In June 2021 the so-called schools catch-up tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned after saying that government funding for his long-term plan to help pupils make up for lost learning during the Covid pandemic fell “far short” of what was needed. The recovery plan is on a long – and ever-growing – list of urgent priorities that the government is under immense pressure to tackle. Here’s another: a recent warning that soaring food inflation will force schools to cut meal sizes or the quality of ingredients – or both – at a time when heads are saying that more and more children are turning up for school hungry. To govern, it was once said, is to choose. Politicians – and the country at large – have a stark choice. To look to make savings. Deprioritise. Part-fund. Trim. Apply sticking plasters. Or (borrowing a more recent politician’s phrase), to do whatever it takes, meeting the challenges we face by ensuring that our children and young people get the best possible start in life – an education for life.
Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that we need to be thinking and planning long-term. LBL is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.
Obesity is one such challenge. Current obesity statistics and future projections are alarming. We need to be prepared to invest properly in tackling obesity and in promoting children’s health and wellbeing more generally.
But the signs are not good.
Swim England, for example, have warned of the widespread closure of swimming pools – already under threat – because of rising energy prices. We need our swimming pools to be open, cheap to use and easily accessible – for children and for adults.
Meanwhile, Play England published research recently showing that at least 21 adventure playgrounds have been lost across England – roughly 15% of the total – in the last five years. Many more have suffered severe cuts in funding. Adventure playgrounds are all about activity. They provide stimulating experiences for children and families above and beyond what is offered by traditional ‘static’ playgrounds, not least the chance to interact with nature, something widely recognised as being good for mental wellbeing. They also help children learn to assess and manage risk.
We have written previously that “the short-term need to save money is trumping important long-term, child-focused priorities.”
Literacy is another huge challenge. In our blog Literacy and creativity go hand in hand we wrote that too many children “find writing a chore and never read for pleasure. Our goal should be to make reading and writing fun, to see literacy as a way of enabling each child to express themselves imaginatively and igniting their creative spark.”
And yet a 2021 report published by the National Literacy Trust charity said that a quarter of disadvantaged primary schools in England do not have a library and that four in ten primary schools do not have a dedicated library budget. The report also pointed out that it is not even a legal requirement for schools to have a library. Quite astonishing.
Free-to-use, generously stocked school and public libraries are essential if we are serious about developing reading, writing and oracy in children, young people and adults.
Funding is one – massive – problem. Political will is another. The government has recently delayed implementing key elements of its obesity strategy aimed at discouraging people from buying unhealthy food and drinks. Some critics say that the government is backtracking on its obesity commitments in the face of political pressures.
Speaking on the BBC News Channel Lord Bethell, a former Conservative health minister, said:
If the government doesn’t see through these relatively straightforward measures … I worry [about] its commitment to health disparities, to the ten-year cancer programme, to the five more years of healthy life longevity commitment, to our whole commitment to making Britain healthier.Lord Bethell, speaking on the BBC News Channel
Here’s another example. All the main political parties are committed to sustainability and dealing with climate change. But, discussing the sorts of lifestyle changes that a move to sustainable living would entail, we wrote that:
changes, however well-intentioned, that cost individuals and families a lot of money and/or lead to significant inconvenience and disruption to their lives are going to be opposed and resisted by many and are almost certain to be politically extremely difficult to implement. It is, in short, a massive political headache for those in power – how to get people to change their behaviour.Persuading people to live more sustainably is not going to be easy
The current economic outlook is dire: the public finances are severely stretched and – with inflation approaching 10% at time of writing – we face a cost of living crisis. But that cannot be a reason to avoid making the urgent changes that are needed to meet the challenges we face and ensure that children and young people get the best possible start in life – an education for life.
If we don’t do it now, when will we?
Our LBL blogs are packed with evidence of the urgent need for change in children’s learning from early age through to adulthood. We focus particularly on issues that urgently need addressing. We feature individuals and organisations crying out for children’s learning to be brought up to date with the rapidly changing world and the increasingly uncertain times that are the hallmark of life in the twenty-first century. We also highlight examples of outstanding practice — people and organisations who are making a difference and who offer information and resources useful to anyone with an interest in children and young people’s education and development.
Image at the head of this article by andreas160578 from Pixabay.