Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Our Streets Now is a grassroots campaign set up by two young women “demanding the right of women and girls to feel and be safe in public space”. Its aim is to end public sexual harassment in the UK by making it a criminal offence and to change “the culture that allows it”. Their petition to the government minister for women and equalities attracted 100,000 signatures in less than 100 days. Their efforts have since developed into a wider campaign for change, including a focus on what is taught in relationships education in schools.

Our Streets Now began with two sisters, then aged 15 and 21, who decided to take a stand against what they describe as the normalisation of public sexual harassment and the terrible impact that it has on women and girls. On their website they describe:

  • how they feel scared walking home at night
  • how they feel anxious in an empty train carriage
  • how they feel sexualised in their school uniform

One of the young women, Gemma, has described her first experience of public sexual harassment when she was still in primary school:

I was then, and am now, a child. I was walking down my local high street in broad daylight. A car slowed down beside me, and a man leaned out to make crude, sexual remarks about my body that I didn’t even understand. I don’t remember many things about being 11 years old, but this incident has stayed with me.

Gemma Tutton, Why I’m campaigning to make public sexual harassment a crime

Their website sketches out a framework for how to bring about change, combining education and awareness-raising with legislation to make public sexual harassment a criminal offence.

You can visit their website by clicking here.

The Our Streets Now campaign chimes with the aims of the life-based learning Relationships theme, which focuses on primary-age children learning how to form fulfilling, empathetic and lasting relationships based on dignity and respect. Children need to be learning about the basic building blocks of healthy relationships — awareness of body language and other non-verbal forms of communication; understanding the potential impact of the words we speak and the way we speak them; the universal moral imperative to treat others fairly — in their primary school years.

Relationships education has been compulsory in primary schools in England and Wales since September 2020. However, we argued in a recent post that relationships education needs to be a central focus of the curriculum if we are truly to bring about “a fundamental, irreversible and much-needed change in our culture”. That is why the life-based learning approach includes Relationships as one of nine themes that will drive all learning in primary school.

Read More About Relationships

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Our Streets Now is a grassroots campaign set up by two young women “demanding the right of women and girls ...
Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard has propelled the issue of women’s safety to the top of the public ...
Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

The breakdown of relationships — in our personal and working lives — is a major cause of stress, anxiety and ...

Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard has propelled the issue of women’s safety to the top of the public agenda, and not just for the political class: ever since the shocking news first hit the headlines, huge numbers of women have been opening up about their own experiences, ranging from everyday sexism and catcalling in the street to harassment and violence. This collective outpouring of anger, fear and frustration has laid bare a nation ill at ease with itself.

There has been much discussion in the last week about how we make our streets safer. There have been suggestions about how men can change their behaviour to help make women feel safer. There has been debate about sentencing and other reforms needed in the criminal justice system. And there has also been talk about the need for a change in our culture, in the very way we live our lives and think about things.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, for example, Boris Johnson said: “We need a cultural and social change in attitudes to redress the balance and that is what I believe all politicians must now work together to achieve.”

There is widespread agreement that education — of both adults and children — must be part of the way forward. Michelle Donelan, a minister in the Department for Education, has said that the school system should be about developing people’s character and their interactions with others as well as about academia. Meanwhile, the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, has suggested that boys should be taught how to respect women and girls in the streets as part of their sex and relationships lessons.

An article in the Times Educational Supplement, How can we teach boys not to become violent men?, discusses the part that education can play in “shifting the narrative surrounding violence against women and girls”. As well as offering practical suggestions it also says: “This is the work of years: it requires social and emotional education from primary until further education.” This is surely correct.

Michelle Donelan is also correct when she says that we don’t want to do down “the work of our amazing teachers”. But talk of a shift in culture, if it is to be a catalyst for change and not just earnest and well-meaning words in response to a shocking incident, must be accompanied by a willingness to consider more than a mere tweak here and an extra emphasis there. We need discussion of more fundamental, root-and-branch reform.

Life-based learning offers a new vision of how we educate young children. It takes the current subject-based approach for children aged 5 to 11 a stage further by putting life-based issues front and centre in curriculum planning. Current National Curriculum subject content is respected — all of it — but it is delivered through nine life themes so that children’s education directly addresses the life challenges we face.

Relationships is one of nine life-based themes. A Relationships learning programme will prioritise children learning how to build strong and equal relationships that encompass positive values and attitudes, and the universal moral imperative to treat others fairly. It will help them to reflect on the variety and diversity of relationships and to explore shared values such as honesty, respect and politeness.

Education on its own will not miraculously solve society’s deep-rooted problems. But an approach that makes relationships education a central focus of the curriculum is part of the long-term answer to how we bring about a fundamental, irreversible and much-needed change in our culture, equipping children with key skills and values as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships in their lives.

Read More About Relationships

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Our Streets Now is a grassroots campaign set up by two young women “demanding the right of women and girls ...
Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard has propelled the issue of women’s safety to the top of the public ...
Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

The breakdown of relationships — in our personal and working lives — is a major cause of stress, anxiety and ...

