“Engaging with the global aspect is fundamental to children’s success later in life.”      Phil Leivers, School Improvement Advisor, Solihull

What are the challenges for global learning in the context of the Primary Curriculum Review?

Below, we share four perspectives from people with different roles within the Primary Education system: a headteacher, a school improvement advisor, an ITE lecturer and two teachers.

Margaret Barnfield, Headteacher, Shaw Hill Primary School, Birmingham

Shaw Hill is an inner city school, where all the children are muslim and most are from families descended from Pakistan.  Apart from the odd trip to Pakistan, children tend to live locally to the school, and to develop a narrow view of the world.  The main thing is therefore to provide as rich and broad a curriculum as possible for them, with lots of first hand experiences, a lot of trips, visitors etc.

Any head is foolish if they don’t have, as their number one priority, standards in literacy and numeracy … for, if you have reasonable standards in those areas, you have the freedom to do other things [and If not, you don’t have the freedom to choose].

What are the pressures on headteachers which would make them start to think about Global Learning and a changing curriculum?  External pressures include things like Modern Foreign Languages landing on our desks, the positive contribution aspect of Every Child Matters, Community Cohesion [a big thing at Shaw Hill – as children at our school often don’t understand about children in other schools or places, in Birmingham, nationally or internationally].

Internal pressures partly come from children.  Sometimes this is about them driving the agenda and asking questions.   But sometimes, if you ask a question about a big issue like climate change, only one or two hands go up.  Many children seem to have missed out on the big issues.  That puts even more emphasis on the head and the school, and more importance for the school to address some of these issues: this may be the only opportunity some children have to find out about these things.

Teachers are also a pressure. How will the generation that grew up with QCA units manage with a  much more flexible framework?  Resources and teacher projects such as those offered by Tide have an important role to play in helping teachers build confidence [eg about starting from a learning objective or a skill], and in helping those in a lead role to support teachers in doing this.

I hope that the Primary Curriculum Review will provide a framework which will excite and motivate teachers, and not just encourage but require teachers to be creative.  I hope that, in this, it has Global Learning woven through, and not just as an add-on.

Phil Leivers, School Improvement Advisor, Solihull

Literacy and numeracy are important, but my passion is about children talking about and being engaged with big issues.

It is clear that engaging with the global aspect is fundamental to children’s success later in life.  When looking at what children could or should be doing through curriculum experiences, it is clear that they need literacy and numeracy skills, but they also need to be able to survive when they leave school.

The primary curriculum needs to be fit for that purpose.  What are the values and aims of what it is trying to achieve?  The aims of the secondary curriculum have been really important as a starting point for any work that we want to do in the classroom.  I hope that any primary curriculum takes on board that starting point.

This means enabling children to be: aware of themselves and their place in the world; to respect themselves and other people; to be enquiry driven learners, and know how to ask questions and where to find the answers.  Children need to learn in a social context, to speak and to listen, to engage with perspectives other than their own.  Any curriculum needs to provide those opportunities.  The content is not the most important thing: it is a vehicle to enable those opportunities to take place.

Such a curriculum:

  • needs to ensure that its aims and values run coherently throughout;
  • should promote learning which is enquiry based, social, promotes a variety of perspectives and is owned by children;
  • should support children in their understanding of the global world they live in through issues like …
     
  • interdependence,
  • development, change … and how we cope with it,
  • the challenge of sustainability,
  • identity and diversity;
     
  • promote participation and active citizenship … and develop the skills for active engagement;
  • should be concept not content driven.

There should be clear guidance on pedagogy and planning to support an integrated curriculum to ensure that there is progression and continuity through the key stages.  There should also be support for teachers in handling controversial issues in the classroom.

Significantly, it needs to begin to fire up an interest in global issues for children that they will carry with them throughout their life.

Jeff Serf, Primary ITE Director, University of Wolverhampton

This is an opportunity to think about the future.  How do we prepare young learners for life in a democracy?  Democratic behaviour is not genetic: it’s learned behaviour.  How do we get to the ‘DNA of democracy’?

I feel confused about what the challenges are.  But I believe that the first stage of learning is to get confused.  That means that what you think no longer fits together.  It makes you rethink how it does fit together.

So, are we – as a community whose concern is education - a democracy?  Or is there a dominant group which will determine our discussions about education?  About how we provide young learners with what they want, with what they need and with what they deserve?

