CitizenshipRE - Family fortunes

My Dad Says ... helps pupils to gain empathy for immigrants

Karen Russell

The Year 9 children are excited as they present their "news reports". "Should people be allowed to live in any country they choose?" is one of the questions they are addressing. "Why do some people live in poverty?" is another.

They are speaking at My Dad Says ..., a conference organised by East Kent's World Education Development Group (WEDG), at the conclusion of a three-year project involving three schools, aimed at promoting critical thinking and reducing prejudice among schoolchildren. Funded by the Department for International Development, it began with a group of Year 7s and revisited the same pupils over two years.

The study was prompted by Liz Hayes from the WEDG, who during her time teaching citizenship in Dover repeatedly heard negative comments about immigration, which often began: "My dad says ..." She surveyed other Kent teachers, one of whom had noted "a serious racial divide and hostility between the foreign students and the English students", and another who said she was "frequently challenged by very prejudiced and biased comments from pupils".

Pupils were encouraged to discuss poverty and immigration. But the project also turned the subject on its head, showing students how some foreign nationals view Brits abroad. "Despite living here for years, all they can say is please," was a common criticism by locals of British nationals living in Spain.

In Year 8, pupils examined a real case study: a scared youth forced to flee his home. Pupils were asked why they thought he had done this, how he felt and how he might have managed to contact his mother to say he was all right. The boy's story was told in cartoon form and with animations. Pupils were then asked to write their own scripts: putting themselves in different shoes is an active lesson they remember.

The University of Kent psychology department claims that the programme raised levels of empathy and critical thinking. Lindsey Cameron, a psychology lecturer, believes that this will inspire similar projects to be launched, "tailored to suit the diverse needs of different schools".

Karen Russell is a teacher, writer and secondary school governor. She runs a workshop ( that aims to develop creativity and empathy for other cultures. For free online resources, visit

What else?

What is prejudice? Sometimes pupils aren't aware - help them to understand different cultures, identities and points of view with RoyalGeographicalSociety's extensive lesson pack.

Should we have an open borders policy for migrants? This hot topic will encourage debate - reflect, argue and explore with instituteofideas' topic guide.

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Karen Russell

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