Let’s go for change as we move into the 21st year in the 21st century

A change in the focus by the UK government in the education of primary school children — aged 5 to 11 years — is long over due to meet the urgent challenges of the 21st century.

It is clear our children need to learn to speak, read and write English, be proficient in mathematics and have an all=round education in all the other subjects that make up the National Curriculum in England — science, history, geography, art and design, computing, design and technology, a foreign language, music, physical education and PSHE.

But must the curriculum be taught as individual subjects that have little or nothing to do with each other?

How is it that we have not moved on since education was first rolled out to the masses in Queen Victoria’s 1870s in the expression of learning as no more than a bunch of subjects to be mastered?

The Life-Based Approach to Learning brings meaning to the education of our children by teaching the subjects through vitally important themes: children learn to know about and look after themselves in areas critical to their development; acquire the communication, relationship and community skills to meet the social challenges the country faces; and gain a grounding in the how and why of living sustainably, as we must all surely learn to do.

Oh! … and by the way: children’s progress in the core subjects of English and mathematics [and all the other subjects] will be the better for a fresh approach to education that is more than a jobs market competition.

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

Children learning from history such as the Empire Windrush bringing people from the Caribbean to help the British economy.

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 music be taught with a communication focus?

The UK government’s National Curriculum subject of music for 5- to 11-year-old children is in desperate need of a boost as an educationally overlooked, but highly social, vehicle of communication between people.   

Music is a ubiquitous communication tool permeating society 24/7 through radio, television, stage productions and online digital platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.

Every country has its music identity and, if Andre Rieu’s concerts are the yardstick to go by, there is a shared identity across many countries and continents.

Music is a key component of religions and religious festivals such as Christmas and provides unique identity to religions — for example, Gregorian chant, gospel music, the Islamic call to prayer, or the wind and percussion instruments of Mahayana Buddhism.

The life-based approach to learning gives increased status to music in the curriculum.

Children learn an instrument to play to others, learn a song to sing to others, learn about different kinds of music to share with others and bring their experiences of music into the school to share.

Children learn the more varied their own tastes in music, the more opportunities there are in life to share people’s different tastes in music and the more they improve their options to communicate with others.

Through music, children’s confidence, self-esteem and emotional resilience improves as does their brain development and ability in other subjects.

The school itself models music’s powerful connection to others through class lessons, assemblies, concerts, choirs, drama productions and talent shows.

As previously posted on this website, the ‘Standing Ovation Project’ uses music and the arts to strengthen children’s sense of community.

Click here to read more about how ‘Communication’ is one of nine life-based learning themes through which all learning is directed.

Pressure on teachers to do more than teach the current curriculum

Life-based learning offers a solution to preserve the core educational purpose of education and meet the increasing social demands on schools.

Amanda Spielman in her address to mark the launch of Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/20, identifies ‘the pressure on schools to do more than teach their current curriculum’

She adds, ‘The [Covid] crisis has really shown us how important schools are to the fabric of society, given how much they now do beyond their core educational purpose.’

She goes on to list the many demands on schools and raises the question, ‘Are we getting the balance right’ providing ‘the core job of education’ plus ‘extensive roles beyond education’

For me it is not a question of either/or. It is not one to the exclusion of the other.

The Life-Based Approach to Learning for primary schools children combines the core educational purpose with the greater demands of 21st Century living by teaching the subjects through life themes.

Follow the MAC link to explore indicative ways of enlivening the current curriculum.

[Life-Based Learning is an innovative and ground breaking approach to learning that meets urgent personal. social and environment challenges through the rearrangement of National Curriculum in England Key Stages 1 & 2 subject content.]

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.

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

Yes, we need to be nurturing children’s sense of curiosity

This is a really interesting — if somewhat depressing — article from this week’s Education Guardian about the importance of stimulating children’s curiosity and encouraging them to ask questions about the world around them and about the things they are learning. The depressing bit is, of course, that the opposite is happening on too many occasions, as the article makes clear.

One of the main criticisms of the National Curriculum is that it switches children off from learning. The Merged Action Curriculum, on the other hand, is clear about the importance of motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning.

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.

MAC in a nutshell

The ‘MAC in a Nutshell’ diagram below identifies the learning areas through which the key stages 1 & 2 National Curriculum in England for 5- to 11-year-olds can be delivered.

‘The MAC in a nutshell’ identifies the learning areas through which the Key Stages 1 & 2 National Curriculum in England for five to eleven year olds can be delivered.