RoSPA's response to the QCA Key Stage 3 Curriculum Review

Background

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has been campaigning to prevent injury for 100 years. Our vision is of a life, free from serious accidental injury. In the UK more young people die as a result of accidents than any other cause. Among many current RoSPA initiatives is the LASER (Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk) accreditation scheme. This scheme provides quality standards for junior citizens and other active learning approaches to safety education for pupils aged 10-11 years.

Injury prevention is often seen from three perspectives, sometimes known as the three E's - engineering, enforcement and education. More recently we have been challenged to add empowerment to this list: ensuring people have the confidence and opportunities to be safe, whatever they are doing. Within education, injury prevention has often focussed on "teaching safely" rather than "teaching safety". While both are important to our mission, RoSPA welcomes the inclusion of risk as a key concept in PSHEE within the revised Key Stage 3 curriculum as a means by which safety education can gain greater prominence within the curriculum as a whole.

RoSPA has a long history of curriculum research and development in safety education. Most recently our work has focused on children and young people's understanding of risk, so we feel we are particularly well positioned to comment on this element of PSHEE.

Risk is a complex concept which underpins all aspects of PSHEE as well as other areas of the curriculum. However, our research suggests that teachers and other school staff, pupils and the health and safety professionals, do not all understand the concept in the same way. This can lead to the many "conkers bonkers" headlines in the press and also to the "cotton wool kids" syndrome. There are justifiable claims that children and young people are not allowed to take sensible risks which enable them to enjoy an active, safe lifestyle. However, it is also clearly the responsibility of school staff to ensure that pupils are as safe as necessary when in their care. It is particularly important, therefore, that the concept is well taught in schools and explained clearly in your documents, using language which is both correct and consistent throughout.

We are therefore pleased to offer our comments specifically on the inclusion of risk as a key concept in the personal wellbeing section of PSHEE (Key Stage 3 and 4). Our key recommendation are in bold font.

Key Stage 3

Curriculum aims

It is clear that children who feel unable to take risks will not achieve the aims of the curriculum as learners, or as safe and healthy citizens able to make a positive contribution.

The importance of personal wellbeing: There is an appropriate emphasis on positive experiences where young people are actively engaged in their learning about risk and to take responsibility for themselves, and increasingly others.

Risk

In order to be able to assess and manage risk, young people need to be able to distinguish between hazards (which have the potential to cause harm) and risk (the probability of a particular outcome or consequence associated with that hazard). They should be able to assess the risk associated with a range of hazards, which include objects and behaviour. Young people should be encouraged to make suggestions for managing risks in familiar and increasingly, unfamiliar situations. This is especially important in the light of the new diplomas where young people may be visiting several sites to complete their courses, including workplaces. The safety culture in the workplace differs markedly from that which young people experience at school, where risks are largely managed by others. In the workplace there is an expectation that all employees will contribute to the safety of themselves and others by recognising hazards, assessing the risk and managing the risk. Our research suggest that pupils in Key Stage 3 are increasingly capable of making these distinctions and judgements, although they often lack the language to talk about hazards and risks, and lack the experience to make realistic assessments in all situations. There should be an emphasis in Key Stage 3 on developing a language of risk, of being increasingly competent at using the risk assessment process (hazard recognition, risk assessment, risk management) to assess risk to themselves and others in familiar situations.

At Key Stage 3 young people are unlikely to involve adults where they or someone else is at risk of harm. This is because adults are often perceived as punitive and authoritarian, rather than supportive and authoritative where safety is concerned. Our research shows that young people perceive risk in terms of flouting authority, and this can lead them to increased probability of harm. It is important, therefore to encourage young people to consider who can help them and how to ask for help and advice. It is equally important that adults offer young people well informed support and advice in their decision making.

It is helpful that risk is seen both in terms of harms and benefits. It is essential that this be reflected in curriculum resources and in school policy.

While it is important to recognise that 'pressure' has both positive and negative influences, it is equally important to recognise the role of "influence", a more subtle factor which can motivate young people's risk taking behaviour, especially on transfer from primary education. Young people are often not overtly coerced into risky behaviour, but may be attracted to a particular peer group who are perceived to be risk takers. The choice to join the group by demonstrating the same degree of risk taking is a choice made by the individual themselves and rarely forced on them. Exercises in the classroom that give children opportunities to practise resistance skills seldom address this issue.

Schools can do much to help young people develop the confidence to face challenges safely. Involving young people in risk assessment in a range of activities, establishing the boundaries for safe and unsafe behaviour and enforcing sanctions when these boundaries are broken enables young people to develop this confidence. There are currently too few opportunities for young people to do this while at school.

Range and content

It would be helpful to signpost local, national and international accident statistics as a resource for schools in developing policy and curriculum.

Emergency and risky situations

It is unhelpful to link "emergency" with "risky situations". As the document itself states: risk is part of everyday life.

Curriculum opportunities: "Meet and work with people from the wider community"

While not every local authority has a school drug adviser, LA's are required to have a road safety officer (RSO) who could be signposted in this section. RSOs have access to a wider range of local and national statistics. Young people will find them an invaluable source of support for safe road use, whether as a pedestrian, cyclist or young driver. RSOs often also have links with local initiatives of environmentally friendly approaches to travel, supporting an important curriculum link.

Key Stage 4

It is helpful to see that the concept of risk has been further developed for Key Stage 4. However, some of the content for Key Stage 4 can be introduced during Key Stage 3. The balance between Key Stage 3 and 4 therefore needs to be re-addressed. For example, peer influence is included in Key Stage 4 but not Key Stage 3. Research suggests peer influence is particularly relevant to young people in transition from primary to secondary education at a time when new identities are being formed.

The risk assessment process needs to clearly articulated at Key Stage 4, especially since all young people will be expected to do some work experience during this phase of their education, and many will be spending substantial periods of time in workplaces, either to earn money or as part of their education. Young people should become increasingly competent at assessing risk to themselves and others in unfamiliar situations.

It is pleasing to see the continuing emphasis, in Key Stage 4, on seeking help. Despite their growing awareness of risk, their increasing knowledge and understanding and increasing independence and experience it is important to emphasise the role of others who can provide particular expertise, advice and support. It is equally important for adults in this role to adopt a supportive approach to young people.

We look forward to an on-going dialogue with QCA over the development of the curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2, where the foundations for developing young people's understanding of this important concept are built.

Jenny McWhirter

April 2007


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