A fair and equitable curriculum for young children with special educational needs and disability

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In this article, Dr Alexandra Morfaki, Nursery Manager at The Students’ Union at UWE, discusses her doctoral research which focused on Inclusion in the Early Years. Alex’s thesis explored the dilemmas of difference, roles and partnerships in the operationalisation of inclusive practices for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability.

The provision of a fair and equitable curriculum for young children and the means and strategies that early years educators adopt to promote equality of opportunity and prevent the stigmatisation of children who learn differently is a topic that remains under- researched. Yet it is even more relevant now, in light of the recent period of the lockdown, which has brought the inequalities, faced by the most vulnerable children in society to the fore, and exposed the personal, social and emotional impact these challenging times have exerted upon young children.

My research study sought early years educators’ perspectives on inclusion and the tensions and moral dilemmas they encounter (Norwich,2009,2014), when they have to make decisions related to provision for children with special educational needs. I adopted a qualitative multiple case study approach, and utilised interviews and focus group discussions with Special Educational Needs coordinators and Early Years Educators, to collect my data.

My research explored three strands:

  1. What educators thought was the most appropriate early years pedagogical location (mainstream or specialist settings)
  2. The  benefits and drawbacks of diagnoses and Education and Health Care Plans (EHCP) for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).
  3. The curricular provisions on offer for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

This article will discuss the curricular provisions for young children with special educational needs and disability and provides a synopsis of the findings related to the inclusive educational provisions on offer, to unveil how differentiated provision unfolds within the early years sector.

It could be claimed that the Early Years Foundation Stage (DfE, 2017) through its focus on dispositions and play-based teaching and learning (Roberts-Holmes, 2012) provides an elasticity that allows practitioners to develop opportunities for all children to take part in a range of activities that could incorporate personalisation to meet the needs of various children. Although there appears to be flexibility in terms of the pedagogy and teaching strategies implemented to deliver the areas of learning, there is a set of predetermined early learning goals children are expected to achieve by the end of the reception year. These expectations appear to have permeated early years education and care and instilled the concept of ‘school readiness’ into a sector previously considered care- led and play-based.

Given the highly prescriptive nature of the EYFS’s accompanying documents, such as the ‘Development Matters’(DfE, Early Education, 2012), the planning and organising of educational provisions has veered towards an end product: the development of measurable abilities to the detriment of creative and cognitively meaningful skills and dispositions. Requirements such as cohort or individual child progress tracking often favoured by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) and local educational authorities, set expectations for practitioners to identify progress against specific goals in the prime and specific areas of a child’s development (Bradbury, 2019). Although such practices may serve to highlight groups or individual children who require additional support, they equally serve as means of singling them out and setting them on the path of differentiated provision. If this provision does not take into account the institutional and contextual specificities of the classroom that hinder learning and recognise the personal challenges children face in accessing the curriculum, it remains tokenistic and devoid of meaning.

It is unsurprising that children with SEND are likely to ‘fall short’ of the expectations and arbitrary goals set in the ‘Development Matters’ document. The linear trajectory inherent within the ‘Development Matters’ certainly disadvantages children whose development and progression is non -linear or atypical. Furthermore, it underestimates the value and significance of play as a ‘stand-alone process’ which is not aimed at an end product (Palaiologou, 2017).

The explication of inclusion appears elusive and efforts to produce an ecumenical definition have failed. Given that it is hard to define the concept, which appears to exist upon a spectrum of values ranging from the ‘traditionalist’ beliefs that favour highly specialist provision and strategies to the liberal notions of inclusion which eschew notions of the ‘one size fits all’ approach in favour of intuitive well-thought-out practices, it is unsurprising that what constitutes inclusive pedagogy is equally contested.

My study set out to map the pedagogy that early years educators deploy to deliver an equitable curriculum and unveil their craft knowledge and skills (Black-Hawkins and Florian, 2012). Inclusive pedagogy has been dominated by notions of commonality (providing the same provision for all) versus additionality (offering different provisions for groups or individual children). These two notions have been perceived as incompatible rather than complementary. Instead of viewing the practices of commonality and additionality as binary, my participants set out to ‘communalise personalised provision’.  The term personalised rather than individualised is used in this section to denote provision, which is not restricted to the individual child but provides a holistic form of differentiation. Personalised provision in this research was rooted in an understanding of the child and the educators reported that allowing time to build meaningful partnerships, engaging with the child and observing them enabled them to ascertain their interests, establish their readiness levels and plan activities that were relevant and meaningful. The role of the key person was critical and building secure attachments was the cornerstone upon which truly inclusive provision was based. The majority of early years educators in this study relied upon their unique knowledge and understanding of their child; their relationships with the children had led them to discard a simplistic ‘one size fits all’ (King-Sears, 2008) approach to teaching in favour of a ‘trial and error’ stance that promotes experimentation and creativity

This was evident in my research and educators utilised a range of strategies to actualise pedagogical equity: the ‘institutionalisation’ of specific routines, the provision of open-ended activities and the cultivation of a sense of ownership and belonging.

