Two boys sit in a corner of the classroom discussing equal pay. One believes that men and women must always be paid the same; the other thinks that sometimes jobs can be advertised at different salaries in order to encourage people to apply for positions in fields where they are under-represented.
This is not a secondary school citizenship class but two Year 5s at the Inspire Partnership multi-academy trust in south-east London. According to Nav Sanghara, an executive headteacher for the trust, these kinds of conversations are increasingly common now that it has reorganised its curriculum to have a more global focus.
The Inspire Partnership is not the first to realise the benefits of global learning. A 2015 report by the British Council revealed a number of positive side effects, from increased pupil engagement to more confident teachers. However, it can be difficult for hard-pressed schools to include activities on global issues.
This is where CPD with a global focus can help. Partnerships with overseas schools and initiatives such as the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning programme, funded by the British Council and UK aid, give teachers ideas on how to incorporate global learning into their daily classroom practice, rather than simply having it as an extra activity.
Connecting Classrooms, for example, uses a mix of online and face-to-face training on a range of topics. All courses focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and help teachers to design schemes of work that will allow students to create solutions to real-world problems such as water shortages in Kenya. There is also a focus on making the most of overseas connections that teachers have already built themselves.
Sanghara agrees that CPD has been a key part of the trust’s shift to a more global outlook. About 55 teachers from across the trust took part in Connecting Classrooms training earlier this year led by Lyfta, an educational platform that helps teachers to discuss complex global issues by using immersive storytelling.
The idea is that teachers use Lyfta’s interactive videos to introduce a particular topic or theme – different cultural norms, for example, or gender stereotyping. These are then backed up by ready-made curriculum-based lesson and assembly plans covering 11 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Lyfta also offers free CPD for schools in England as part of the Connecting Classrooms initiative.
For Sanghara, the real beauty of the CPD lies in how it helps teachers to think of innovative ways to integrate these resources. “We were really keen that they weren’t just dropped in as little activities,” she says. “We wanted it to be mapped out as part of the children’s learning journey.”
Learning for sustainability
Katie Hanson, a secondary science teacher at Culloden Academy in Scotland, has been using the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms CPD to enhance her classroom practice since 2016. Learning for Sustainability (LfS) is a requirement for all teachers in Scotland, so the Connecting Classrooms training caught her eye.
“We talk about how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are relevant to our situation and our classes,” Hanson says. “There’s a mix of primary and secondary teachers from different backgrounds, and it’s really good to get ideas from other places. Some of the things that come from primary colleagues are amazing, and you think, ‘How can I develop that into my secondary science teaching?’”
As a result of the CPD, Hanson has felt inspired and supported to incorporate LfS into many schemes of work. She taught a class on vaccines and linked it to migration, for example, and took part in a Wind Turbine Challenge in collaboration with a school in Nepal, with each school building a turbine and sharing the results.
“It’s showing the pupils that what they’re learning has got a context to it,” she says. “It’s not just bits of information you have to remember to pass a test; this is what people are working on in the real world.”
Having a partnership with a school overseas can also offer a valuable opportunity for personal development, as learning support assistant Jackie Pritchard has discovered. As part of her work for Cwmcarn Primary School in Wales, she has developed a relationship with Bukaya Primary School in Uganda. The schools take on projects together – currently both are planning Eco Gardens – and share the results via email and WhatsApp.
“Music is very important to both cultures and we often send each other recordings of concerts,” says Pritchard. The schools also hope jointly to develop a library, so that pupils can research each other’s countries. They will build on what they have already learned by swapping questions via the teachers, ranging from what the other country’s pupils eat and how far they walk to school to what celebrations they have (prompting Cwmcarn to send a presentation on St David’s Day) and whether Wales has wild animals.
“It’s making the children think more outside of Wales,” says Pritchard. “They’re thinking of the bigger picture, the world, and they’re taking those things on board as well, more than just their own neighbourhood and their own little village.”
Pritchard has also taken part in a Connecting Classrooms twilight training course on how to communicate the reality of life in other countries more effectively, and the effect on local populations of climate change. Now, she has even bigger plans: “It’s made me realise there’s a lot more I could probably do in the future. There’s a lot I could bring into the school to make the children more aware of the issues.”
Overall, she says, working with an overseas partner has helped her to practice in unexpected ways, giving the children more opportunities to learn and explore through their own investigations and allowing her “in a dynamic way” to involve them all in their ability ranges. She adds: “It helps to foster imagination in both past, present and future events, and has allowed us all to look at ourselves and grab the opportunities that are offered.”
In an increasingly globalised world, working with peers from around the world is no longer an optional extra – for pupils or teachers. The right training, however, can turn it from bureaucratic burden to global adventure, and the rewards are obvious. As Hanson concludes: “I find that behaviour and engagement have improved. By the end of a year of working with these students, I have a very different class than I had before.”
Abigail Sanderson is a freelance writer