It is essential that schools help equip young people to live and work in the 21st century. Increase your understanding of when and where global learning can be included in your curriculum and how to deliver it to achieve maximum benefit, with in-depth advice from Douglas Bourn

We live in a global society and I believe it is important that young people, wherever they are in the world, have an understanding of how their actions and choices impact on the lives of others – not only in different countries but on different continents. From the food we buy to the way we get to work, our everyday decisions have consequences for the world around us and we need to understand those consequences if we are to build a fairer, more sustainable society.
Gordon Brown, ‘Introduction’ to Global matters, DEA, 2008a

The support for and interest in promoting a greater understanding of global and wider world matters within schools has never been higher in the UK than it is today. This quotation from the Prime Minister demonstrates this commitment.

Underpinning his support have been a range of changes within the national curriculum recently, most notably within secondary schools, to give greater prominence to global perspectives. The global dimension (GD), for example, is now one of the cross-curricular lenses for the secondary school curriculum (the other six are: identity and cultural diversity, healthy lifestyles, community participation, enterprise, technology and the media, and creativity and critical thinking).

The Department for International Development (DFID) currently has a budget of £15 million per annum to promote greater awareness of development issues in the UK, with the vast majority of this funding going towards supporting initiatives within formal education. The extent to which the global dimension is now so high on the agenda within schools in the UK is to a large extent due to the lobbying and support work provided by a network of development education organisations over the past 25 years – see the box below.

Contribution of development education

Throughout the UK, local Development Education Centres (DECs) are promoting and supporting the global dimension within schools – for details on centres and regional strategies, see: There are a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who produce resources, professional development opportunities and organise projects with schools and teachers. These include ActionAid, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Catholic Association For Overseas Development (CAFOD), British Red Cross, Save the Children, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Plan International, Link Community Development Practical Action and Tide-global learning – for details of resources, see:

Central to their work is the belief that a key feature of development education practice is the challenging of stereotypes and the importance of education for a just and sustainable world via activities that relate to the educational needs of young people.

Within the context of the school curriculum, this means not only developing activities that deepen a pupil’s knowledge and understanding of a topic such as poverty in a country like The Gambia, but developing the skills to critically assess from a range of views and perspectives the causes of this poverty. It also means ensuring the pupils have the skills to engage in the discussions on these issues, question assumptions and stereotypes that many may have of an African country and know where to go and what to do if they wish to secure change.

But are schools aware of this growth in support and interest? Are they equipped to deal with these challenges and where do they go to find out more?

Young people and global society
As the UK government’s booklet Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum states, ‘Global issues are part of children and young people’s lives in ways unfamiliar to previous generations’ (DfES, 2005). Young people are aware of what is happening in the wider world through the media, the internet, travel and from direct contact in many communities with people from all over the world.

They are bombarded every day with information about global and international issues, be it physical disasters, impact of climate change, human rights abuses, undemocratic practices or wars and conflicts. Globalisation has a massive impact on the lives of young people. Many of the issues that affect them are directly influenced by global questions. They are influenced by a range of consumer goods and cultures. Their future employment needs will be determined by the state of the global economy. They may live and work in a range of societies and cultures around the world and be faced with cultural challenges in a form radically different to previous generations.

To enable them to make sense of the world, young people need to have reference points, value systems and above all access to the development of knowledge and skills to enable them to come to their own conclusions.

Recent research by Davies (2006) and Hicks and Holden (2007) suggests that while many young people are curious and are interested in knowing more about global and development issues, they all too easily can retreat into negative stereotypes about places and peoples in lower income countries and feel disconnected from opportunities to influence global social change.

A recent MORI/IPSOS survey showed that young people are interested in learning about global issues (DEA, 2008b). Three-quarters of pupils surveyed thought it was important that schools help them to understand what people can do to make the world a better place.

So schools need to not only equip young people to make sense of what is happening around them, but also give them the confidence and outlook to want to be positively engaged in society.

