being high on the agenda this week as a result of Children’s Mental Health Week.

Provided that they are not just token gestures — their message all but forgotten once the occasion is over — ‘themed’ days and weeks can be extremely useful for highlighting important issues, raising public awareness and galvanising people into action.

The Merged Action Curriculum does things differently, putting emotional awareness, resilience and well-being at the heart of what children need to learn. The Emotions is one of MAC’s nine learning domains.

We’re new. Come and have a look around the site. Let us know what you think. Join in the discussion about how we make the primary school curriculum better for our children.