The image at the head of this article appeared on this Time magazine webpage and is credited as follows: Justin Tallis—AFP/Getty Images

Effective learning needs a positive dynamic between teacher and pupils

Many of us have fond memories of comics like the Dandy and the Beano. Fans of the latter will doubtless have enjoyed reading about the mischievous antics of the Bash Street Kids and their fun and games with Teacher. The worldview was a static one; the portrayal of school life timeless. Indeed, a quick glance at some recent storylines suggests that nothing much has changed even today, more than 60 years after the Bash Street Kids first appeared.

The wooden desks and blackboards depicted classrooms as they were in the 1950s. I remember three adults who appeared regularly. One was the headteacher, who was (of course) male. Another was Cook, who was (of course) female.

The third was Teacher, as much a lead character as the Bash Street Kids themselves. Although Teacher himself was a figure of fun, his mortar board and cane symbolised an approach to learning that was also very much of its time: the omniscient authority figure dispensing knowledge to pupils who were expected to silently take it all in. It was, literally, ‘chalk and talk’. To question the teacher was to cross a line. The cane was not just part of the costume. It had a real and painful purpose.

You might argue that the last few sentences are as much a caricature as the Bash Street Kids comic strip itself. Of course it is the case that many children in the past benefitted from wonderful teaching delivered by caring, humane and inspirational practitioners. Sadly, however, what I described really was the reality for many of us. I still remember one particular teacher terrorising the primary school class that I was in. We were just 9 and 10 years of age, and we lived and learned in constant fear of her strap.

Education, of course, isn’t static at all. I explored in a recent post how teaching has changed over the decades. Part of that change is the growing awareness that the emotional dynamic in the classroom really matters. Progress in learning depends on children feeling safe, welcomed and valued by the teacher.

Life-based learning fully embraces the idea of establishing the right emotional climate for learning so that children are relaxed and ready for learning. It is one of six brain-targeted teaching strategies I wrote about here.

Teachers need to model the way we want children to interact with each other. This means unconditional positive regard, taking a calm, consistent and collegiate approach in the language used, tone of voice and body language.

The consultancy Pivotal Education offers training for teachers in consistent and calm adult behaviour. The Pivotal approach includes scripted interventions to help manage difficult situations calmly and restorative follow-ups to help repair and rebuild damaged teacher-pupil relationships.

Relationships is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which the Forum for Life-Based Learning believes the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme arms children with key skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.

Read More About Relationships

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment

Our Streets Now is a grassroots campaign set up by two young women “demanding the right of women and girls ...
Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

Bringing about cultural change needs new and radical thinking

The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard has propelled the issue of women’s safety to the top of the public ...
Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

The breakdown of relationships — in our personal and working lives — is a major cause of stress, anxiety and ...

Showing children how we form strong bonds is vital for social vibrancy

The breakdown of relationships — in our personal and working lives — is a major cause of stress, anxiety and mental ill-health, all of which are on a seemingly inexorable rise. Modern living is driving people apart. Yet quality of relationships is at the heart of human existence.

Figures published by the charity Relate in September 2020 lay bare the impact of lockdown on people already struggling in their relationships. However, as in so many areas, the Covid pandemic has merely exacerbated and exposed pre-existing problems, concerns and inequalities.

The health of our relationships is a long-term issue. We need to address the difficulties in maintaining positive personal and workplace relationships in a rapidly changing world. The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that how we teach children and what we teach them are both essential to making a difference in the long run.

All relationships between two or more people — from family and friendship circles to school- or work-based connections and even everyday fleeting encounters, say between two strangers in a shop — involve action, reaction and interaction.

In the context of the school classroom, the teacher provides the action, the pupils react and between the two there is interaction.

For the interaction to be positive, it needs to be seen by the teacher and by the pupils as of benefit to both — in other words, that the outcome is a ‘win-win’.

The best teaching ensures that everyone in the class is a winner, including the teacher. Children learn the key concept that ‘win-win’ is good for everyone involved.

Win-win requires the nurturing of basic social competencies such as cooperation, empathy, adaptability and responsibility. It encompasses positive attitudes and values, and the universal moral imperative to treat others fairly and with respect.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children. Relationships is one of nine learning themes — each with equal priority — through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme aims to equip children with key relationship-building skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.

Relationships

Find out more about the Relationships 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 relationship breakdown

Image at the head of this article by CDC on Unsplash.

Award-winning school scheme shows life-based learning in practice

Innovative learning

A year ago the Guardian newspaper reported on a primary school in Essex that won a national dementia award for an “innovative intergenerational project”. The project is indeed an outstanding example of innovative learning.

The project involves older adults who are experiencing isolation, depression and early dementia visiting the school with volunteer support workers and taking part in activities including music, reading and games with young children (up to year 4).

According to the newspaper report, the project has achieved excellent results: “while nationally reception age children make six steps of progress over the year, children taking part in the [project] make 10.”

