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Who will get your vote in education?Transformational tools for life?

Adrian McLean

Director of Personal Development, Wellbeing and Belonging

Severn Academies Educational Trust

In election year 2024, this is one of a series of blogs – running through the year – in which we invite colleagues from across the country to answer the question: Who will get your vote on education?

Roy Blatchford is serving as convenor and editor of the series. If you are interested in writing, please contact [email protected]

Henry Ford said “If you do what you've always done, then you’ll get what you've always got.” Over the last 100 years, the motor car has developed exponentially, to the point that we have cars that are capable of driving themselves. Over the same timeframe, the school day, term time and how our classrooms are set up has barely changed. Conversely, society has transformed significantly, yet we still hold onto many of the educational practices birthed in the 19th Century.

Digital Citizenship

The use of computers, smart devices and social media has become second nature to our children. Marc Prensky coined them ‘Digital Natives’ back in 2001. The British Council states 65% of today's young people will be employed in jobs that do not yet exist, with many requiring digital skills. Today’s young people are not the people our current education system was designed to teach. If the aim of education is to prepare all of our young people for a successful future that enables them to flourish, then surely we need to move with the times?

Our young people have numerous ‘avatars’, portraying different ‘characters’ in the cyber world to who they are in real life. This has spawned too many tragic incidents of bullying and extreme violence because of these often naive portrayals. 55% of teenagers state they have seen real life acts of violence on social media in the last 12 months; 24% of these show young people either carrying, promoting or using weapons (Youth Endowment Fund).

I deliberately highlight these extremes, as they are becoming more commonplace, with today being the best that this situation will be, unless we do something radically different! Inevitably, our schools often end up picking through the threads of incidents that have taken place online outside of school.

What if we took deliberate action to encompass digital citizenship into our curriculum? What if we spent time explicitly teaching our students the practical and ethical knowledge (alongside the technical we currently deliver), to create cyber wisdom in our children? We would begin to treat the ‘cause’, rather than the symptom; providing the platform for children to reflect and think deeply about how they want to ‘live’ in the digital world. More importantly, it would develop the digital character virtues of young people whilst honing their wisdom to do the right thing, at the right time in all facets of life.

Mental Wellbeing

We have long understood the benefits of physical wellbeing and activity in our curriculum (although, it has been significantly squeezed since 2010), but as a society, we haven't been as forthcoming in embracing mental health and wellbeing. In 2021, 1 in 6 aged between five and sixteen were identified as having a mental health problem (Young Minds). I am in no doubt that this has since risen and is further exacerbated by the digital points I reference above.

The 24/7 nature of the digital world is playing havoc with all of us, and we do not yet know enough about the long-term effects this is having on young people's development, mental health and wellbeing. In schools, we hear of parents having difficulties getting their children to bed and ‘unplugging’ to have good sleep hygiene. Additionally, studies show us that teenagers develop a strong tendency toward being a “night owl,” staying up later and sleeping longer into the morning. Experts believe this is a two-fold biological impulse affecting the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle of teens, leading to sleep loss when they need to get up ‘early’ for school.

Prolonged sleep loss may negatively affect emotional development, increase the risks for interpersonal conflict as well as more serious mental health problems. Sleep deprived young people are more likely to demonstrate symptoms of anxiety and depression; suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Improving sleep, particularly in teenagers, may play a role in preventing and managing these mental health conditions (Sleep Foundation). These factors are certainly contributing to the spike in negative attitudes towards school, the increase in behaviour issues and risky decision making/behaviour we are seeing from young people both in person and online.

What if we had wellbeing as a central part of our curriculum? What if we had a national framework that focused on how we prepare our children to understand what mental health is, and provide them with the psychological and emotional tools to practise and apply in their everyday lives from age 5? What if we were courageous enough to shift the times of the school day for some teens so they operated in their optimal window, having had more sleep?

My vote goes for policies and commitment that show we are willing to provide an education system that will transform the educational experience for students. Those that are willing to set in motion the education equivalent of the self-driving car, pledging to ensure our young people are equipped with the tools to flourish as 21st Century citizens.

Adrian McLean, Director of Personal Development, Wellbeing and Belonging, Severn Academies Educational Trust

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applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives leaders the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

Who Will Get Your Vote in Education?

In election year 2024, this is one of a series of fortnightly blogs – running through the year – in which we invite colleagues from across the country to answer the question: Who will get your vote on education?

Roy Blatchford is serving as convenor and editor of the series. If you are interested in writing, please contact [email protected]

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