History is a great way to develop children’s sense of community

As the reaction to the government’s announcement last month that it was planning to legislate to protect public statues from removal “on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob” shows, history is capable of stirring the emotions like no other academic subject (though religious education sometimes comes a close second). It is no surprise then that changes to the history curriculum in schools, such as those brought in by Michael Gove when he was education secretary, always provoke impassioned debate.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to avoid politicising the debate about the teaching of history. The left is quick to accuse right-wing proponents of change of seeking to impose a whitewashed curriculum made up of a ‘greatest hits’ of Britain’s past glories, taught by rote. The right, meanwhile, speaks of inbuilt left-wing bias and a preoccupation with ‘woke’ issues like protest and identity, often conflating its criticisms with accusations of ‘trendy’ teaching methods that have undermined standards.

The study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. Through history children develop an increased sense of belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours.

Life-based learning promotes the study of history through the lens of community. History helps children to identify with their community and to appreciate the benefits of community. As a result, they are more likely to be motivated to become active citizens, contributing to the making of history by sharing in the life of the community, joining in community activity and looking out for others in need of care and support.

Through the study of local history, children learn about things that have made their community what it is — the events that shaped it, the movements of people in to and out of the community, and the development of work and leisure opportunities and features of interest in the area over the decades and centuries. Through national history, meanwhile, children explore national and international events that shaped the community, particularly times when people have pulled together in the face of adversity.

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.

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.

Read More about Community

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The image at the head of this article is from the Wikipedia page of the International Slavery Museum, which is in Liverpool. The author is identified as Rept0n1x

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.

Focusing on communication skills is a matter of social justice

Too many children struggle to communicate well. The reality for lots of children in their early years is speech delay, limited vocabulary and reading poverty. The results are depressingly predictable: poor progress in school and in their wider learning, and blighted life prospects. Teaching children how to communicate effectively is a key life-based learning priority.

The Communication Trust is a coalition of more than 50 not-for-profit organisations that work with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication. Its submission to a House of Commons Education Select Committee inquiry in 2018 on life chances included the following points:

  • “There is a strong link between communication skills and social disadvantage; they are a critical factor in the intergenerational cycles that perpetuate poverty.”
  • “… researchers have found that children who had poor vocabulary at age five were one and a half times more likely to be poor readers or have mental health problems at age 34.”
  • “Those with unrecognised and un-met communication needs are also disproportionately more likely to get in trouble with the law.”
  • “… good language and communication can often operate as a protective factor … [G]ood communication skills were identified as supporting resilience, which reduces the likelihood of later social, mental and emotional health difficulties.”

The Communication Trust’s report shows why we need children to be able to communicate well. However, the current approach to developing children’s communication skills leaves too many of them behind. There is every chance that deep-rooted problems, often beginning as soon as a child is born, will get worse rather than better as they make their way through the key stages of school.

Our Communication Breakdown page sets out some of the evidence of failure. An increasing number of five- and six-year-olds are arriving in school with limited vocabulary, have not been read to as infants and are unable to string a sentence together. Many children fail to develop the ability to speak confidently and fluently and, at age sixteen, more than a third of children do not meet the required standard in written English and are struggling to answer exam questions because of language deficiency. Students are arriving at university without the basic skills which make coherent written work possible.

A different strategy is required. The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children. Communication 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.

Read More About Communication

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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

Our schools can help us to tackle the loneliness epidemic

The loneliness epidemic is emphasised by the hands of an old person. Many old people live alone and isolated.

As my website article ‘Fragmented Communities’ makes clear, our communities are in trouble. Fixing them is an urgent priority. Too many lives are blighted by prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, violence and anti-social behaviour. Perhaps receiving less media attention but no less socially destructive is the impact of loneliness, isolation and separation. We have a loneliness epidemic.

Social isolation is a reality in every neighbourhood. It affects the young and the old alike, as well as everyone in between. The Jo Cox Commission claimed that loneliness “is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and affects nine million UK people.”

The demographics don’t help. As the number of older people increases, so does the number of people living alone following the death of a partner. More than two million people in England over the age of 75 now live alone.

Being alone does not necessarily mean loneliness, of course. However, as the Jo Cox Commission makes clear, loneliness is an urgent problem for many, one amplified by the Covid pandemic. In November the BBC reported that more than four million people were “always or often lonely”.

The solution is neither quick nor easy, but — as I argued in a recent post — 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, contributing to the work of repairing what is broken and building stronger communities in the longer term.

There is much good practice already taking place. In many areas, schools are the beating heart of the local community. We need to go further, using the curriculum to educate children in how to contribute positively to their community, as well as promoting community values of trust, respect and interdependence.

For example, we could adopt 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.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates the introduction of a life-based curriculum for primary-school children, with ‘Community’ as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.

Community

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 Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

Any strategy for communities must look at what we teach children

Children's community education is emphasised by the image of lots of  people networking each other

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.

Community

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.

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.

Harnessing the curriculum to fully nurture children’s ability to communicate

Children's communication skills need to be than the ability to read and write well. Communication is the key word in the image.

Effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well. We urgently need an approach to learning that recognises the role that all curriculum subjects can play in developing children’s communication skills.

The National Curriculum in England for 5- to 11-year-old children places a huge emphasis on reading and writing. This means that not only is speaking given a back seat but also all other forms of communication. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that English is seen as the pre-eminent subject, to be taught separately from other subjects whose own role in fostering communication is neglected as a consequence.

Life-based learning brings together each of the curriculum’s individual subjects under the umbrella concept of communication education, opening up the possibility for all subject areas to contribute to and enrich children’s learning about communication in all its forms — reading, writing, mathematical, verbal, dance, drama, music, graphic/art and multi-media.

Through the Communication learning theme children’s learning is boosted by focusing not just on English and mathematics but on all the various ways that ‘information and understanding is passed from one person to another’ — the dictionary definition of communication.

The expressive arts — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative sphere.

Science, design and technology, history and geography all have their own communication languages for children to discover and set about mastering.

Learning a foreign language broadens horizons and opens up a world of amazing cultural and language diversity. Computing, itself a language, is the bedrock of the modern digital world.

In the life-based approach to learning, communication is the glue that joins individual National Curriculum subjects in a focused understanding that proficiency in each different subject language enhances our ability to communicate with others in increasingly rich and varied ways.

At the same time, the opportunity is there for teachers to ensure that facility in the use of spoken and written English permeates all subject learning, with children constantly increasing their vocabulary and their ability to express themselves through highly interactive, broad-based activities.

Communication

Find out more about the Communication learning theme

Study Action Areas

Specimen content for the Communication study action areas

An Urgent Priority

Why it is imperative that we act to improve children’s communication

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.

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