 The ‘institutionalisation’ of free- flow routines and small groups throughout the day and the deployment of circuit activities offered children the opportunity to ‘dip in and out’ of activities without placing an expectation upon them to participate or produce an artefact; there was a wide variety of choices on offer to enable them to pursue their interests at their own pace. Small groups led by key persons allowed children and educators to engage in meaningful exchanges and carefully support learning.

The educators exhorted the benefits of small group activities that allowed children to learn from peers (Janney and Snell 2006) and developed flexible routines that focused on children’s choices and assisted them to develop independence and feel valued for their contribution. In some settings, there was flexibility during lunchtimes, which encouraged the children to complete their chosen task before they sat for their meal.

 Good inclusive practice was not always planned meticulously but often focused upon well- thought- out, open-ended activities. Play was accessible to all and although a plethora of resources was set up, the means by which children experimented and explored the material was open to them; educators perceived the gains and goals achieved through these activities to be different depending on the child’s individual needs and interests. Differentiation was mainly based on outcomes-each child was perceived to acquire different knowledge and benefit in various ways. There appeared to be a well-orchestrated scaffolding of learning, where the educator was willing to take a back step when required. Children in this instance became responsible for their own differentiation; what they learned was unique to them.

Open-ended activities instigated children’s curiosity, creativity and appealed to their need for active exploration. Essentially the activities focused on cultivating dispositions (Carr, 2001) such as perseverance, active experimentation and co-operation rather than being target driven or compartmentalising learning into specific areas. Practitioners felt that dispositions should constitute the core of the curriculum replacing the prime and specific areas of learning. Dispositions are not restricted to children’s mastered skills but take into account knowledge, inclinations, ability and characteristics that can be cultivated and foregrounded into an environment that promotes and rewards them.

 Equally, the notion of ownership became very powerful in the social and institutionalised context of early years settings where engagement was encouraged and participation was considered critical in establishing an inclusive environment. Children were seen to co-own the daily routines, were allowed to make decisions, affect what happens next in relation to activities, and make their own choices.  These were pedagogical practices that actively advocated for children’s rights and entitlement to a meaningful curriculum; they utilised stimulating resources and discarded advice, which was seen as inappropriate. For example, in creating visual aids and cards to enhance the understanding of routines and promote communication, the key person in one of the case study settings liaised with children to create their own cards, which were relevant to their own setting and depicted the children engaged in the activities.  The children were seen as a ‘co-investors’ (Sebba et al, 2011) in their own learning. The key-person acknowledged their right to feel that they had contributed to the process of card making and affected the setting’s pedagogical decision-making.

The sense of ownership, evoked by certain activities and the familiarisation of routines, was considered critical in allowing children to develop agency, released them from the passivity of being the recipients of ‘professional wisdom’ and transformed them into active and autonomous agents (Cefai et al, 2015). In addition, children’s joint sharing of ‘recurring class routines’ were seen as an essential aspect of participating and developing a sense of belonging in a community (Erwin and Guintini, 2010).

The incorporation of personalised teaching approaches into a common curriculum (and vice versa) is seen to enhance a communitarian version of inclusion. The concept of the community as conducive to learning has been well substantiated in theory (Wenger, 1998; 2000) but its tenets have not been applied to inclusive classroom environments. Communities, however big or small, interact with pre-existing structures, utilise an established language, and deploy certain artefacts which secure their perpetuation; these in turn serve to induce ‘novices’ or exclude new members. To ensure new members are welcome the structures, terminology and resources should be flexible and diverse –they should be geared towards serving different learning styles, abilities and proclivities.

In inclusive classroom communities of this type, the structures are not governed by prescriptive and compartmentalised curricula, performance is not measured by’ mean average’ statements, and children are provided with a range of artefacts they could utilise and claim as their own. These artefacts could include toys and resources but extend further to incorporate routines, pedagogical approaches and the overall environment that frames classroom interactions. They are ultimately weaved into the fabric that determines community membership.

Communitarian inclusion in the early years is about bridging differences and introducing various means of expression and representation (Eke et al, 2009) that bind the community of learners together. For example, in one of the early years settings, augmentative communication approaches such as Makaton were rolled out across classrooms to enable children, who did not utilise conventional language, and their peers to communicate and enhance social interaction. In another nursery, sensory intervention advice provided by an occupational therapist was utilised to merge the personalised advice into the core curriculum and enrich sensory provision for all children.

In establishing a truly inclusive environment for young children, it quickly became clear that conventional means of assessment, which rely strictly on Piagetian notions of linear development, were insufficient in capturing the breath, depth and nuances of children’s actual development. The participants in this study felt that the ‘Development Matters’ has outlived its usefulness. It has become the de-facto textbook of normative development. Furthermore, it serves a functional yet insidious purpose; it is seen as a surveillance tool that highlights gaps in children’s development and notes deviation from the mean average. It is there to monitor, record and aggregate children’s performance and reinforces concepts of developmental normalcy, which are not consistent with atypical progress. In trying to place children in boxes and plan based on predetermined targets, we lose sight of what constitutes inclusive and holistic pedagogy and assessment in early years. The participants in this study demonstrated that, where there is flexibility and a relaxation of ‘top-down’ legislation and guidelines (as in the case of the teaching strategies and their delivery), truly inclusive practices could flourish.

