This project has shown how some ‘blockages’ to greater global awareness in schools can be unblocked. The challenge now is to share and learn from our experiences. By Sandy Betlem, NEAD.

Over two years, the 16 secondary schools in the Developing Citizenship project came up with some wonderful ideas on how to introduce greater global awareness to all of their pupils. 

The ongoing challenge is how to share the derived project experience with other schools, locally, regionally and nationally so that all UK secondary school pupils can take on some of the project’s ‘learning experiences’, so that their pupils can easily be equipped with the necessary knowledge skills and attitudes that they will need to be global citizens in the 21st century.

As with all projects there are good points and bad points. All too often projects concentrate on the good points – the successes and innovations – but the problems encountered in any project are also important learning features. The project focused on three particular areas of school life, tackling the following issues:

1. Curriculum development

  • What happens in the classroom? How can teachers impart the Citizenship skills, knowledge and attitudes that their pupils need to take a full and active part in the increasingly culturally diverse and rapidly globalising world they live in and will inherit/make their own?
  • How can inspired teachers take this forward either in their own particular subject areas through specific lesson plans?
  • How can inter-departmental or Cross Curricular work be developed (vitally important in our compartmentalised secondary school day) via collapsed timetable days (Benjamin Britten, Stoke, Hethersett, Flegg etc), Theme Days/Weeks ( Kirkley, Diss, Hethersett), Cross-Curricular Schemes of Work (Chantry), etc.?

2. Policy change and whole school ethos

  • What steps do schools need to take to make this a coherent learning experience for their pupils?
  • What do the key players – senior management, governors, teachers and (as importantly) other school staff – need to do to ensure that the global citizenship inputs in the classroom are ‘joined together’, continued and built upon (made sustainable) and as, if not more, importantly made holistic, with everyone working together to give a total ‘experience’? This might involve looking at the overall school mission statement (Eaton Bank), inclusions in the School Development Plan (Diss), looking at the schools vending, hospitality, catering policies (Notre Dame, Diss et al) and looking at pupil involvement in all this – empowering student voices and power through the Schools Council etc.

3. Active citizenship

  • The icing on the cake, or a citizenship requirement that can be used to critically affect sustainability, curriculum change and/or policy change. 
  • This project and many other endeavours clearly show that pupils, students and teachers can and want to (if shown how in some instances) affect change on a wide range of local/global issues. 
  • Project schools’ pupils/students have set up support groups on Human Rights, Fair Trade etc – groups that act and not just discuss. They have organised displays, run assemblies and done a lot of peer learning (disseminating the Trading Game, helping organise future event days etc), contributed to Student Council change,  e.g. UEA Student Conference.
  • In addition teachers, through this project, have developed their own and their school’s active citizenship through new links with local community groups (the sustainable element for proper curriculum development) and with national agencies – informed links to current relevant websites, contacts and initiatives.

Some lessons learnt

1. Cross-curricular working: schemes of work

Young people in our Secondary Schools encounter a compartmentalised day with pre-determined blocks of unrelated subjects. In any one day they can move from lessons in Maths to English (maybe a break) then Science, Geography (maybe lunch) to Design Technology and then RE. What a lot of mixed messages they may get during the day. Unless this can be co-ordinated kids today may have to move from algebra to Shakespeare to energy forms and the Tsunami, without any coherence in the messages received before a nourishing (or not) lunch.

Some of the pilot schools have shown how cross-curricular topics can be introduced so that the pupils can study a global issue in sustained and co-ordinated work. 

At Chantry High in Ipswich in Suffolk, the staff from various departments worked together to devise a Year 8 Scheme of Work on  Rich World Poor World, which was introduced in a sustained block. This was a six-week cross-curricular programme involving a range of departments (History, English, Art, Geography and ICT) in a sustained and integrated learning experience of a particular topic: global inequality. This gave the pupils a more coherent, joined-up view of the issue. As a result of evaluation within the school and the pupils’ own motivation it has enthused the teaching teams to work together to plan more globally based cross-curricular  schemes. Key elements that needed ‘unblocking’ to make this happen included:

  • gaining, enthusing, empowering teacher friends/colleagues and/or key departmental heads to engage in a new inter-departmental cross-curricular way of working. Some of the mechanisms that made this work in the project schools were:
    • a clear commitment to similar outlooks (global inequalities, fair trade, anti-racism etc.)
    • teaching attitudes (we want more interaction in our classrooms)
    • common experiences (involved in VSO/British Council Linking, Fair Trade etc) 
    • a major event like the Boxing day 2004 Tsunami can galvanise staff interest/involvement 
    • This way of working crucially involves shared agendas, aims and learning outcomes. 
  • linking into senior management interests:
    • in some of the pilot schools the headteacher or senior management members had distinct interests and/or commitment to global issues, cultural diversity, etc. Where this occurred the key/inspired teachers gained loads of support for their endeavours 
    • in other schools the levels of accelerated interest engendered by school events showed that the pupils enhanced achievement, interest, involvement  can be used to further support for ‘active global learning experiences’

A message in all this seems to be getting to know who are, or could be, your allies – talk to people!   

2. Collapsed timetable days/events: tokenistic or sustainable?

Many of the pilot schools have organised collapsed timetable days to focus on Global Citizenship issues. In a recent OFSTED Report (Feb 2005) on the teaching of citizenship these activity days are seen as useful when they provide participation and responsible action – but only when they are part of an overall coherent citizenship curriculum.

The project’s experience was that while these collapsed timetable days are useful in broadening the horizons of pupils – through meeting a range of people through workshops and plenaries – and do allow young people to explore a range of issues in a co-ordinated way, they can be seen as tokenistic one-off events which do little. Worse still, they may just reinforce stereotypes, for example:

  • Are all African people consummate dancers, storytellers and drummers?
  • Is all ‘exotic’ cuisine fun and tasty?
  • Do all Indian people understand the traditional background of Bhangra?

