The “Ripple effect”: social action and the new curriculum

A focus on social action can help deliver the ambitions of the new curriculum for Wales, says Susie Ventris-Field

The UK-wide #iwill campaign seeks to make social action (practical action in the service of others to create positive change) a part of life for 10-20 year olds. Social action builds grit, empathy and soft skills in students, all of which are major indicators for academic success, and enables them to build skills for employment, but there are continuing barriers to participation including a lack of quality local opportunities. However, consultations on the new Welsh curriculum are now live. Schools will be making a transformational change over the coming years. The UK-wide social action campaign comes to an end in 2020. So why should schools spend any time on this?


First, many schools already do, and reap the benefits. Participating in global citizenship schemes like Peace Schools, ChangeMakers, Eco Schools, and Rights Respecting Schools, and getting involved in international partnerships, Wales has many examples of good practice.  However, engagement in such schemes is not consistent throughout Wales, resource pressures limit what schools can do, and there are so many options out there, the choice can be overwhelming.


However, with the curriculum out for consultation, it is a great time to explore how these kinds of activities can help in its delivery. The proposals for the new curriculum place a heavy focus on what learners can do, learning through experience and putting learning into action.  This lends itself towards stepping up global citizenship activities and social action in the wider school and community. Let’s look at some examples:


The new curriculum gives much more freedom for schools to decide how they deliver the curriculum based on the needs of their students, and rooted in local communities. Cyfarthfa High School’s starting point for becoming a peace school was looking at role models from Merthyr’s local history: “Learning that some great women came from Merthyr…shows we can do something too,” said Natalie Nawara in year 8 at Cyfarthfa High School. Natalie has become a Peace Ambassador as part of her school’s peace school accreditation. Assistant Head Tracey Griffith said: “The whole school is happier, more tolerant and more respectful”.


With six Areas of Learning and Experience, rather than individual subjects, cross-curricular learning becomes ingrained in delivery. Bishop Hedley High School is a pioneer school for the new curriculum. They are also ChangeMakers participants, where young people learn about asylum and refuge, then take action (including peer teaching, awareness raising in their community): “…initiatives like ChangeMakers [are] ideal for the cross-curriculum working. The learners have been inspired to make a difference. Now they are taking action it has a ripple effect across the school.”


The new curriculum rests on four pillars: ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world, ambitious and capable learners, enterprising and creative and healthy and confident learners, all of which are visible in global citizenship and social action projects: Dyffryn Aman’s journey to becoming a peace school involved year 8-10 learners learning history, geography and maths while looking at the Syrian conflict from different angles. Delyn Walters, Year 8, said: “I have done lots of new things, such as going to the Welsh Botanic Gardens to take part in peace activities, or giving a presentation at the Temple of Peace… I think we could make a Peace Club for all ages, so that more people could be involved together. We could do some local fundraising to get things started.”


Students in St Cenedd Community School, Caerphilly, invited charity Size of Wales into the school to talk about deforestation.  13-year-old Connor Stone said: “I was shocked! I didn’t realise it was this bad… I don’t want such a negative effect on the earth for the things we have.” The learners were outraged that Iceland’s festive season supermarket advert, which showed the destruction of rainforests for palm oil growth (they are the first supermarket to remove all palm oil from their own brand products), was banned from TV for being “too political”. They also learnt about food labelling and held a palm oil free Christmas buffet where guests had to read the labels and sort items into the green, amber and red categories before tucking in. Learners in these projects also raise awareness across the school, the community and back at home: “My nan does nearly all her shopping at Iceland now. One friend went vegetarian” said Kayley Edwards, Year 11.


In these examples, the teachers involved unanimously said these projects were worthwhile, but that it was difficult to find time – but now these kinds of activities will be critical to the delivery of the new curriculum, schools need time and space to plan what they need, and to look both within the school but also in the community and external organisations to source the best expertise and experiences to meet those needs. Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, has highlighted that schools will not be able to deliver the new curriculum alone. The third sector has plenty of creative ideas and expertise that can be part of delivery.  


Photo by Isiah Gibson on Unsplash

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Susie Ventris-Field is Chief Executive of WCIA

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