Some organisations, such as Oxfam, have suggested that what is needed is a curriculum that equips young people to be and see themselves as global citizens (Oxfam, 2006).

Arrival of the global dimension
The major expansion of support for promoting greater understanding of the wider world within schools came with the election of the Labour government in 1997. Via their funding for development education, in 2000, the then DfEE, published Developing the global dimension in curriculum. Updated and revised in 2005, this booklet has been distributed to all schools in England and has had considerable impact in terms of moving beyond seeing the wider world as just geography or school linking or fundraising. Central to the rationale of this publication is that the ‘global’ is as much about the local community as it is about faraway places and that it is an integral component of all curriculum subjects. The booklet also emphasises the importance of equipping pupils to critically reflect on their own values and attitudes and to promote the importance of social justice and active global citizenship.

The publication is based around delivering eight key concepts – see the box below.

Core concepts

  • Citizenship
  • Sustainable development
  • Conflict resolution
  • Values and perceptions
  • Diversity
  • Human rights
  • Social justice
  • Interdependence

These concepts are seen not as a list but as a framework to enable schools to ensure that in developing learning activities on the global dimension, links and connections are made between areas such as conflict and rights with values and perceptions and interdependence.

The QCA in 2007 built on this through the publication The global dimension in action:

Education for the global dimension encourages learners to evaluate information and events from a range of perspectives, to think critically about challenges facing the global community, such as migration, identity and diversity, equality of opportunity and sustainability, and to explore some of the solutions to these issues. Learning about the global dimension offers opportunities for schools to address their duty to promote community cohesion. (QCA, 2007)

The revised national curriculum for England states that ‘a curriculum for the 21st century should encourage learners to be aware of global issues’ (see the section ‘Global dimension and sustainable development’ on the QCA website).

A key feature of this curriculum is to help learners ‘evaluate information and events from a global perspective’. This curriculum statement also went further by making connections to active citizenship and changing societies:

By exploring the connections between the local and the global, they can also realise that it is possible to play a part in working towards solutions to challenges, such as climate change and global poverty.

At this stage, it is difficult to assess the extent to which schools are directly responding to this higher profile being given to the global dimension. Although the majority of schools might include the global within curriculum and extra-curricular activities, it is likely that they still perceive it as a low priority alongside all the other pressures they are under. But where schools are addressing the global dimension, it seems they are beginning to do so in a strategic way: it is being seen as part of the learning process within a school and not as something done in relation to say fundraising linked to a disaster or an emergency.

Place in the curriculum
The global dimension is seen as being primarily about promoting a range of perspectives and approaches to learning to enable the pupil to make connections between local and global issues and processes.

Within geography specifically, there had already been progress in this area through the DEA and Geographical Association (GA) publication Geography: the global dimension- Key Stage 3 (DEA/GA, 2004), which identified the global dimension as being ‘concerned with exploring interconnections between people and places’ and suggested there was a need to ‘observe the similarities and differences that exist around our world today and relate these to our own lives.’ The arrival of the revised geography secondary curriculum for Key Stage 3 in 2007 brought in the following key concepts, all of which have a global dimension: interdependence, physical and human processes, sustainable development and cultural understanding and diversity.

Within other secondary school subjects, such as science and design and technology, sustainable development is seen as a key doorway to address the global dimension. Other obvious subjects where the global dimension is seen as directly relevant are personal, social and health education (PSHE), citizenship and modern foreign languages.

But in areas such as art, English and music, the global dimension is equally important. This might take the form of learning about specific art forms from a particular country or take a theme such as racism and use the medium of art and music to express viewpoints and perspectives. Even subjects such as maths open themselves up to the global dimension through using different cultural traditions as a way of looking at shapes and forms, for example. Maths can also be used as a skill to interpret data in areas such as population and climate changes. Young people need to be aware of a range of cultural influences on their lives and to understand different approaches and skills around the world – something that all subjects can be involved in developing.