Click here to read the Guardian’s report.

This project is an excellent example of innovative thinking on education that boosts children’s learning and at the same time addresses life-based learning priorities:

  • Developing children’s communication skills
  • Giving them experience of forming bonds of friendship with people outside their immediate circle of family, friends and teachers
  • Building stronger communities by helping tackle the scourge of loneliness and social isolation

It is also encouraging that, according to the report, the number of such projects is on the increase and that there is also academic interest. We argued in a recent post that there needs to be “a more systematic approach to developing links between schools and those who are at greatest risk of isolation and loneliness, something that is surely more practicable that ever in this age of digital interconnectedness.”

Life-based learning enables, enriches and enlightens. Its nine learning themes animate learning, bringing purpose and meaning by tackling the urgent individual, social and environmental challenges of our times.

Society

Find out about the three learning themes in the Society life area

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 is credited to Martin Godwin/The Guardian and featured in the Guardian online article cited in this post

Bold thinking to tackle the blight of relationship breakdown

Children learning relationship skills is crucial in their development of happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships in life .

Children learning relationship skills is emphasised by the image showing a marriage certificate being cut in half.
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

It is an inescapable fact that relationship breakdown has terrible, life-changing consequences — not least on children, far too many of whom are caught up in, or witness to, child and domestic violence, sexual violence, partnership breakup, family breakdown and the fallout from workplace stress.

It is a tragedy when just one child’s life is affected by such events. The reality, sadly, is far grimmer. National statistics paint a sobering picture of relationship breakdown in the home, the workplace and the wider community.

Here are just some of them, detailed on my Fractured Relationships webpage:

  • There are up to 3 million cases of child abuse, involving nearly 5.5 million children
  • Something like 5.4% of adults – in other words 1 in 18 adults, or 2.4 million people – suffer domestic violence
  • An estimated 20% of women and 4% of men experience some type of sexual assault after the age of 16
  • The UK continues to have some of the highest levels of family breakdown anywhere in the world
  • According to a 2018 UK workplace stress survey, 49% of all working days lost in 2016-2017 were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The Health and Safety Executive cites relationship problems at work as one of the main drivers of workplace stress.

It would be foolish to believe that such problems can be solved quickly. There is support available for those who need immediate help and to deal with the human consequences of relationship breakdown.

However, we also need a longer-term strategy, one that is sufficiently radical and ambitious to address the root causes of relationship breakdown rather than just its symptoms. Part of that strategy needs to involve teaching children — the next generation of adults — about how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships with family, friends and fellow pupils.

Relationships is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which the Forum for Life-Based Learning believes the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme arms children with key skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.

Relationships

Find out more about the Relationships 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 relationship breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

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

Social media damage is highlighted in the image with the caption 'The Social Dilemma'.
soci

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.

It’s important for children to learn about non-verbal communication

Children's non verbal learning is modelled by the class teacher as shown in the image by the class teacher's welcome.
Children

The ability to communicate non-verbally is a key ingredient in strong relationships. It makes sense, therefore, that — from a young age — children should be learning all about what is involved in communicating effectively with others, non-verbally as well as verbally.

Non-verbal communication is the reality for all of us as we start out in life as new-born babies. And as we grow and our verbal communication skills develop, so the non-verbal develops as well.

The development of children’s understanding and effective use of non-verbal communication skills is crucial in their development of positive and lasting relationships.

Yet the non-verbal is largely ignored and, at best, misunderstood in the current UK National Curriculum for primary school children aged 5 to 11.

The life-based approach to learning, on the other hand, focuses on teaching children the importance of non-verbal communication.

Paralanguage

Body language

Teacher role

The relationships theme brings research on paralanguage, body language and the relationship dynamic into the classroom to help children learn that interaction with others is made up of much more than merely the words spoken.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle relationships education as one of nine learning priorities for children aged 5 to 11.

Image at the top of this post courtesy of Tumisu on Pixabay

Fern Britton’s brilliant interview with Linford Christie

Teachers need to learn from Fern Britton’s excellent use of para- and body language in her recently shown BBC TV interview with Linford Christie.

I was as much taken by Fern Britton’s interview technique as I was fascinated by Linford Christie’s personality and achievements.

Fern oozes oodles of empathy in her body language with her warm and engaged facial expressions, positive gestures and body movement.

Her tone, pitch and speed of voice is spot on.

She gave the impression she knew Linford well. Whether she did or not, she was certainly very relaxed in her interactions with Linford – the mark of a true interviewer.

Not once did she falter in her interview technique, even when asking Linford about difficult times he faced in his life.

Of course, teaching a class of school children is not the same as interviewing. However, unconditional positive regard for children, positive voice, positive body language and use of language to obtain the best response from children still applies.

The Life-Based Relationship Learning Theme includes children knowing about and practising how to communicate positively in their relationships with others.

Image credit: What Is Paralanguage? by Ashish Arora

We need difference and diversity as fundamental aims of the curriculum

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.