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.

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

Why we need to make teaching children how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships a priority.

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

Effective communication is much more than just 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?

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


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