Heather Osborne describes how PSHE and performing arts can be used to promote peace education.

On 12 May 2006, Charles Edward Brooke School (CEBS) in the London borough of Lambeth enjoyed its first dedicated PSHE day. The school mobilised its specialist arts status to promote learning about peace through cross-curricular activities which engaged students and teachers in reassessing their visions of the future and their roles in society.

Origins of a peace day at CEBS

The idea of a PSHE day arose during conversation with the deputy head about raising the profile of the subject and was inspired by watching a haka during the Rugby World Cup. The decision to base the day on the theme of peace seemed natural as the memories of the 7 July bombings were very fresh.

PSHE, an independent subject at CEBS, is already popular at this all-girl school and the students thrive on the opportunity to express themselves and to think outside the box. Delivering a day of PSHE-related activities would, I thought, be a means of satisfying a craving. I decided to play to my strengths by focusing it on the arts, which the school’s specialist status also made an obvious choice. Having a good working knowledge of music, dance and drama I decided that these would be the mainstays of the finished product, an afternoon presentation to and by all participants.

Planning for peace

Peace is a topic that forced me to think broadly and to be creative in linking activities to this theme. I decided that the students should write and record a song and choreograph a peace dance. As these tasks require a good deal of effort I asked each of the teachers involved in these subject areas to choose 20 girls who would enjoy four hours of continuous music or dance. Activities for the rest of the cohort included a two-hour poetry writing workshop, an art session where teachers and students learned how to fold Japanese paper cranes and a PE/drama session which focused on the WWI Christmas Eve truce.

As this was a post-SATS event I thought that the students should prepare for the forthcoming change to their groupings in Year 10 by creating groups from across the six classes of the year group. The choice was based on students’ position in the register as I felt the outcomes of the day would be sufficiently differentiated to obviate selection by ability. The students were put into colour-coded teams and given correspondingly coloured folders which contained information about Hiroshima and International Peace Day, a timetable and an evaluation sheet.

Student comments

I learned a lot. I know about Hiroshima and about world war one.’ (Maria)

I liked that the song was written by us.’ (Nicole)

The poetry workshop was excellent. I liked seeing people achieve something.’ (Mafusi)

Where does the haka fit in?

I had seen the All Blacks rugby team perform a haka, the Maori posture dance which is accompanied by chanted vocals, and thought that it would be an excellent stimulus for work with my students in the creation of a peace dance. I contacted the head coach of the Harlequins Rugby Union academy and a few weeks later met three Samoan players from the team. This was a great opportunity for me to ask questions about the haka’s symbolism and whether in Samoan culture, women performed any rituals on a similar scale. The dance students worked with the rugby players and enjoyed learning the haka moves and seemed quite fearless. The workshop was filmed for future use by the dance teacher and the school’s Peace Day Dancers.

We  also filmed a guide on folding paper cranes, complete with narrative and a potted history of why children around the world make them. The film was put on DVD and used with an interactive whiteboard which the students could rewind where necessary. We had 100 cranes ready to send to Hiroshima in time for the 6 August commemoration of the 1945 nuclear explosion.

Performing peace

CEBS’ first PSHE day offered students and staff a demanding but rewarding schedule. The song written and performed by our girls was so moving that one member of staff cried. The poetry slam demonstrated our students’ evolutionary linguistics and their willingness to share their vision of peace with others, the dance reflected peace through support and forgiveness and the PE/drama session not only gave the girls a chance to physically let off steam but also to engage with the mindset of those at war. When we thought about soldiers in Iraq we wondered why they couldn’t just put down their arms as history has shown that it can be done.

Heather Osborne is head of PSHE at Charles Edward Brooke School, Lambeth

First published in Learning for Life, September 2006