3. One-off activity days

Activity days are – or should be – fun, but they do take a lot of organising. They can be stressful, particularly when waiting for all the performers and facilitators to turn up. What do you do when a mobile phone call tells you of a car breakdown on the way to meet 180 of your school pupils? 

However, where these are linked into a whole-school long-term theme, like Black History Month (Hethersett), One World Week (Diss High) or are part of a stimulus or developmental part of a coherent whole-school focus, they can provide a myriad of sparks which can become a focus for learning before and after the event.

A real alternative is a theme day/week/month where staff were encouraged to contribute lesson time to include and involve a particular theme.

At Hethersett:

An initial ‘invigorating’ INSET twilight session generated debate, discussion (‘couldn’t it be more a nicer, softer  multicultural focus’, ‘I’m afraid of dealing with the concept of black!’) but also staff commitment, to a month of lessons which brought black history and anti-racism into ‘normal’ classroom lessons. Throughout the month school bulletins, displays, staff briefings and assemblies provided additional coherence.

At Diss:

A ‘one-world week’ involved each tutor group in adopting a country for the week (and decorating their tutor room appropriately with maps, displays, statements, etc). This was undertaken amid a week of globally-focused lessons, activities, workshops, assemblies and a parent’s evening (which paid for itself – sustainability)  where students displayed their skills – their learning outcomes – Capoeira, Bhangra, fair trade displays and food, etc.

At Kirkley:

‘Eco School’ days involved teachers in planning all their lessons within an environmentally conscious and educational theme. There was a brilliant Maths lesson involving complex (for me) mathematical computations about tin cans and how compacted cans can limit the need for landfill, about how stones on a beach are important to engender empathy and ensure sustainability. In addition teachers were judged by pupils at the entrance on the sustainability of their journeys – and costumes – to get to school – Eco Wacky Racers!

At Benjamin Britten:

A Year 10 Activity Day in 2003 involved facilitators that were good, but did cost the school lot of money. In the following year they trained some of their Year 12s to run the Trading Game and they ran that in 2004 for the Year 10 Global Citizenship Activity Day. This provided not only a good teaching/learning experience for the Year 12 and Year 10 students (Peer Learning), but also made these activity days affordable and therefore sustainable in future years.

All of these endeavours contributed to an overall coherence, showed staff commitment (joined-up thinking) and served to mitigate the tokenism that one-off days can all too often engender. A key element that needed ‘unblocking’ to make this happen was getting as many people as possible – colleagues, SMT, governors, dinner ladies, caretakers, pupils, community groups, etc) on your side and on message. This is often difficult in secondary schools but IT can happen through:

  • Working outwards from known colleagues and friends – it’s the old circle theory working gradually outwards from the margins to the extremities.
  • Showing SMT that this can provoke real interest in things that are important and that ‘I can change/ I have a voice’ to improve attention, attendance, achievement!
  • Enthusing older pupils to ‘educate’ younger ones. Peer learning can be a very useful tool in engaging slightly younger pupils.
  • A clear commitment from key colleagues that the school needs to address issues of cultural diversity, anti-racism, global social justice – not only in citizenship but in all other areas. 
  • Getting local community groups, parents etc on your side. Involve and enthuse them – all too often stereotypes and ‘unbalanced’ views come from the home – if we want to change this then kids are a medium – they can open their parents eyes, if they are stimulated, motivated and empowered!
  • Making the local professional contacts that can make these events happen and become sustainable – a  local Development Education Centre (like NEAD, CDEC, DEP) or local authority advisory staff, who have provided wonderful and  invaluable support to all of the schools involved in the Developing Citizenship project. 

4. Controversial issues

Staff in one school wanted to focus on anti-racism and black achievement using Black History Month (October 2003) as the focus for this. A twilight staff meeting was arranged to introduce and try to involve all the teaching staff. The most interesting part of this was the reaction to the announcement of a focus on black achievement and black history. There was a palpable unease, with comments like, ‘can’t we call it multicultural month, or cultural diversity?’ This developed into questions about the use of the word ‘black’ and its meaning.

Thanks to the facilitation skills and lack of a directed response by the two key teachers, the discussion that ensued – both on that evening and afterwards – allowed all the staff the time and support to investigate what was, or seemed to be, for many a controversial issue. This was an issue that they felt uncomfortable teaching or planning lessons about. The lack of a central party line certainly encouraged people to explore, debate and come up with comfortable ways in which they could address the issues. This led to a myriad of curriculum inputs into the Black History Month topic. It was an object lesson in how to take people forward with you – don’t set down a central party line, open up the issues and provide support – teaching ideas, articles where the issues are explored, etc – where necessary for people to take on the issues themselves.

In summary

To unblock the system that disallows controversial issues being discussed in the classroom,  you need:

  • Time and the right atmosphere where staff can become acquainted with and come to terms – their own terms – with the issues and how they might address the unforeseen in their own classrooms or elsewhere
  • Appropriate support in terms of teaching ideas, teaching resources, SMT support with time, external contacts, relevant articles, etc. 
  • Commitment from a few that spreads to the many!
  • Any initiative regarding citizenship, the global dimension, social justice, requires an active celebration of diversity and a publicly expressed commitment to challenge racism.

These are just a few examples from which other schools can benefit, but overall the message is that given the necessary time, resources, motivation, information and support (particularly from Senior Management and colleagues), significant amounts of global awareness can be imparted to and be appreciated by pupils in any secondary school.

We haven’t been doing rocket science over the past two years – we are confident that lessons learnt through the project can be taken up by any secondary school.