In September, the revised EYFS curriculum will be coming into force; the rhetoric supporting the amendments indicates a shift towards an approach that favours quality interactions and pedagogical experimentation. Despite this, the pre-occupation with ‘what children know and can do’ (DfE, 2021) is evident. What remains to be seen is whether the revisions will be accompanied by genuine changes in inspection regime priorities and will be escalated by the government to enable classroom and wider policy and culture shifts.

References

Bradbury, A. (2019) Datafied at four: the role of data in the ‘schoolification’ of early childhood education in England. Learning, Media and Technology. 44 (1), pp.7-21.

Carr, M. (2001) Assessment in Early Childhood Settings: Learning Stories [online]. London: Paul Chapman.

Cefai, C., Cavioni, V., Bartolo, P., Simoes, C., Miljevic-Ridicki, R., Bouilet, D., Pavin Ivanec, T., Matsopoulos, A., Gavogiannaki, M., Zanetti, M.A., Galea, K., Lebre, P., Kimber, B. & Eriksson, C. (2015), “Social inclusion and social justice”, Journal for multicultural education,9,( 3), pp. 122-139.

DfE (2017) (Department for Education), Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage: setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. [online] Accessed 01/10/18 Available from: https://www.gov.uk/early-years-foundation-stage

DfE (2021) (Department for Education), Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage: setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. [online] Accessed 01/06 /18 [online] Accessed 01/10/18 Available from: https://www.gov.uk/early-years-foundation-stage

Early Education. (2012) Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) [online]. Accessed 01/11/17 ,Available from: https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/files/2012/03/Development-Matters-FINAL-PRINT-AMENDED.pdf

Eke, R., Butcher, H. and Lee, M. (2009) Whose Childhood is it?: The Roles of Children, Adults, and Policy Makers [online]. London: Continuum.

Janney, R.E. & Snell, M.E. (2006), “Modifying Schoolwork in Inclusive Classrooms”, Theory into practice, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 215-223.

Erwin, E.J. and Guintini, M. (2000) Inclusion and Classroom Membership in Early Childhood. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. 47 (3), pp.237-257.

King-Sears, M. (2009) Universal Design for Learning: Technology and Pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly. 32 (4), pp.199-201

Norwich, B. (2009), “Dilemmas of difference and the identification of special educational needs/disability: international perspectives”, British Educational Research Journal, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 447. 

Norwich, B. (2014) Recognising value tensions that underlie problems in inclusive education. Cambridge Journal of Education. 44 (4), pp.495-510. 

Palaiologou, I. (2017) Assessing children’s play: reality or illusion? The case of early years foundation stage in England. Early Child Development and Care. 187 (8), pp.1259-1272.

Roberts-Holmes, G. (2012) ‘It’s the bread and butter of our practice’: experiencing the Early Years Foundation Stage. International Journal of Early Years Education. 20 (1), pp.30-42.

Sebba, J., Peacock, A., DiFinizio, A. and Johnson, M. (2011) Personalisation and special educational needs. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs. 11 (3), pp.203-224.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (2000), “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems”, Organization, 7, (2), pp. 225-246.

Images provided by Dr Morfaki who says “The first picture is of a child in a circle – circles are often used to symbolise belonging and inclusion. The second is a very happy one of a rainbow”.

Nature – a source of solace or anxiety for children and young people?

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In Mental Health Awareness week, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE Bristol explains that although connecting with nature is important for our mental health, increasingly, children and young people are experiencing anxiety about the natural world and the environment. Dr Jones has proposed a three-stage approach to engaging children and young people with these issues and has also devised a questionnaire for 7 – 18 year olds which will enable young people to talk about climate change and have their voice heard in this important global issue.

The central theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is Nature and how connecting with it can benefit our mental health. Going outside, taking a walk, being in green spaces.

Research by the Mental Health Foundation reports that through the pandemic, going outside was one of our top coping strategies. This is perhaps unsurprising when Nature is central to our psychological and emotional health. However, there are growing numbers of people who, rather than finding solace in Nature, instead are becoming more anxious by it. Eco-anxiety is a growing concern. There is a deadline approaching –  the UN have suggested that humanity only has 9 years to take action in the face of the potential catastrophic effects of climate change.  Combine this with the images of wildfires, droughts, floods and famines that bombard our social media streams and news reels and the result is increasing numbers of young people feeling deeply negative thoughts. Many of our children are losing sleep, not eating properly, not communicating. Many of our children are feeling helpless.

In the research I do with children and young people I often hear how they are scared, anxious and angry about the state of the world. These feelings need space to be discussed. In many schools, consideration of climate change may be reading the news in tutor time, or talking about the physical processes or social and environmental impacts in science or geography. There is little time for our young learners to talk about how they feel and try and make sense of what is going on.

I support a three stage approach to engaging children and young people with these issues.

  1. Make time to talk – having space to share feelings will help individuals they are not alone.
  2. Make time to plan – find out ways that individuals can get involved in doing something. Recognising that children and young people can be part of the solution, part of their community, is really powerful.
  3. Making time to do – don’t just talk about making changes actually do them. This could be something at home (switching off lights, wasting less food or water or mending clothes) or it could be with the community (helping tidy and plant a local green space, do a beach clean, sign petitions, write to authorities).