For details of where to access further support in making GD connections with different subject areas, see the box.

Supporting global dimension in different subject area

In areas such as geography, citizenship or science, the subject association can be a good source of support for incorporating the global dimension. But in areas such as design and technology, arts and English, NGOs with expertise in the particular subject and who have produced resources relevant to the subject might be the most effective places to secure advice and support.

Go to the global dimension website and look at appropriate publications. For example, for design and technology, Practical Action is probably the best starting point and for music, Music for Change.

Global dimension and school life

While many schools will in some way address global issues within the appropriate curriculum subject, it is often within the broader ethos and theme-based initiatives that some of the most creative and innovative activities can be seen. These might include special days across subjects on themes such as fair trade, water, recycling or energy use. Some schools might link these activities to fundraising events, be it Red Nose Day or the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as UNICEF or WaterAid. A number of NGOs have developed award programmes around these initiatives – see the box.

An area of activity that has grown considerably in recent years has been international school partnerships encouraged by the UK government’s desire for every school to have an international link by 2010 (see Leonard, 2008) and by their support for the International School Awards (ISA) programme administered by the British Council – for more details on this, see the box.

International School Award programme

The International School Award programme is a free accreditation scheme for curriculum-based international work in schools. It offers a framework within which schools can develop international partnerships and achieve curriculum goals, ideas for collaborative-based international projects and a recognition of the importance of the inclusion of the global dimension in pupils’ learning experiences. A total of 586 schools from across the UK were accredited with the full Award in 2008.

As an example of how the stages can work, in September 2005, the Grange School and Sports College in South Gloucestershire achieved the ISA Stage 1 and is now planning to achieve the full award by ensuring that 75% of the curriculum has a global dimension. The first step they took was to introduce a new approach to learning in Year 7 with a ‘thinking-to-learn’ curriculum. The Art, English and humanities faculties use Africa as a teaching medium, with five national curriculum thinking skills as an underlying competence (EES-SW, 2007).

A school link can take many forms. But it is perceived by the main funders of such programmes – be it the Department for International Development (DFID), European Union or British Council – as enabling pupils to learn with and from their peers in other countries through curriculum-based projects and direct personal dialogue, whether face-to-face, via email, video-conferencing or exchange of letters. If organised well, linking can help pupils and the school to broaden horizons and make issues and perspectives from elsewhere in the world immediate and personal to them.

For more details of the DFID Global School Partnerships (DGSP) programme, delivered since 2003 by a consortium of the British Council, Cambridge Education Foundation, UK One World Linking Association (UKOWLA) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

However, all too often, links are motivated by a desire to help a school or a community via raising money, giving equipment or acting as a trainer/advisor. The mutual learning process can often be relegated below personal enthusiasm and a desire to ‘do good’. But the process of learning about a topic or issue in a particular country may well lead to the school seeking a partner to further the learning and to make it real (see Leonard, 2008). Links and partnerships should ideally emerge from curriculum activities and there is valuable training and support to help teachers in this area. The DFID global schools partnership programme provides professional development support programmes in this area.

Critical thinking, dialogue and enquiry
A key element of teaching and learning about the global dimension is the development of critical thinking skills. Pupils are bombarded with information about global issues. To make sense of issues such as globalisation, poverty and inequality, discrimination and social exclusion requires an understanding of different perspectives on a theme or topic and that issues are never black or white.

One of the most useful methods of developing these skills within the classroom is open space for dialogue and enquiry (OSDE) – see the box left for details of what this involves.

Championing the global dimension in your school
One of the key challenges for schools is deciding where the expertise and enthusiasm for promoting and leading on the global dimension lies.

The engagement and support of the senior management team is essential if the global dimension is to be seen as central to the life and ethos of the school. Having a person who has a global or international coordinator role as a component of their job description can be key to ensuring that both curriculum and extra-curricular activities are supported and have a place within the school and that staff and teams have the professional development support, curricular opportunities and resources to promote global issues and perspectives within their classrooms. Their remit could include providing inhouse continuing professional development (CPD) to teachers, organising school links and special theme days and being the contact person for links with NGOs and other providers of resources and professional expertise.

