Kate Smith portrait

Written by Kate Smith

Compassionate school leader (and former headteacher) with a passion for developing an #ethicalcurriculum.

2020 has been the year that teachers and leaders have faced a plethora of unthinkable challenges and demands. But, despite the pandemic, and the pressure of the current Edu climate, children’s social and emotional development has to remain of the utmost importance in schools. I think now is a pivotal time to be thinking about how well our curriculum is serving our young people.

I recently joined an awesome line up of educators for the third TMBuffet, hosted by the impeccable @Mr_Speighton, and organised alongside @JamesWJCain on GoBrunch. This was a new webinar platform to me, and despite my tech issues and the kids overflowing the hot tub in the garden to distract me, it was easy to navigate and I liked the visual representation of the theatre (although there wasn’t a lot of virtual social distancing going on!) so you could see who was sat in the audience, waving you on. The platform had a great chat function too, so it was easy to interact with your audience and respond to live questions. 

I spoke about why curriculum reform and evaluation is so pertinent right now; what sort of issues and themes are relevant to include when developing an #ethicalcurriculum and shared some practical steps you can use to start designing and implementing a holistic, values based curriculum in your school. We looked at the following steps as a starting point. 

We are navigating complicated times. The pandemic is now exaggerating issues that we still fighting to make headway on. Child poverty is on the rise, racism and discrimination are still rife, there’s been little movement on the gender pay gap and our planet is being neglected. Sounds stark? Well it is. And I’m an optimist! We have a responsibility to our young people to ensure they thrive both academically and holistically in their education and the time is now! 

It may not feel like it, but schools do have considerable freedom over how they deliver their curriculum. Academies, Free Schools and Independent Schools have even more than State Schools, so now more than ever, is a great time to think about whether your current curriculum is serving your children and your community. Curriculum development is a long haul task, but a beautiful one, and an ethically focused curriculum, carefully crafted with the whole team, will mean the children, and the staff and families, will reap the benefits for years to come. 

There are certain subjects in the curriculum that are naturally easier to use as a platform for teaching more ethical topics, such as teaching about climate change through geography, or LGBT relationships through RSE or PSHCE. However, because the themes that are most relevant to teach our children, in terms of enabling them to develop into compassionate, responsible global citizens, are not explicit in the National Curriculum, then it’s down to school leaders and teachers to be creative in interweaving these key themes in, to ensure our pupils are able to create a kinder and more sustainable world. 

I thank the stars the PSHCE is now a statutory subject, however, Global Citizenship is not a required NC subject until KS3. So, if you are interested in teaching global citizenship in primary, then you need to think carefully about how you can interweave themes into the subjects you already teach, or, how you can specifically carve out some time from your (already crammed) timetable. 

As often is the case, the best place to start is by using what you know about your children, your community and your context. What is it they need now, and also, what they are going to need in the future? How can you challenge and strengthen their attitudes, develop their self awareness and equip them with skills, knowledge and understanding to offer them the best life opportunities through your curriculum? 

Each school is contextually unique which I think is what is so special about curriculum development; it’s so bespoke and yet so diverse.

Why teach an #ethicalcurriculum? 

We want to ensure that we are teaching a diverse and colourful curriculum.

We want to ensure we are teaching to promote equity and inclusion for all under represented groups and all of those within the Protected Characteristics Groups

We want to be educating our young people on issues around sustainable living, and the importance of becoming globally minded citizens in order to make the world a kinder place. 

To what extent does your current curriculum amplify these themes, and therefore, how well is your curriculum serving your young people and your community?

Step 1 : Focusing on Relevant and Ethical issues

It’s important for children and young people to see the relevance of what they are being taught, otherwise, what does it all mean for them? Black Lives Matters, The Gender Pay Gap Issue and recent Australian Bushfire Crisis are all recent events to interweave into your curriculum. Teach the children about how the issues effect their families, friends and future. Be aware of what’s going on Globally, Nationally and Locally to inspire you to incorporate relevant and ethical themes into your subjects. Additionally, identify any areas that specifically relate to your context, or that you feel are valuable on a global level.

Start this by creating a list of themes that are of interest to your school’s context. If you don’t have ideas to begin with, take a look at Global Dimension’s website and use this as a starting point to research ethical themes. If you are looking to improve Diverse representation then I’d highly recommend Diverse Educators shiny new website as a one stop shop to signpost you to those who can support you with work around the 9 Protected Characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. Then, consider where these themes would fit into each subject of the curriculum. It’s important to consider the appropriateness of each theme with regards to age, or your school’s context. If you’re keen to teach about equality for example, why not start with exploring gender stereotypes in your Early Years classrooms?