Including young people in discussions and actions is vital if we are to move towards more sustainable futures together; more hopeful futures.

Unfortunately, including children and young people in discussions doesn’t always happen. In fact, sometimes they are completely ignored.   Back in March, SKYNews reported on a survey that was supposedly representing the views of Britain with regard climate change and what the population thought were (or weren’t) appropriate actions for them to take. Looking at this in a little more detail  it seems that Britain was represented by adults over 18 years old. All other younger people were ignored. In my view, this is wrong. If we are to represent Britain we can’t ignore a large section of the society. So, I have rewritten the survey questions for younger audiences and have gained ethical clearance from UWE to send out an updated version for 7 –  18 year olds. Doing this survey will provide a space for adults and young people to talk about climate change, as well as provide young people a voice in this important global issue.

Being in / with Nature can improve our well being, but if we are to support those with eco-anxiety, we also need to have time to talk about this relationship and do something about it.

If you have a 7-18 year old who would like to take part in this anonymous survey please contact Verity on  Verity6.Jones@uwe.ac.uk.

Survey closes 31st May 2021.

Photos by Eyoel Khassay Callum Shaw on Unsplash

Raising awareness of Neurodiversity: my lived experience of dyspraxia

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Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Lecturer in Childhood and Education at UWE marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15-21 March 2021) by taking the opportunity to raise awareness about dyspraxia by telling some of her personal story. 

I am a senior lecturer within the Department of Childhood and Education where I have worked for seventeen years.  I am also a member of the neurodivergent community with a diagnosis of dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a complex neurological condition which affects the messages between the brain and the body impacting on movement and cognition.    Instead of a message going from A to B, for someone with dyspraxia, it can take a detour from A to X, Y and Z ( in no particular order) before making the journey back to B.  This can be exhausting! 

An important issue is that others may not understand how substantial some challenges can be; for example, I have been an educator for decades, I have a PhD and a range of Master’s level qualifications so when I find difficulties filling in forms, driving a car, finding my way around university systems and the world in general, this can seem perplexing to others.

However, a ‘spikey’ learning profile, (where there are significant discrepancies between the things that someone is good at and those that they struggle with) is a key feature of a neurodivergent profile.   In my own case, psychometric tests indicate a large gap between my verbal reasoning at the one end of the scale and my processing speed and working memory at the other end of the scale.

This often feels like I have a fantastic computer which has been ill-matched with some rather outdated software and I spend a lot of time feeling out of synch.   This can impact on my physical co-ordination (my dancing is legendary for all of the wrong reasons 😊) and my speech and cognition which sometimes is not quite connected.   When I am tired or anxious, I can stumble over words or words can tumble out of my mouth in ‘my incoherent soup’. This anxiety-inducing prospect can lead to remaining quiet in large group situations despite having lots of ideas.  On other occasions, I end up talking over the top of people as I can’t quite find the right place to come into a conversation and this can appear impolite. 

Many neurodivergent people have issues with the processing of sensory information; whilst I can hear words in busy environments, I am not always sure if I have fully processed the meaning. Harsh lighting is challenging for me   and can cause eye disturbances which feel as if I am looking through a kaleidoscope with pieces of the picture all jumbled up.     Unfortunately, this is often the case in many parts of my working environment including shared social spaces. 

At the same time, I am determined and driven (pardon the pun), whilst it took me 17 years to pass my driving test, I got there in the end!   This is because, I have limited spatial awareness or depth perception, whilst I can physically see space, I can’t quite ‘feel’ or judge if my car ( or body) can fit.    On the odd occasions that I have been brave enough to drive to work, students have found great amusement as I have tried to park my car, I don’t blame them, I need a runway!

To return to my computer analogy, the cognitive pressure of too much multi-tasking can feel like having too many tabs open at the same time and I start to slow down – now throw into the mix the mismatch between my computer and out- of-date software and there is a danger that I could shut down altogether.  Since my diagnosis I realise that this has implications for my work and life and I am far more successful when I can really concentrate on a small range of activities ( I am a details person)  rather than being spread thinly across many. 

At the same time, my dyspraxia can be viewed as a gift and a superpower.   It offers a unique perspective of the world leading to creative and ‘outside of the box’ thinking when I am in environments where I feel ‘safe’ and valued.  I have a good sense of humour; I have to see the funny side of often tripping over and bumping into things and jumbling up my words. Like others with dyspraxia, I have a ‘stick with it ‘attitude, I am solution focussed, analytical and very empathetic.  I am fortunate to be in a job where I can draw on these strengths to design and deliver teaching, learning and research opportunities which engage and inspire and most of all where I am able to celebrate the wonderful range of diversity seen within the human race.

Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Fellow HEA

Senior Lecturer  Childhood and Education  

I am a champion of neurodiversity. 

Watch this short film produced by the British Dyslexia Association to find out more about neurodiversity. 

Don’t just listen to young people ….

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Over the last few years we have watched the sound of young people’s voices get louder in response to global climate change. Before lockdown we saw thousands gather to protest in public places around the world demanding change. Demanding action. Young people leading young people to insist that the global community act now, and act quickly to ensure a fairer, more sustainable future for all.