A key feature of the role of the champion within a school should be to ensure there is a global and international policy, that this is a priority within the school development plan, and ideally is included in the school’s vision statement. See here for an example from a primary school.

For curriculum managers within a school, the global dimension needs to be seen as being part of the everyday processes of learning. This means encouraging teachers to consider how topics and activities could encourage and support a more wider world outlook. This could, for example, mean encouraging pupils to think about an issue such as climate change in terms of impact on children in say sub-Saharan Africa.

The triggers for giving greater consideration within a school will vary from area to area, the type of school and expertise and enthusiasm of the teachers. This is no blueprint for the global school. Identifying the most appropriate pathway for schools is a role the regional global dimension networks can provide. There are examples within all of the regions where these networks have assisted schools developing global dimension plans. These regional strategies were originally called ‘enabling effective support’; see here for more details.

As the global dimension gains a higher profile, there will be a need for schools to develop models and frameworks for assessing the extent of their engagement in this area. A number of development education bodies around the UK have developed a range of frameworks from benchmark audits using quizzes, reviewing pupil views of particular topics over a period of time or providing an awards-based programme.

For example, to support their framework for global schools in Yorkshire and Humber, the region’s development education network has devised a series of benchmarks under three headings of developing, established and enhanced. The benchmarks are organised into six categories: leadership and ethos; teaching and learning; monitoring and evaluation; resources; staff development; parental and community involvement. The benchmarks they have devised for teaching and learning are given in the box here.

Case example of a framework for assessing global dimension: teaching and learning benchmarks
Teaching and learning
Level 1
Level 2 Level 3
Curriculum audit

The senior management team (SMT) has agreed to carry out a curriculum audit.

A timescale is identified.

The senior management group (SMG) has identified a member of staff/team to coordinate the audit.

A curriculum audit identifying gaps and opportunities for the global dimension carried out for at least five subjects. An action plan has been developed. The curriculum audit has been carried out in all curriculum areas and action plans have been developed for the teaching of the global dimension as a coherent whole.
Schemes of work There is some inclusion of the GD in schemes of work in some subjects. Schemes of work have been systematically revised to fill the gaps identified by the audit and in line with the action plan, using the eight concepts as the basic framework. Some cross-curricular work is undertaken. Schemes of work have been systematically revised in response to the sudit, so that the wight global dimension concepts are taught coherently across the curriculum (in at least eight subjects).
Lesson planning and teaching styles The global dimension is featured in some lesson plans in some subjects. It includes experiential teaching and learning methods. New lessons, including experiential methods, have been written and fill the gaps identified by the audit, clearly articulating the GD concept being taught for the five or more subjects. These lessons have been trialled and are now part of the curriculum. New lessons have been written in three further subject areas, clearly articulating the GD concept that is being taught. These lesson have been trialled and are now part of the curriculum. They are reviewed as part of an annual review.
Knowledge and understanding, values and attitudes There is some evidence of students’ knowledge and understanding, values and attitudes in relation to the global dimension, for example, in pupils’ work, in their notebooks. There is some evidence of students’ knowledge and understanding, values and attitudes in relation to the GD from across five curriculum areas. There is evidence of students’ knowledge and understanding, values and attitudes in relation to the GD from across eight curriculum areas.
North-South School Partnerships The school currently establishing a curriculum-based link with a country in the ‘South’ (Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean). The school has an established curriculum-based link with a country in the ‘South’. There is regular communication. The school has an established curriculum-based link with a country in the ‘South’. This is integrated into a number of curriculum areas and includes regular exchange of ideas between students relating to three or more of the eight GD concepts.
Assemblies and extra-curricular activities At least three of the eight GD concepts are included in assemblies, off-timetable days/weeks and extra-curricular activities. At least five or more of the eight global dimension concepts are included in assemblies, off-timetable days/weeks and extra-curricular activities on a regular basis. All of the eight GD concepts are included in assemblies, off-timetable days/weeks and extra-curricular activities on a regular basis. This includes opportunities for pupils to make choices about taking action.