Children are subjected to gender stereotypes very early on. Consider how detrimental this can be?

A basic starting point is to think about issues that are particularly relevant to the context that you are in. There can be two ways of thinking about this: firstly, looking any gaps that you need to fill to improve your ethical curriculum offer: So you might be in a school which has issues with, for example, homophobic attitudes and therefore you need to further develop the value of compassion or respect. Or, you might be in a a school with a large refugee community, therefore, you need to nourish the values of empathy and humanity. Perhaps you’re in a school which is lacking in diversity, and consequently, your values need to promote respect and equality. On the contrary, if you are a school which is doing great work on climate change, or celebrating diversity, then you might want to strengthen your #ethicalcurriculum accordingly through a focus on the values of Leadership or Service.

As a a quick example, just think about specifically teaching about Equity. There are several themes here to be addressed; gender pay gap, global inequality in education, stereotyping, rights for LGBTQI+, racism, social mobility, the justice system, poverty, ableism, the protected characteristics… there are so many imperative topics to be interwoven in the curriculum in this area. Learning about these themes develop the values of self respect, involvement, empathy and advocacy to name a few.

We can do this through the use of children’s literature; through using media and through using lived examples. If you haven’t already used or experienced LYFTA, then I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a beautiful and interactive online platform which support values and citizenship development through exploring lived experiences from all over the world. (Currently, you can access free CPD which enables a term’s subscription for your class, plus a British Council Level 2 CPD certificate upon completion of the webinar and review session.)

Step 2: Using Values to Guide you

Think specifically about which values you want to instill in your children, to allow them to create a kinder more sustainable world for themselves and future generations. The context of the school may influence this greatly and many MATS and Faith/C of E schools often hold their own set of collective values. Values are completely universal, however, the values you choose to focus on can still be specifically relevant to your school context too. So, the best place to start is using what you know about your children, your community. Consider what they need now, and for the future. A great place to start is by inviting your community to join you on your values journey. Share lists of values and ask them to send you the three that they think are most pertinent to them and the school. Many schools have a set of values that they focus on throughout the year; by week, month or even a term at a time. These are then creatively interwoven into assemblies, lessons, conversations, long terms plans etc. In the wise words of Mary Myatt however, ‘ Values must be lived – not laminated.’ So using your values within the curriculum authentically and deeply is the key.

There are hundreds of values to choose from. Which are relevant to you and your setting?

Consider: Which values do you need to nurture in your children, and how are you going to be active in doing that? How can we use our positive influence as teachers and leaders to nurture a school’s collective values and a set of core values for each pupil?

If you are looking to achieve a Quality Award for you work on developing values, then I would highly recommend that you contact The Values Based Education Network who can support you on this process. They also run INSET on how, as a whole school, you can develop your vision and align them with your values. This is such an empowering and enlightening process!

Reframing and Renaming

Renaming the titles of your topics or schemes of work can be incredibly powerful and help you shift your mindset and focus onto the ethical and moral aspect of a topic. You might use a KS1 Geography unit of work on the physical environment to look at the impact of say, Plastic Pollution. Then, reframe the title of your topic to reflect that focus. For example ‘The Blue Planet’ or ‘Saving our planet’, which gives real scope for exploring the effect of plastic pollution on our oceans and environment. If you’re looking at teaching a unit of work on design in DT in KS2, then why not reframe the focus onto the Effect of Fast Fashion and the impact on child labour, therefore developing the value of empathy and agency. If you are teaching about Nutrition in KS3 then can you focus your work on ethical farming, or food poverty, again promoting those values of accountability and collective responsibility.

This Banksy mural, which depicts a young boy toiling over a sewing machine making Union Jack textiles, could be a visual starting point for a lesson around child labor and humanity.

The 5 year-olds we teach now are going to be our future activists, our future humanitarians, our future engineers, our future environmentalists, our future policy makers. The curriculum we teach today is about ensuring that our children and young people thrive in five years, in ten years, in 30 years time. That’s why we have to teach children about physical and mental health, about looking after the environment, developing empathy for others and a desire for social change NOW. In doing so, we will all play our part in creating a kinder, more sustainable world.

Click here to download the slides shared at tm-buffet-2