Last year, statistics from the DfE revealed a 10% increase in exclusions for racist bullying in schools: the greatest increase in a decade and the highest number on record. Although the majority of exclusions will have been in secondary schools, it cannot be denied that the foundations of promoting tolerance and acceptance of differences between faiths, races and cultures must be laid in primary schools.
But where to start? And where to fit it in?
Over the past year, we have been working with schools to promote an approach to teaching literacy which engages pupils in global issues. In particular, highlighting the plight of refugees through a wealth of high-quality picture books and novels aimed at primary age children. Given that the world is in the midst of tackling the greatest refugee crisis since World War II (with an estimated 68.5 million people across the globe fleeing their homes), it seems a fitting place to start. With 107,192 people arriving by sea seeking refuge in Europe in 2018 alone, the harrowing scenes of desperate families making these treacherous crossings cannot have escaped our children’s notice.
If you are lucky enough to have accepted refugee children into your school, you will know that despite the horror they may have witnessed, the trauma they have experienced, they are often exceptional individuals who are able to put that part of their lives behind them, greet you with a smile every day, work tirelessly to master a new language and talk about their ambitions to be doctors and teachers and future leaders. What is most painful to watch is the prejudice they endure and the lack of acceptance by their new communities. So how can we, in our schools, deliver on developing a whole school ethos of tolerance, acceptance and respect, whilst juggling the myriad of other expectations thrust upon us?
In Key Stage 1, stories about outsiders, characters trying to fit in and find a place they belong, allow children to develop their empathy skills. At some stage, most children have felt left out, like they didn’t belong, if only for a few minutes; by tapping into these experiences and emotions we can allow children to stand for a moment in someone else’s shoes. Through our Literacy teaching, children can write in role as these characters, develop their own stories about characters who feel they don’t belong. Our favourite texts include ‘Something Else’ by Kathryn Cave and the stories of Paddington Bear by Michael Bond which will resonate with younger children.
For older children, exploring what it means to be a refugee and how ordinary people become refugees allows them to develop an appreciation and respect for the journeys of others fleeing from danger. Through books, pupils can develop their emotional language beyond ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ and explore some of the 34,000 words the English language has available to describe emotions. By giving pupils opportunities to write diary entries, persuasive letters and informative leaflets they can begin to explore the impact of the refugee crisis while still working towards mastery of the English curriculum.
The story of Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel prize winner and refugee, is nothing short of inspiring and her picture book ‘Malala’s Magic Pencil’ is a fantastic platform for biographical writing in KS2. Other picture books, such as ‘Wisp: A Story of Hope’ by Zana Fraillon leave that joyous lump in the back of your throat as you read about the hopes and dreams of a young boy who has lived his whole life in a refugee camp – a perfect platform for exploring what life in a refugee camp might actually be like. When paired with fictional novels such as ‘No Oranges in No Man’s Land’ by Elizabeth Laird, ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Rauf or ‘Story Like the Wind’ by Gill Lewis, pupils can be transported from the comfort of their own lives to experience through the narrative of others.
A key part of delivering this emotive subject in schools is making links to emotional literacy, developing pupils’ emotional intelligence: teaching pupils how to navigate their emotions, developing self-awareness and empathy. This set of skills will benefit children far beyond KS2 national tests, leading them towards brighter futures as well-rounded individuals. A wide range of resources and ideas for inspiring texts by Empathy Lab give ideas for how to further develop this ‘core life skill’ which they believe is ‘a revolutionary force for social change’.
At The Literacy Company, we believe passionately in raising awareness about the refugee crisis with young people through inspiring Literacy lessons in schools. In line with this, we are donating 20% from the sale of our refugee themed units to ‘Share’ a charity based in the north west of England who distribute donations of clothing, and other essential items, to refugee camps in Europe and beyond.