Source: Yorkshire and Humber Global Schools Association (YHGSA).

To view benchmarks in all other areas, access the full framework here.

Key to this framework is the recognition that schools will engage with the global dimension in different ways and at different levels. What also makes these benchmarks significant is the emphasis given to embedding the global dimension across all aspects of the school, focusing on teaching and learning styles and on having in place the support structures to ensure the global dimension is part of the vision of the school.

Professional development
The global dimension is an area that has a wealth of supporting organisations around the UK who can provide advice, support, resources and professional development – curriculum managers should take full advantage of this.

A key starting point is the regional global dimension strategies, funded by DFID. These networks of NGOs, local authorities and higher education institutions while very different in terms of structure, name and role, will provide continued support to help you develop policies, run inservice training days or attend local or regional events. See here for more details. Many of these strategies are linked to local DECs – see the box below for examples.

As teachers are looking more and more to enhance their professional status, masters-level courses, particularly at postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE) level, are becoming increasingly important. The Institute of Education runs a distance-learning-based MA course on development education primarily aimed at teachers delivering the global dimension. Within the course, students can take specific modules linked to training, school partnerships, citizenship and learning about development.  

Long-term success
The research in the south-west of England on the impact of the global dimension within schools identified that:

  • key to success was a long-term strategy that included ongoing external support and advice
  • where a teacher had some form of overseas travel experience as part of their professional development, this had a major impact on their willingness to embrace a global dimension in their school
  • young people are enthusiastic about global issues and, given the opportunity, will take action to support solutions where possible. (EES-SW 2007)

The global dimension is perhaps one of the most challenging of the new approaches required by policymakers for schools and teachers. It not only necessitates increased knowledge and skills; by its very nature, it poses different ways of teaching and learning. But as the evidence so far gathered where teachers, schools and pupils have experienced more global perspectives and experiences, they have become lifechanging.

As Gordon Brown stated:

For it is only through education that we will foster citizens with the conviction to speak out against world poverty, that we will find the creativity we need to tackle climate change and that we will produce the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Education gives young people the skills and the confidence to transform not just their own lives but the societies in which they live – building equality, opportunity and social justice. (DEA, 2008a)

Dr Douglas Bourn, Director of Development Education Research Centre, Institute of Education, University of London

Established in 2006, the Centre aims to act as the catalyst for research on development education, the global dimension and global citizenship within the UK. Dr Bourn is editor of the International Journal for Development Education and Global Learning. He is previously Director of the Development Education Association (DEA) and is currently chair of UNESCO UK Committee on the Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.

See here for a related case study on Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, which shares how it has taken an all-encompassing approach to incorporating the global dimension both within and beyond the whole-school curriculum.


  • Davies, L. (2006) ‘Global Citizenship: abstraction or framework for action’ Educational Review, vol.58.1,5-25.
  • DEA (2008a) Global matters, DEA
  • DEA (2008b) Our global future: young people’s experiences of global learning, DEA
  • DEA/GA (2004) Geography: the global dimension – Key Stage 3, DEA/GA
  • DfES (2005) Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum, DfES
  • EES-SW (2007) A global dimension – change your school for good, Enabling Effective Support for the global dimension in the South West, see:
  • Hicks, D. and Holden, C. (2007) (eds) Teaching the global dimension to the school curriculum, Routledge
  • Leonard, A. (2008) ‘Global school relationships:school linking and modern challenges’, in D. Bourn (ed), Development education: debates and dialogues, Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education
  • Oxfam, (2006) Curriculum for global citizenship, Oxfam
  • QCA (2007) The global dimension in action, QCA