Here in Bristol the voices of young people are not overlooked. This year I have been privileged to work with the Global Goals Centre; an exciting new visitor centre that will offer immersive ways of learning about the climate and ecological emergency framed around the Sustainable Development Goals. Learning about these important issues through fun and engaging ways – with an emphasis on what we can do to make a difference – is a key theme running through all stages of development.

As young people will be an important audience for the Centre, I ran workshops across the city to enlist their help in the designing the first of the immersive experiences. Through the Youth Design Challenge young people were invited to design a space around the theme of fast fashion. Entries were judged on creativity, engagement with the theme and consideration of different learning experiences. Whilst knowledge of ocean plastics and the need to reduce carbon emissions was acknowledged, few young people had previously considered their connection with the fast fashion supply chain, but they did not disappoint with their thinking and creative response to the situation.

On 23rd November a host of dignitaries gathered on a zoom call to celebrate the work of those who had entered the competition. Marvin Rees (Bristol’s Mayor) was delighted to make the presentations after the young audience listened to Bristol’s leading young climate activist, Mya Rose Craig (also known as BirdGirl). Finisterre, a Cornwall based company specialising in sustainable clothing donated the prizes.

The competition was not a token nod to the voices of the young. It was not a cheap marketing technique to get buy in from sponsors and lead the headlines. Instead, this competition is just another step in engaging and enabling young people’s voices to be heard in the development of the Centre. These designs will now be used by the creative team to inform pilot designs which are hoped to be tested later in 2021.

Young people aren’t just making noise about wanting a sustainable future, they are full of amazing ideas and ready to think through difficult problems in new ways. We mustn’t just listen, Instead, we need to provide ways in which young people’s voices can inform change.   It is not up to our youth to make the change – such pressure is both unfair and untenable with many experiencing eco-anxiety and grief as a result. Instead, we need to work together – old and young – for a better future.

Check out the Mayor’s blog for more information https://thebristolmayor.com/2020/11/24/teaching-us-a-thing-or-two/

[This research is made possible by UWE’s Vice Chancellor’s Early Career Research award]

Dr Verity Jones is a Senior Lecturer on the Initial Teacher Training Programme (ITT) in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE.

Follow Dr Jones on twitter @VerityJones_edu

We deserve to be taught about it: climate crisis classes for all students – a word of caution

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Recently The Guardian reported on how some universities are ‘bowing’ to student pressure and including classes on climate throughout all courses – whether they be geography and environmental studies (where such issues have traditionally been included) or music and fashion (where issues of connected with climate may not seem so obvious).

A report published this month by Winchester University  showed that 54% of 16-18 year olds saw climate breakdown as the second biggest threat to the UK (after the quality of the NHS). The same percentage considered universities failing in their job of addressing it.

Without doubt, the demand and need for engagement with issues relating to the climate and ecological emergency have never been so clear. We are all aware that there is a need for action if we are to secure a more sustainable future. However, there is growing evidence that with the emergency increasing numbers of young people are reporting the effects of eco-anxiety. Higher Education institutions need to consider how they approach embedding these issues and what the impact may be.

At UWE, Bristol we have been mapping how every programme across the university engages with the Sustainable Development Goals. This has provided an opportunity for us to engage and enable learning for students around real issues associated with the climate and ecological emergency; making explicit links, providing up to date information and opportunities to problem solve. What it has also allowed for is time; time to discuss these issues in supportive groups, share both fears and hopes; share the problems which affect us all.   Delivering the knowledge isn’t enough. Making the time to talk and problem solve together is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despondency that our current situation is having on many people. The emotional landscape attached to these issues must be carefully negotiated.

As someone who delivers the Initial Teacher Education programme here at UWE, and undertakes research with young people regarding eco anxiety and sustainable futures, it is clear that emotions are running high in classrooms in both the university and primary classroom. Anger and helplessness are common emotions displayed by the learners. This is often mirrored by the fear or hope embedded in many educational resources used to engage with climate discussion. It is all too easy to say ‘teach climate’. We need to be thinking carefully of how we teach it, and what the impact of the teaching is having both in the short and long term.  

At present I am working with The Global Goals Centre in developing immersive experiences which support young people in learning about the climate and ecological emergency. At the heart of this project is young people’s voice: what they want to learn, how they want to learn and how they feel about the issues. Workshops and focus groups are informing every step, in order to develop a unique learning experience, meeting the needs of the audience rather than socially engineering emotional appeals. Finding out who they think can help and be part of the solution is critical – the image shows one example of how an 8-year-old sees this jigsaw; they are very much part of the solution. However, not all young people have such a sophisticated and hopeful vision.

Teaching about the climate isn’t something that can be done quickly or easily. This is something we need, we need to do well, and we need to think through carefully and with support.

Dr Verity Jones is a  Senior Lecturer on the Initial Teacher Training Programme in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE and is a member of UWE Bristol’s Knowledge Exchange for Sustainable Development group. Her research with the Global Goals Centre is funded by UWEs Vice Chancellors Early Career Researcher Award.

