Wednesday 28 March 2012

"The Riot Report" - What now?

The Riot Report" See BBC Education is causing flurries of disturbances around the country, especially in areas directly affected by last summer's riots.  

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  picture nicked from here

Proposals include:

  • a new requirement for schools to develop and publish their policies on building character
  • primary and secondary schools should undertake regular assessments of pupils' strength of character
  • schools develop and publish a careers support guarantee, setting out what a child can expect in terms of advice, guidance, contact with businesses and work experience options
  • schools failing to raise the literacy rate of a child to an age appropriate standard should cover the financial cost of raising their attainment  and
  • Ofsted undertake a thematic review of character building in schools

Colleagues in education will need to keep very calm when they read comments at the end of the BBC piece!  The "them and us" brigade are in there fast, brandishing canes and calling for National Service but calmer voices are there too, echoing those as I noted in this BLOG last August (scroll down from here)

It is heartening that most of the conversations and comments about "The Riots" in my social life and the social media (including Facebook) has been thoughtful and considered.  I'm struck, most forcibly by the calm response of some victims who have already spoken of forgiveness.

So, taking a leaf from the calmer voices, I am advising one school to have serious conversations before reacting, or acting on any recommendations.  None of this is an argument for the complacent "We are already doing it" or the desperate, "We must add more into the mix!"  It is call for a calm, interdependent review of current provision, a considered reaffirmation of the good already in place and the careful design of an holistic view of the social and academic curriculum.  Having held up that warning sign, here's a two stage model we are using that others might find useful: 

Stage One 
Read the report (and reports of the report) with these Don'ts and balancing  Do's in mind:

Don't get angry about all the social ills landing in your overflowing in-tray
Do feel good that you are being seen as key players in other than examination league  tables.
Don't see the curriculum as the National Curriculum, the timetable, or the subjects taught
Do see the curriculum as the sum of all a student experiences  (each and every student - it will be different).
Don't hunker down and try to sort it internally or, worse, as a pastoral issue
Do involve calm and considered voices from across your community
Don't knee-jerk and add "Charactership" to Citizenship, Community Studies and all those other add-ons after similar national panics.
Do look at what is already there in your current provision  (esp SMSC - a key focus for Ofsted) and look for ways to amalgamate and harness similar curriculum objectives.
Don't just implement what is recommended
Do look at the purpose of the recommendations and see if you are already doing it - or if there is a better way before you implant a, well intentioned but, "one size fits all" solution.

Stage Two

Build your response into the normal process of curriculum review and development planning
Schools already have strategies to review and develop their curriculum. Critical incidents, political and educational initiatives and new ideas all trigger change or developments. The "Riot Report" hits all three buttons.  Here are ten suggestions (updated from my post of August 2011)  that might be appropriate when reviewing Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) provision in the light of the "Riot Report" and more generally around school."

  1. Encourage reasoned debate amongst colleagues, students and members of the community about what happened locally in relation to the riots, and how young people reacted at the time.  What are the specific and local conditions for young people? (Beware of saying it didn't happen here - we have no problem) Ask - what might we need to develop, or change, in our provision?
  2. Try to understand "Why?" it happened by talking to those who really know how young people think and behave (not those who have an idealised view - or a demonising view of the young) Invite speakers in to illuminate this perspective.
  3. Develop 1 & 2 into systems for including debate and discussion of current affairs and wider perspectives in school.  See the excellent "The Day" on-line newspaper   Use the moral dilemmas in The Day e.g. "Walk in the stolen trainers of those who rioted.  What circumstances, background, education, values and beliefs could lead an individual, or gang to do those things?  Now use evidence from 1-3 to inform a review of SMSC and more general issues in and around school
  4. Discuss and debate your SMSC provision i.e. How might we better educate this and future generations so there is a Moral Purpose  (character building) as well as a Functionality in their learning - Stress that this is not just "school and curriculum" -  include family, friends, community/society, Children Services Colleagues, local politicians, third sector ad interested citizens as part of this educational process.
  5. Undertake a curriculum mapping exercise to ensure any key issues that may, or may not, emerge as "character building descriptors" are already there in your SMSC provision.  Consider the SMSC Grid an excellent way to do a simple SMSC tracking and evaluation exercise (there are great prompts within the program)
  6. (I promise this is not flippant) Analyse the language within your curriculum, especially around SMSC to see if "character building" is already there but called something else!  One colleague said to me, "Most of us are doing this most of the time anyway” but be sure you know this is true and not an idle claim. More generally:
  7. Encourage colleagues to teach about and find ways youngsters can experience the critical link between action and consequence and understand not just their "independence" but our "interdependence" locally, nationally and globally.
  8. Find ways the organisation can (increasingly) give and demonstrate for youngsters the fragility, risk and inspiration of real responsibility, as they grow into educated adults
  9. Accept  that we are all role models for the eager eyed young who are ALWAYS looking for exemplar peers and adult citizens they want to emulate...(be we bankers, politicians, teachers, parents, bloggers or whatever label they choose to label us with) And critically, not as a first, or last resort, but as turbo charger for the above:
  10. Strengthen, develop, or create your sequential, stepped, behaviour management policy that rewards "agreed good" behaviour and your parallel sequential, stepped, behaviour management system that first teaches the consequences of "agreed bad" behaviour and then increasingly sanctions the breaking of this.
My hypothesis is that, most schools, already have the basis of "policies for building character" and system for "regular assessments of pupils' strength of character".  

As always, I'm happy to share ideas and offer help to individuals and schools who want to pursue this, at a practical level -

And finally...for some Easter fun, if we did have "Charactership" lessons what would they look like?   Any starter activities?