“We must prepare young people for a more globally-connected, globally-aware future”

Jane Prescott, GSA President for 2020 and Head of Portsmouth High School GDST, discusses the results of a new survey of GSA Heads about preparing children for a global world.

In her first week as 2020 President for the Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’), headteacher Jane Prescott has released the results of a new survey of GSA Heads about preparing future generations for a more globally-aware future. She says:
We must find ways to prepare young people for a future that is more globally-connected and globally-aware than ever before. This is a job for schools, parents and society as a whole.”

Mrs Prescott – who is also a governor and trustee of state-funded Purbrook Park School – recommends that topics and activities which are currently on the periphery of young people’s time at school should become a central part of their learning, in tandem with traditional subject learning.

She says: “Many schools are already doing great things to develop agile learners ready to thrive in a more globally-connected future. But so often these are co-curricular activities that can be optional or subject to the interests of individual teachers. I’d really like to see every school doing at least one thing to prepare children for a more globally-connected world in a way that is more formally acknowledged within the school curriculum. It’s already happening as an optional or obligatory co-curricular activity in many schools, and if we could get it on a more formal footing across the board, I believe this would be an opportunity for schools of all kinds and all countries to work together, whether it’s state and independent schools in the United Kingdom, or UK schools with schools in other countries.”

The GSA has carried out a straw poll of its Heads to ask them what they think are the most important things society and schools can do to prepare young people for a future that is more globally-connected and globally-aware.

President Jane Prescott says: “It’s clear from our straw poll that GSA headteachers believe that children as a whole need more opportunities for shared experiences with other children from different cultures and countries, as well as opportunities to develop their empathy and confidence so they can communicate with a wide variety of people.

So many Heads have mentioned a need for global citizenship to be taught in PSHCE or via existing programmes such as Model United Nations. These are the kinds of experiences which, together with subject knowledge, will provide our children with the skills and ability to collaborate productively with people across the world.

However, there needs to be a mind-shift in society as a whole. This isn’t something which schools can or should do alone. Our survey shows that GSA Heads believe that, at the same time, society at large must support education for all children worldwide, slow man-made climate change, and generally be more respectful of the needs of others. Of course, there are many organisations and public figures, including governments, who are working hard to do all of these things and more, not to mention thousands of unsung individuals. But sometimes the conflict and the toxic lack of respect we hear about can hinder what we try to do in schools, which is simply to be kind to one another, to learn about and respect our differences, and to embrace what we each have in common. Perhaps adults, too, should be made to routinely share experiences with people from different cultures and countries or even people from different communities within their own country.

GSA President (2020) Jane Prescott is headmistress of Portsmouth High School GDST which, in partnership with a local primary school, is developing resources for schools in South Africa. Portsmouth High School also hosts an annual Festival of Languages for local primary schools, where language teachers and older pupils celebrate and share their passion for languages with a carousel of taster sessions in 11 languages ranging from Arabic, Russian and Mandarin to Korean, Hindi and Polish. Mrs Prescott is also a governor and trustee of state-funded Purbrook Park School.

Examples of global education in action in GSA schools
Individual GSA schools already undertake a wide range of activities with the objective of preparing girls for a more globally-connected, globally-aware world. They include:

  • Making some subjects compulsory. For example, a modern foreign language is compulsory to GCSE level at both St Catherine’s School in Bramley and South Hampstead High School GDST, where philosophy is also compulsory at key stage 3.
  • Many boarding schools celebrate the opportunity for dialogue across cultures through the diverse backgrounds of their students.
  • Having a conscious ‘eco agenda’ in school, such as at Sheffield High School GDST, which includes a ‘collapsed timetable’ day in the Peak District.
  • Extra-curricular expeditions, exchange trips and ongoing partnership with schools around the globe, from Europe to Africa, the US and Australia, with schools increasingly considering how pupils can benefit from physical trips whilst offsetting their carbon footprint. Saint Martin’s School in Solihull has twice been awarded the International Schools’ Award by the British Council on as recognition of their partnership work with a school in Germany and a school in Nepal.
  • Making the most of technology to develop digital projects. For example, at The Queen’s School, Head Sue Wallace-Woodroffe says: “Harnessing the best that technology has to offer has meant that we have been able to free ourselves of physical and geographical constraints, and connect with inspirational and notable individuals and organisations from across the world. We have achieved this through the introduction of our ‘Virtual Boardroom’. This has allowed girls to connect to alumni and ‘industry mentors’ as part of a bespoke careers/business skills programme involving girls in a wide range of year groups interviewing leading women around the globe. Cybersecurity specialists in New York, Lawyers in Chicago, teachers in China etc. Girls have been able to join virtual seminars such as those provided by The Female Lead Society and engage in our ‘Women Inspire Women’ project. They have also benefitted from immersive language lessons by linking up with schools in France and Spain where they share experiences and delve deeper into cultural and social issues. By getting students to work with their foreign counterparts on projects we are also teaching them to accept and understand other’s perspectives.”
  • St George’s School (Edinburgh) holds a programme of digital exchanges across all curriculum stages which allow girls to collaborate and share their learning with students across the world. For example, girls studying the Civil Rights movement have the chance to discuss contemporary American experience with students at a school in Texas. Head Alex Hems says that another digital exchange with SOLA in Afghanistan (School of Leadership Afghanistan) has been “eye opening in a very valuable and humbling way for our girls”.
  • Workshops to help girls recognise the influence of culture on perception and priorities, such as those planned at St Margaret’s School in Hampstead. “It is my view that learning Mandarin, for example, scores pretty low from a utilitarian perspective, but learning about Chinese culture is of potentially significant value” says Head, Mark Webster.
  • Bringing a global perspective to existing lessons. For example, at Talbot Heath School, all pupils are taught about sustainability in material science and artificial intelligence is taught from a global perspective. At Bruton School for Girls, as at many other schools, the geography and PSHE (PD) curricula include many opportunities to discuss world views and current events.
  • Developing their own approach to language learning, such as the ‘ADELANTE’ Spanish learning programme at Channing School. Head Barbara Elliott says: “We introduce Spanish at Reception (aged 4) and aim to achieve proficiency by Y9 with specialist teachers throughout. Staff learn Spanish. We have lots of links with Spain and South America – for example, sixth form students volunteer at a Latin American nursery, and various trips link to curriculum subjects such as history/politics, music and so on.” Channing has a History/Politics trip to Cuba, a music tour in Madrid. Their director of the Adelante Strategy sits on the school’s senior leadership team.
  • Adopting a curriculum-led approach. For example, at The Mount School (York), students across the whole school follow the PeaceJam global curriculum programme, an international programme based on the work of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The Royal High School Bath GDST is one of a number of GSA schools which offer sixth form students the opportunity to study the IB Programme, with its focus on global citizenship in general; at the Royal High School this involves an exchange trip to Sweden, where many of the students were refugees.
  • Bringing external expertise into the school for special projects. For example, at Pipers Corner School, they currently have an Environmentalist in Residence, who is having “a massive impact” on students and staff as well as parents, and who will lead a group of students on a trip to the Amazon in 2021. The school is also looking forward to welcoming a US artist to paint a mural, highlighting the importance of bees, on one of the school buildings.

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