For me, this includes a right to Global Learning.  I can’t envisage a curriculum that hasn’t got Global Learning written through it like Blackpool goes through rock.  I have recently been involved in three pieces of research which may shed some light on what a global curriculum might look like.

About 75 teachers across the West Midlands told me about what was going on in their schools which might be classed as Global Learning, and why they were doing it.  One of the things that came up in each one of those schools was a need to get children out of what one teacher called ‘their bubble.’  In that inner city school, with 99% minority ethnic children, ‘their bubble’ was about aspirations.  In another 100% white, rural school it was about linking with a school which was not like their own.  The idea keeps on coming up.

In a second project, children got together and talked about global issues, sustainable development, civil rights … all the sorts of things which – apparently – these kids are not interested in.  But they were, and are … and we should ask ourselves how we can open that up and legitimise their interest, opinions and commitment to do something about the issues.

We need a curriculum that doesn’t close things down; we need a curriculum that opens things up.  It’s the same for teachers.

The most depressing recent research has been with my own ITE students.  They talked about how they were being prepared to operate in a globalised society.  What would life be like when the children they were teaching were 45 years old?  Their visions were like a cross between Mad Max and Blade Runner … and that was before the credit crunch!

Students were aware of the difficulty of their task.  How do you handle controversial issues?  Something which can be very depressing?  We can’t just dump these problems on children.  In my ITE role, I have to ask how I am contributing to the development of a profession that has the confidence, the skills and the knowledge to prepare young learners for the 21st Century.  As educators and concerned individuals, are we preparing the next generation for a globalised society … and is that what is wanted anyway?

Sally Wood, Teacher, Chaddesley Corbett Primary School, Worcestershire and Claire Finkel, Teacher, Glenmead Primary School, Birmingham

I [Sally] don’t think that any primary teacher will disagree that primary education is the place to help children discover the wonder of the world and its people.  To give children a sense of what the world is all about.  But how are we going to do that with the huge restrictions placed on us?

We both teach in mostly white schools [Sally’s is in rural Worcestershire, Claire’s in a working class area of Birmingham] .  Nearby, in the city of
Birmingham, children from countries throughout the world mix daily, children who have cultures rich in family values and traditions that many children in our  schools have never experienced, but also children who have experienced war, atrocities, being refugees.  My son has a friend who watched his family butchered in Zimbabwe, and another friend who was ‘rescued’ from a life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

It is vital that we prepare our primary school children for ‘what is out there’ in their own world.  If we don’t talk about these issues, they are still there.  There is much to do through stories, drama, role play, conversation and exploration.  But how do we find the time?  How does the issue of improving our targets sit alongside the time we need to dedicate to our children?

Within Year 6 there is a core of children who suffer from dyslexia. These same children are creative, divergent thinkers, gardeners, handymen… the ones who can put the compost bin together without the instructions, the ones with the sort of spatial awareness where they can plan the garden without a tape measure or written plans, those who instinctively know how to create.

They are the dancers, artists, actors … the cool kids!  They are also the ones whose confidence is destroyed by the present method of assessment.  They know that, however much fun we have, they will have to sit down and prove in May that they cannot read and write as well as the other children.  Other children may look up to them, but they end up looking down on themselves.

It’s not that teachers don’t have the vision… it’s that they are tethered by assessment, maths, literacy, improving writing, improving numeracy, improving levels.  The list goes on.  However much the experts pay lip service to the creative curriculum, teachers know that they are the ones with the impossible job of having to scrape together evidence and improve on targets.  It saps freedom and creativity.

But a new curriculum that we can take on and mould to address individual needs?  A curriculum developed by teachers and advisors together?  A curriculum that values creative development, and  knowledge and understanding of the world, as much as literacy and numeracy?

My fear is that schools will decide to concentrate on those areas of learning where they know they have to improve - the numeracy and the literacy - and yet again we will be teaching to the tests, and stifling the time allocated to the wider issues.  The opportunities excite me, but I am also aware that they may be lost if the system does not equally value all of the areas.

I entered teaching because of the excitement, the discovery, the passion for learning: to promote thoughtfulness, independence, awe and wonder; the freedom to inspire children in all walks of life.

A new curriculum has to give teachers ownership to lead children on a path of learning that is relevant to their children and their classroom, which encourages children to think for themselves and to continue that learning outside the classroom.

We risk developing children who, by the time they get to Year 6, don’t like literacy and numeracy any more, because it’s boring, it’s SATS driven.  What we need is to have excitement, which takes children in a direction which they’re interested in.