Follow Dr Verity Jones on twitter

School reopening? top scientists say not yet*

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“It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.” (Sir David King, Independent SAGE Group)

This blog post could end there, but given the high stakes, it’s worth pondering more…

Teachers and their unions have been robustly rallying against the Government’s decision to re-open schools as early as June 1st. Some sections of the press and government ministers have revisited Michael Gove’s characterisation of these opponents as the “Blob”, who according to the Daily Mail is

“made up of political opponents, union barons and local government administrations – is colluding to sabotage the reopening of schools.”

In 2013, I was one of the 100 academics who signed a letter against Gove’s damaging curriculum reforms, and this time it’s even more serious, so much so that the neutral British Medical Association (BMA) have supported the call from the Independent SAGE Group to keep schools closed for the time-being.

Because of misleading advice and data issued by Downing Street, renowned medical scientists decided to set-up an Independent SAGE group (ISG).

The ISG’s opposition to 1st June re-opening of schools came after a meeting, which included Mumsnet, and supplemented by rigorous advice from expert educationists. Professor Sir David King concluded that there is almost zero chance of conditions being reached for a safe reopening of schools on 1 June.

The report makes clear that decisions on school re-opening should depend on low levels of infections in the community and the capacity to respond quickly to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy. We are not there yet.

Although children are less likely than adults to get ill, they are still transmission agents. Even the DfE advice seems to reflect this concern:

Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less, but this evidence is mixed and provides a low degree of confidence at best.”

So, a child carrying the infection but not showing symptoms could spread it unnoticed to other children and staff, and it could then reach family members with existing medical problems as well as older relatives. The collateral damage could be fatally serious.

The Government have been keen to stress that their decision was about ethics stating that working class children are being disproportionately disadvantaged because they do not have the learning resources that children from wealthier families have for home schooling.

But the ISG report stresses that rather than rushing to re-open schools, it would be safer to provision computer equipment and offer distance learning. When the conditions are appropriate, outdoor (where transmission is minimised) summer activity schemes, including educational “catch up” sessions would be a viable option.

The current situation opens-up existential questions about how we conceive of education.  We in the Reclaiming Schools network have (long) argued that it is necessary to take a rounded view of children’s needs, not just getting children (back) behind desks.

Education should be geared for developing children’s social, emotional, and wider characteristics. In this context, one could imagine a school strictly adhering to social distancing being harmful for children. Stories of nurseries and reception classes having to remove all toys for a June 1st re-opening are clearly being forced to create an environment devoid of richness.

Furthermore, the Government instruction to get the youngest children back first is questionable. In most nations in the world, the school starting age is 6 or 7, so very few children of nursery and reception age are actually in school.

Mental health problems in children are always much lower in countries with admission at age 6 or 7. Children have had the chance to be children, and without baseline testing (followed by high stakes tests at 7, 11, 16 – England tests more than any comparable country).

There is a strong case to postpone national standardised high stakes testing, it would provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of tests on children and teachers.

In any given year, around 15% of teacher leave the profession just after 12 months, and over 30% leave within 5 years. In most cases, that’s 4 years of education/training to find out that teaching is not only hard work, the external pressures of tests and league tables make it mentally and physically damaging, ultimately impossible.

Beyond and C-19, we need to reclaim education to make it progressive and socially responsible, and a National Education Service provides a vehicle to do this. 

Dr Alpesh Maisuria is Associate Professor of Education Policy in Critical Education at the University of the West of England. He writes widely about issues of social class, educational policy, neoliberalism and Marxism, as well the proposal of the Nationalised Education Service; academy and free schools; private schools; Swedish social democracy and class. This blog post is written in a personal capacity. 

*Sections of this writing have been reworked from a Reclaiming Schools blog post. Alpesh Maisuria is a Steering Group member of Reclaiming Schools.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 7

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Equality of learning in lockdown …

In the seventh in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead considers some of the challenges families from disadvantaged groups are facing in lockdown and what is needed to combat these inequalities.

Nine weeks in…

 … here in England things are changing. We’re now allowed to sit in a park and have a picnic. We can have as much exercise as we like and even go to garden centres. The first steps of returning to ‘normality’ are tentatively taking shape. However, the outlook for young people to return to schools and colleges is not on the horizon and our youth continue to be home schooled.

For some youngsters home schooling is working. Lessons are emailed in, downloaded and supported by parents and carers. However, there has been and continues to be a disproportionate impact of Covid19.

Home schooling has been dominated by online access. Week after week we welcome more organisations supporting online learning with free access to their resources, daily online activities and a social media frenzy of ideas to keep young people engaged while stuck at home. This blog has done its fair share of sharing such websites. But what about those who haven’t got access to the internet?

This week, the Good Law Project has argued that the reliance on online learning during lockdown is illegally disadvantaging some young learners who don’t have access to tablets and laptops and inadequate broadband. If hardware is available it may be shared by the family and pupils won’t have access to it for school work when they need it.

Add to this how greater numbers of lower income families, in what tend to be  more densely populated homes, are having to turn to food banks. Those pupils who would normally receive free school meals are having to negotiate new systems and pressures to ensure they have food.   In such circumstances it is not surprising that these groups have been the most harshly hit by the virus.

