Embracing global learning in your school

Written by: HTU | Published:

How can we ensure our new-look curriculum is local, national and international and helps our pupils to understand their place in the world? Fiona Aubrey-Smith reports on the work of some schools.

With the new year comes the new curriculum; an opportunity to be bold and brave in the ways that we challenge and support learning. 

Many schools across SSAT’s Primary Network have used this opportunity to explore and extend learning beyond that required by the new curriculum, finding innovative and exciting ways to glue together new and existing subject content.

Our new curriculum is not just about implementing the changes that have been made by government. It is about linking our local school curriculum with the new national curriculum, and ensuring that it all connects together in such a way that reflects the real-world, international, global, context that our children live in. We have a local, national, international curriculum.

One of the ways that SSAT’s Primary Network facilitates challenge and support is by bringing school leaders together to share practice – through presentations, workshops, learning walks and themed open days. 

A recent session including executive headteacher Michelle Thomas, from Grazebrook and Shacklewell Primary Schools in London, explored “International Mindedness” across the curriculum, stemming from simple yet significant entry questions such as: “How many countries have you had connections with since you woke up this morning?”

These simple questions open up meaningful, personalised dialogue so that children think about the journey of their breakfast ingredients and economics of their clothing material, the social history of their family furniture, and the recipients of the morning’s social media exchanges, among so much more. 

Schools at this workshop discussed learning catalysts including children with family members around the world overlaying family trees with maps in order to think deeper and more rigorously about what living in a different country or culture really means – moving beyond the surface level learning that can sometimes be seen in geography (where children’s knowledge of a country or culture is just a cursory tour of their five Fs – Food, Fashion, Festivals, Flags and Famous People).

For example, one of the outcomes of a recent project at Grazebrook Primary was an interactive, which as well as an outcome of children’s work also provides a personal and human entry-point for further learning conversations between children after the lesson and project. 

Each child appears with their home country seen in the map behind them, and sound buttons with children’s recordings about their home and host countries. These are great for prompting dialogue between children and can be used as a living display with changing stimuli around the edges depending on events and prompts of significance (both internationally but also of personal significance to the child and their peers).

From a simple question, and a simple activity, stems such a rich tapestry of learning opportunities both for personal and local learning, to community and global learning. For more ideas like this one, come along to one of the SSAT Primary Network’s Curriculum Open Days in October 2014.

Global learning and student impact

There is a correlation between schools that provide deep and meaningful global learning for children and schools who also enable children to understand themselves effectively as learners. 

Meaningful student voice is interwoven with the principles of a globalised education, and the combination of these two things empowers children to take responsibility – for themselves and for their wider world.

Armathwaite Community Primary School in Cumbria is an Expert Centre for the new Global Learning Programme (GLP), supported by SSAT. GLP is a national programme that is helping schools to embed effective teaching and learning about development and global issues within the curriculum, and as an Expert Centre, Armathwaite received funding, training, local support and resources to help other schools inspire their pupils by embedding global issues into their teaching.

This is in part achieved through a series of eight twilight sessions that the GLP Expert Centres hold with their partner school network. At Armathwaite, these sessions are led by both children and teaching staff. 

Twilight sessions explore concepts such as interdependence and sustainability in a global context and in order to generate meaningful dialogue and learning experiences, Philosophy for Children (P4C) principles are used. A group of children sit in a circle, with the teachers forming a second circle in a “goldfish bowl” format to engage with, and start discussions based on a catalyst resource such as a poem or image. 

An international curriculum

With inspirational programmes and approaches such as those outlined above, new approaches to curriculum planning and assessment are sought and used. Particularly in the light of the new accountability measures, many schools often ask for guidance about implementing such programmes. 

In the summer term, Leszek Iwaskow, Ofsted’s national lead for geography joined a group of schools brought together by SSAT and the Royal Geographical Society, and raised some key points to think about when planning and implementing the new curriculum. These are just a few, and relate to geography as a subject, but as other Ofsted national leads that day agreed, the principles apply well beyond geography:

  • A skills-based, integrated curriculum, often leads to geography becoming a context for learning in other subjects.
  • Pupils’ knowledge of places remains weak in a majority of schools, and locational knowledge is particularly weak. Often schemes of work are incomplete or poorly planned because of high turn-over of subject leaders.
  • Achievement is generally better in EYFS and key stage 1 with particular good use made of the outdoor environment. Fieldwork skills are less well developed than other geographical skills, especially at key stage 2, and little or no geography may taught in year 6 until after completion of national tests.

Some of the suggestions from a workshop to address these challenges included using more first-hand experiences to prompt learning, as part of every-day school activity. 

Think about how the spaces that you have inside and outside of your school can be used more effectively to engage children with thinking and talking about the world around them – not just through displays or bespoke equipment. How do your spaces facilitate or restrict children’s exposure to diversity? 

Simple ideas include small group working areas surrounded by unusual sensory planting (both good and bad scents!) to prompt vocabulary extension, or multiple fish tanks with contrasting species or creatures in them to catalyse comparisons and thought provocation. 

A number of schools are creating rooftop classrooms and learning spaces – not just newly built schools but also older and more traditional buildings with limited groundspace. 

Another simple example is to use diverse but everyday sensory stimuli – such as children working all day barefoot in the classroom with sand and soil on the floor, to prompt their discussions about aspects of living in contrasting locations.

Many school leaders share examples of how specific spaces around the school are used for specific activities or lessons, but how much more effectively could your usual classroom be used by adding unusual stimuli or sensory catalysts? A good place to look for ideas is the Learning through Landscapes charity, which has a number of booklets to prompt thinking about alternative uses of space.

Engage with the subject-specific curriculum and assessment resources available from subject associations to ensure that every class and year group see appropriate challenge, support and progression. There are a vast array of resources available – for example through the Royal Geographical Society and Historical Association.

Network with schools with similar curriculum design but contrasting locations or buildings to see how principled curriculum design does not need to be constrained by practical attributes of your school estate.

Rebuilds or refurbishments can often be catalysts for change, but I know of a vast range of schools with stories to tell about huge progress and achievement leaps being made “on a shoestring”. As a number of headteachers recently observed, sometimes not having a budget for something can make our minds focus more sharply on what it is we are aiming for.

There are a number of Innovation Tours, Curriculum Open Days and school-to-school sharing twilights coming up across SSAT’s Primary Network this term – come and join us. 

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