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A Curriculum for Wellbeing: A British Curriculum Forum conference

Gerry Czernisawski, University of East London

Update (Friday 13 March): unfortunately the conference previewed in this blog, which was to be held on Saturday 14 March, has been postponed. To be kept updated on its rearrangement please email conference@bera.ac.uk.


Forty-five years ago Lawrence Stenhouse published his classic text, An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development (1975). The title may have been dry, but the key message still resonates today: curriculum development can only work if we put teachers and practitioners at its heart, exploring their own practice through research.

Forty-five years on BERA, is injecting new energy into the mission launched by Stenhouse, the founding father of its British Curriculum Forum (BCF), which aims to bring together all those with an interest in collaborative curriculum, research and development.

As the current chair of the BCF, I believe that teacher research is a key mechanism through which we can create a fairer education system. The forum has been led by a succession of amazing people over the years, including Stenhouse himself, so my colleagues and I on the BCF’s steering group have stepped into huge shoes. However, this week we are taking a big move forward: we are hosting a research-led conference in a school, on a Saturday.

The idea, of course, is to enable teachers to be present. However, it’s also to demonstrate that BERA wants to be an organisation that gets the fact that education research must be relevant to – and, where possible, driven by – practitioners.

‘With more young people than ever struggling with their mental health, it has never been more urgent that we ensure that the curriculum embeds health, wellbeing and resilience in formal education settings.’

The subject is a pressing one, and one that the BERA blog has focussed on recently: ‘A Curriculum for Wellbeing’. With more young people than ever struggling with their mental health, it has never been more urgent that we ensure that the curriculum embeds health, wellbeing and resilience in formal education settings.

Research should be central to this process, and Saturday’s long-anticipated event promises to be stimulating and provocative. It will bring together researchers, leaders, managers, teachers, practitioners and policymakers to share critical perspectives and assumptions about what we mean by wellbeing, its relationship to the curriculum and how, through research, discussion and debate, we can better understand the ways in which the curriculum can transform the lives of young people.

The speakers will include many of the leading academics in the field, along with a group of inspirational practitioners. The idea is that they will come together to really engage with the theoretical, practical and innovative aspects of the curriculum – and in doing so, to continue Stenhouse’s tradition of curriculum research and development.

Among them will be Jemima Rhys-Evans, deputy head of Charles Dickens Primary and director of Charles Dickens Research School in London. Jemima supports teachers and school leaders to ensure that their practice and decision-making are evidence-informed, and has overseen the complete redevelopment of the curriculum over the past three years at Charles Dickens, including the introduction, evaluation and adaptation of a curriculum for wellbeing. She is now working on teacher wellbeing, supporting schools to carry out practitioner-led research into workload reduction strategies.

Jonathan Glazzard, professor of inclusive education in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University, will argue that the clinical discourse that is being adopted uncritically in schools fails to address the broader social circumstances that result in poor mental health. He believes that a systemic response, rather than a model that is based on diagnosis and treatment, is required.

Stephen Pickering, senior lecturer at the University of Worcester and course leader of primary and outdoor education, will use the results of the Natural Connections Demonstration Project as the foundation from which to explore the impact of alternative learning spaces on pupils’ wellbeing, motivation and achievement. He will argue that the route to high-achieving pupils needs to be reconsidered in light of neurological research and the growing body of research-based literature on learning outdoors.

Hannah Wilson, who started two brand-new schools in South Oxfordshire, will talk about how her team designed holistic education that flipped the school day, introduced daily mindfulness, removed school bells, reduced lesson changeovers, did not set homework and banned packed lunches.

Branwen Bingle, assistant dean of education and professional practice at University College Birmingham, will explore the initial findings of a small-scale project examining the experiences of 13 self-selecting gay and lesbian teachers working in primary and secondary schools in England.

Victoria Pugh, senior lecturer at the University of Worcester specialising in personal, social and health education (PSHE) and relationships and sex education, will lead a workshop focusing on the ways in which PSHE can be developed within schools to positively enhance wellbeing for pupils. The workshop will draw upon work around Universal Design for Learning as a tool for inclusion, and will offer delegates the chance to reflect upon next steps for their own schools or provisions.

There will be many more inspirational speakers, as well as inspirational participants who are prepared to give up a Saturday to help inspire change in this important area of work. Lawrence Stenhouse sadly won’t be with us – he died in 1982 – but we very much hope his spirit will be.


The event, ‘A Curriculum for Wellbeing’, will be held on Saturday, 14 March 2020, 09.30–15.00 at Sarah Bonnell School, Deanery Road, Stratford, London E15 4LP. Click here for more details.


Reference

Stenhouse, L. (1975). An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Pearson Education.

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