Covid19 has shown the reality of inequality in the UK.

Over the coming weeks it is essential that educational inequalities are addressed else the most vulnerable will become yet more vulnerable. But what intervention would work? Many schools are reporting distributing laptops and tablets to their most disadvantaged pupils, but this doesn’t ensure there is access to broadband or even electricity to support them.  This cannot be the answer.

Our most disadvantaged learners need a clear and supported educational strategy to ensure that the gap in achievement is not increased; every individual needs to be supported in order to meet their potential.

Reopening schools as soon as possible is not the answer.

It needs to be safe for both pupils and staff. Once back, the gaps need to be assessed and the curriculum adjusted. Reform is essential in order to rebalance teacher workload and improve the retention of our teachers so consistency can be maintained for our learners. Reform is essential to rethink the exams and assessments undertaken at all school stages and take account of the inequalities the pandemic has accentuated. We cannot just expect the gaps to grow and mind them.

Our education system needs to be right for all, not just for some. It is failing and will continue to fail if systematic change does not occur. 

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

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Lock down for teenagers

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Dr Fay Lewis Programme Leader for the MA Education at UWE explores ways in which older teenagers can maintain a sense of purpose during lock down.

With work being set by schools and an impressive (if overwhelming) array of online facilities, families may be finding that there is more than enough to keep young children busy.  However, it may be a different story for older teens.  Those, in particular, in Year 11 or 13 have had to deal with a rather sudden and dramatic change in life with a shift in focus from the big exam push to, well, nothing! 

The following is by no means a list of how to parent your teen (who would be daft enough to think that they have got that sussed out!) or a list of resources.  Rather, it is some collective thoughts from parents of those who find themselves in this rather strange hinterland, attempting to help our young people maintain a feeling of purpose during lockdown. 

Do future you a favour

Focus on what you plan to move onto next.  What is it that you can be working towards that may give you a head start or make life easier when you move onto the next stage?  As well as the Oak National Academy and BBC resources for teaching or learning, for those moving onto academic studies learning to touch type or how to use programming skills such as Python, or statistical packages may be skills that you are thankful for in the future.  Unifrog and Futurelearn are just two examples of where a wide range of courses can be found, with companies such as JSTOR making their materials free online too. Vocational skills are also important.  Whilst it may not be possible to undertake practical activities think about complimentary skills such as basic maths that you may need or using packages such as photoshop or excel.  Read blogs or watch you tube videos in related areas as much as possible to give yourself a head start.

General life skills

Again, this is about doing future you a favour.  What skills are you going to be thankful that you have developed in a few years’ time?  Now may be a good time to start to brush up on the theory element of the driving test, learn how to change the oil, a wheel or even just top up the water in a car. If you have a bike, learn how to service and maintain this.  Perhaps you could practice making some basic meals?  Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 has some great ideas for getting inventive with what is left in the cupboard!  More confident cooks could ask for the family food budget for the week, write a meal list and shop for this.  If there are some tins of paint available learn how to paint and decorate your room, learn how to put up a shelf or a picture etc.  For those with the travel bug consider brushing up on language skills, plan a future trip abroad or explore types of temporary or volunteer work available overseas for when life starts to return to normal.  Think about how you want to live and what will help you to get there.

Be useful

Helping others is a great way to feel good!  Keep an eye out for local volunteer groups.  If it safe to do so you may want to spend some time helping out by doing food shopping or collecting medicines etc for those in isolation.  If your circumstances won’t allow this try setting up a regular email or facetime exchange with someone who is in isolation on their own.  Connections with younger children are great.  Perhaps you could video call younger relatives, children of friends or children that you babysit for and offer to read them a story, play a game or even listen to younger children reading to you.  You could help them to brush up on their football skills or offer help with school work.  More widely, you could research charities that need support, this doesn’t just have to be financial support, raising awareness can be vital to these groups too.

Stay active

Even the least sporty teen is used to a certain level of activity whilst at school or college and it is easy when out of normal routine to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.  Find what works for you whether it be Bollywood dancing, martial arts or couch to 5K.  The Joe Wicks PE sessions are designed for younger children but can be great fun for people of all ages.  Other celebrities such as Oti Mabuse and Davina McCall are both making materials available online.  Professional and amateur sports clubs have all been working hard publishing training suggestions and resources.  It may be that you find something in particular that you enjoy or that you try out a variety of new activities and develop a new hobby.

Stay connected

The things that us parents have moaned about for years really to come into their own at them moment.  Teens are great at connecting with friends via a number of platforms but remember that virtual face to face catch ups are just as important as sending messages.  You may have family members who are living in lonely conditions at the moment who would very much appreciate short, regular catch ups.

