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'The world we live in now demands a place for a local element in the curriculum of every child'

In fully preparing children for life, a local element in the curriculum is as important as the national and international components, writes a leading educationist

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In fully preparing children for life, a local element in the curriculum is as important as the national and international components, writes a leading educationist

England has had a national curriculum since 1988 but, with world events of such importance taking place in 2016, the school curriculum needs to be international and local, as well as national.

There is an international element in the national curriculum, but too little for young people to build a deep understanding of events in the Middle East, the democratic system in the US and the changes that a Trump presidency might bring, or the real issues behind a Brexit vote when politicians are peddling lies on the side of buses and too many newspapers no longer report news in an unbiased way.

At both national and school level, we should be thinking afresh about the kind of curriculum that best equips young people for a 21st century where change and backlash are fast becoming political norms, and where Brexit and Trump appear to have given tacit permission for people to be more racist and xenophobic than before.

As well as the big international issues, there should be a place for a local element in the curriculum of every child.

The Mighty Creatives – one of the Arts Council England’s ten ‘Bridge’ organisations connecting the cultural and education sector – is a charity promoting cultural and educational change for young people in the East Midlands. It was at their conference last week that teachers and people from arts and culture organisations discussed the ideas behind a local curriculum.  

"It takes a village to raise a child" is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community, which is much greater than the tradition in the UK.

The Mighty Creatives is asking this question in the UK context: "If it takes a village to raise a child, how can we harness the power of the village?"

A Royal Society of Arts project in 2010, Engaging the local, looked at how an area-based curriculum could best be developed. Its report set out nine principles for a successful local curriculum:

  • No single, uniform model.
  • Map and use local resources.
  • Co-develop curriculum between school and community.
  • Involve young people in curriculum development.
  • Involve the disengaged.
  • Link with national and international curriculum aspects.
  • Monitor impact of area-based curriculum components.
  • Use an action research approach.
  • Provide area-level support.

Young people should grow up with a good sense of the history, geography, science, economy and culture of their local area. More fortunate children will often absorb this as their parents ferry them to the wide range of activities and opportunities in which they participate.

The world of a disadvantaged child is generally much narrower and it falls to the school to provide the breadth of opportunity that will help to level the playing field of achievement.

It is part of the mission of schools in the Whole Education network that learning takes place across various settings – online, at home, volunteering, through work – and engages the wider community, as well as parents and carers, in that educational process. This requires a recognition, which exists in many schools, that the school curriculum is not only what happens in the classroom, but is the whole education experience of the child.

Social action can be part of a local curriculum. The national organisation, Step Up To Serve, aims to double the number of young people participating in local social action projects.

Many schools also have a community action strand to their work, seeing this aspect of education as particularly important in encouraging young people to help others and, through that activity, to learn more about themselves.

The local part of the school curriculum provides great opportunities for student leadership and for engaging parents and local businesses in the work of the school. It also offers opportunities to build self-confidence and self-esteem, independence and initiative, as well as being good preparation for the world of work.  

In fully preparing children for life, work and further learning, a local element in the curriculum is as important as the national and international curriculum.

The opportunities to implement it are on the doorstep of the school.

John Dunford is chair of Whole Education, a former secondary head, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and national pupil premium champion. His book, The School Leadership Journey, was published in November 2016. He tweets as @johndunford

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