Amid the funding crisis being experienced across the public sector, not least in our schools, it’s important that politicians take every opportunity available to make a positive difference to people’s lives. National government austerity has a defining and sadly limiting effect upon our politics, but it shouldn’t constrain our imagination or creativity.
Indeed, with almost a decade of funding cuts behind us, it’s now more important than ever before to demonstrate ingenuity. This means not only making the most of limited public funds but also the “soft power” of our institutions.
In the field of education, the London Curriculum is such an initiative. Designed to supplement existing school resources, it is a programme of free events and activities for students and teachers linked to key stages 2 and 3 of the national curriculum, which helps schools make the most of our unique and inspiring city to support attainment. It enables London to serve as both an inspiration and as a way of using a familiar geography and culture to make learning more relatable to pupils.
The development of the London Curriculum show City Hall using its reach and partnerships to help enrich the lives of young Londoners and give a helping hand to our hardworking teachers and educational support staff.
It has been successful too. Since launching in 2014 for key stage 3 only (pupils ages 11-14), 293 state secondary schools in the capital, 59 per cent of them, have adopted the 25 free teaching resources. Due to popular demand, a programme for key stage 2 (ages 7-11) primary schools followed in 2017 and already over a fifth of London’s primaries make use of the three resources tailored for them. As of August 2018, a total of 900 schools had signed up.
Parents and carers are able to get in on the action too, with the family explorer trails opening up the city’s history and heritage (with the added benefit of getting the kids outside and helping everyone keep fit).
But the success of the London Curriculum so far is no reason to rest on our laurels. Teachers could make further use of it in specific ways to address areas of greatest need. For example, despite growing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, over 70 per cent of teachers nationally say they don’t feel equipped with the skills or knowledge to support pupils struggling with these problems at school. Why not use the London Curriculum to support teachers in PSHE lessons?
More needs to be done to raise awareness of BAME history and culture. This is especially important given, as a consequence of knife crime, the huge negative (and disproportionate) coverage of black boys in recent years. It’s clear that schools have a role to play in giving kids from ethnic minority backgrounds more to be proud of from their history lessons. And what a tale to tell, too: London’s history is one of migration, assimilation and multiculturalism. Our city was, in all senses, built by migrants. Our young people deserve to hear this story.
Opportunities for expansion to other age groups – key stages 1 and 4 – also deserve consideration, while the family explorer trails set out a template for further parent and carer involvement. Above all, I’d love to see us do more to get families involved in the London Curriculum, using workshops at City Hall and in the community to better understand what resonates and where we should take this exciting initiative next.
Jennette Arnold is London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.