Do something you love

What is it you really enjoy?  Whether your passion lies in drawing, football, robotics it is important to maintain your interests and spend time doing something that you find really interesting, becoming absorbed in something that fascinates you on your own or through an online course can be very relaxing.  If music is your thing Whatsonlive.co.uk have a list of some free and some chargeable concerts or you could try dipping your toes into a new genre each week.  Many zoos such as Edinburgh and Dublin have set up online zoo tours if you love animals.  For readers, Amazon have increased their range of free books, e.g. through Audible.  Anyone who loves the theatre should take a look at Patrick Stewart reading #ASonnetADay on his Facebook Page.  The National Theatre showing various West End productions, the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company have also made many performances available for free online.  Think about what it is that you love and how you can explore it in new ways. A simple google search of the name of your hobby pus the words ‘at home’ can unearth a treasure trove of ideas and activities

But be safe…

Online safety will be of particular importance currently.  Vodafone digital parenting, Thinkuknow, The Safer Internet Centre and Digizen are all great examples of websites providing information for educators, parents, carers, and young people about online safety.  More widely, whilst structure is good, imposing a schedule may only breed resentment, instead let your young person take charge of this for themselves.  If they can do a few aspects from some of the above themes it may help them to avoid drifting the days away in a haze of Snapchat/Instagram/XBOX  etc.  We can only hope!

Keep Calm and Carry on Learning – Part 6

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Need a new book?

In the sixth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at a new storybook for key stage 2 pupils and how we can use it to excite and engage home learners.

Six weeks in …

… and there’s growing concern for children’s progress in reading becoming more apparent as home schoolers struggle not only to get time to sit and do reading, but also access new material children want to read. With school and local authority libraries closed, many families are having to put up with what’s on their own shelves. Some communities are organising street book swaps, or joining the local librarian for an online storytime, or a socially distanced friend or family member may be doing  a Zoom bedtime reading session.  All of these are great ways to inspire and enable reading moments. But are there any other books and how can we use them to engage children at home?

In April I was delighted to be part of the team from UWE, Bristol who received the Geographical Association’s silver publishing award for our book: DRY, the story of a water superhero. If you are in need of a new book for your collection, then this might be something you can enjoy at home –  we have got a free electronic version (in English and Welsh) you can access here: English Welsh.

This book is based on the conversations and findings of research in five river catchments across the UK drawing on experiences and memories of drought and water scarcity. We took some of these findings and wove them into a story about a girl in year 6 who needs to do a school project that sees the ups and downs of engaging in community action. This may have resonance with many young people who have been active in the climate strike protests.

The judges from the Geographical Association commented that the book found the perfect balance between powerful personal story line, excellent art work and delivering a range of geographical facts. They felt it would engage and empower our key stage 2 audience. If your young folk only want to look at the pictures then there is plenty to look at in Lucy-Gorrel Barnes beautiful and thought provoking illustrations.

In addition to the book, there are free teaching notes available here.

These notes are filled with challenging and engaging activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are designed to deepen children’s thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate.

Join a free ‘Dry’ webinar on Thursday 21 May

While we would be delighted if you were to dip into these free resources, we would also like to invite you to a free webinar.

On 21st  May we are holding two, 45 minute sessions; one for parents / home educators (10:00-10.45 GMT) and one for teachers (11:00 – 11:45 GMT). During these sessions we will take you through how you might use the book at home and in school and offer some ideas about the kind of activities which we know engage and enable children to become creative, critical thinkers.

If you would like to take part in this free webinar please email : dry@uwe.ac.uk

We hope you enjoy this book and it offers a new reading moment for your children during lockdown.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 5

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Planning for the post virus world…

In the fifth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how we need to think about preparing children for the post virus world and what skills we might need to brush up on.

Five weeks in …

 … and rain predicted. So far during lockdown in the UK we have been lucky enough to have had almost wall to wall sunshine. This has meant we can get our young folk outside – whether in the garden, park or street.  Chalk drawings now litter pavements and less congested roads are awash with children on bikes and scooters enjoying the cleaner air. It’s been reported that traffic has returned to levels reminiscent of the 1950s. However, as society becomes more mobile these will undoubtedly increase and with them the possibility of traffic incident.

Taking my daily exercise, glancing out of my window or making my way to the shops I have been delighted to see people reclaiming the streets. But over the last week  I have also witnessed an increase in children becoming complacent with what were normal safety procedures when crossing the road. The ‘stop, look, listen, think’ drill is being lost. In the post virus world, we all hope to return to sooner rather than later, this shift could see disastrous consequences. So, it is to this type of preparation for the future I want to focus on this week.

While in lockdown it is essential that we don’t forget to practice road safety skills. Think! have been delivering road safety campaigns for the last 20 years and offer a wealth of experience. For resources to use with children check here.  

With many children in Year 6  usually attending cycle training in the summer term, consider booking the Bikeability course they would have missed

 Sustrans is the largest sustainable transport charity in the UK and custodians of the National Cycle Network. You may well be using these routes while in lockdown, so why not check out the work they do to make Safer Routes to School . It might be something your school could get involved with post lockdown.

There are also all those other life skills – from how to make an emergency phone call and simple first aid, to keeping safe near water and being able to spot dangers in and out of the home. Again, these issues are often covered in school during the summer term, perhaps even with a visit to a Life Skills Centre where children get to explore different scenarios. While this hands-on, interactive approach isn’t possible at the moment, discussing these issues is. Helpful information to use with children can be found here.

While we need to keep safe from Covid19 now with social distancing and strict hand washing practices, we also need to prepare our children to be safe when this is all over.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.