Education is about their future, not our past

Whitefriars First and Middle School serves a very diverse community in Harrow, north-west London, and over two thirds of pupils have a home language other than English. The school is part of a learning network which links schools in Masindi, Uganda, and Harrow, England. As well as working on joint curriculum projects, the school has integrated global learning across the curriculum.

What did the school want to achieve?

Children at Whitefriars involved in 'Make Poverty History'
Children at Whitefriars involved in ‘Make Poverty History’

The purpose of Whitefriars’ global dimension work is to develop staff and pupil awareness of issues relating to citizenship, interdependence, human rights, sustainability and justice and of their roles within them, as well as understanding of life in different parts of the world. Headteacher Lynne Pritchard says the programme is encapsulated by the idea that ‘Education is about their future, not our past’ and a belief that in an interdependent global society, pupils will need different skills from those needed in the past.

How did they set about doing this?

At a 2002 curriculum review, staff considered what they wanted the children to be able to do when they left school. “We realised a lot of the things we were doing weren’t working towards these goals,” says Lynne, “so we tried to think of ways of delivering the curriculum that would”. In 2003, Lynne applied to Link Community Development’s global teacher programme, visiting Masindi in Uganda to share skills with local teachers and setting up a school link in the process.

In 2005 Lynne used government funding for Primary Strategy Learning Networks to set up a network of six schools to develop the global dimension. The headteachers visited Masindi, links were set up and British Council funding secured for reciprocal visits. The schools work on joint projects, exchanging information and curriculum ideas. Exhibitions of the work from both countries have been displayed in Harrow libraries and in Masindi.

Visiting Masindi
Visiting Masindi

Around 25 teachers from Masindi have visited Harrow and 50 Harrow teachers (some self-funding) have visited Masindi. Lynne stresses the importance of face-to-face contact which can be difficult to maintain when external funding comes to an end. Pupils gain greatly from interacting with teachers from the link school and staff can more easily develop joint curriculum work, discuss problems and share teaching methodologies. Lynne has set up a small charity, Redearth Education, and visits Masindi to work with teachers three times a year which will ensure some contact continues.

In addition to joint projects, a unit of work about Uganda has been developed for each year group at Whitefriars on topics ranging from newspapers to plants. The school has ‘global focus weeks’ when issue such as fair trade or rights and responsibilities are explored in relation to different countries; and participates in events such as Make Poverty History and World Water Day. Classes also work on ‘real projects’, such as providing a party in an old people’s home and visiting local schools, learning about similarities and differences. Lynne asserts that these activities enable skills and concepts relevant to the global dimension, such as citizenship, interdependence, and community, to be learnt and practised. Oxfam’s Global Citizenship framework is used in curriculum planning to ensure that global skills and concepts are integrated throughout.

How well did they achieve their aims?

Visitors comment on the positive ethos and mutual respect at Whitefriars. A pupil told a visitor that everyone accepts each other’s differences, and religion and colour are not an issue. The global focus attracts staff who are enthusiastic about global learning. However, a transient population, many of whom are refugees, makes development of global learning difficult to measure. The high number of pupils who arrive speaking no English makes standard literacy and numeracy targets hard to attain, and although Ofsted recognises the school as ‘very good’ in terms of the global dimension, their monitoring regime at Whitefriars focuses on literacy and numeracy and Lynne says that staff feel under pressure to ‘teach to the test’ in order to meet the targets. Responses from parents to events such global citizenship weeks are positive, but language barriers and transience limit direct involvement.

The Learning Network has been successful, with an additional four Harrow schools joining. Due to the exchanges, real friendships have been built between teachers in the two countries which enable a relationship of trust, equality and mutual learning. Lynne notes that Whitefriars’ link school is building a library and children from both schools are organising fundraising activities for it.

A few quotes

“The Ugandans are more clever than us because they recycle everything.”
UK pupil

“Harrow schools often have refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants … I feel I am more able to empathise with them than I did before the study visit.”
UK teacher

“I am eager to share with teachers about child-centred learning and continuous assessment and feedback.”
Ugandan teacher

“This is one of the finest exhibitions I have seen. It shows that with some effort, different peoples can meet and share and learn to understand each other and be friends.”
Comment in exhibition visitors’ book

What do they plan to do next?

The school has recently bought into the International Primary Curriculum which contains planned, cross-curricular units of work with global threads running throughout. Integrating this with existing work will be the next focus. Lynne also wants to further strengthen ‘pupil voice’, developing greater understanding among pupils of the part they can play in making a difference to their own lives and those of others.

Download PDF of case study: Education is about their future not our past

With thanks to Lynne Pritchard. Case study © Think Global. Pictures © Whitefriars First and Middle School. Researcher: Gillian Symons.

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