As part of the community match challenge #CommunitiesCan the Peace Foundation is to offer urgent support to primary schools in the Liverpool City Region and Warrington tier 3 lockdown areas.

The pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the economy, health, and social care; exacerbated by the subsequent and continuing public health restrictions.

The return to education in autumn has seen schools and colleges on the ‘front line’ and unearthed severe consequences experienced by children, their families and, of course, educators.

The education regulator, Ofsted’s report into the impact of the pandemic finds that children who were hardest hit by school closures and restrictions have regressed in some basic skills and learning.  Some children, lost stamina in their reading and writing, some have lost physical fitness, others show signs of mental distress, including an increase in eating disorders and self-harm.  Concerns remain about children who were out of sight during school closures, with falling referrals to social care teams raising fears that domestic neglect, exploitation or abuse is going undetected; and there is evidence of increased exposure to conflict and violence.

The Peace Foundation, supported by the Steve Morgan Foundation and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), is to launch a school based conflict resolution, and peace building education and subclinical social support to children in the tier III designated Liverpool City Region (Sefton, Wirral, Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Liverpool) and Warrington.

Programme Goals

To identify primary schools that are based in the city region six districts and Warrington identified in October 2020 as tier 3 restricted areas.  The schools to be reporting the most challenging behaviours in upper primary children that may lead to exclusion or difficult transition to secondary education as a result if the disruption to education and society caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.

To identify children within the most ‘challenged’ schools, that are demonstrating negative determinants of health and lacking social support – measured by, but not exclusively: economic stability, educational attainment, social and community context, neighbourhood and built environment, and mental health, health & wellbeing

To work with schools were conflict is high and there is a need to promote peace, community cohesion and reduce any isolation or negative tendencies such as hostility divisive culture etc (‘us, and them’ – fear/hate of the other).

Programme Targets

  • Equip young people with conflict resolution skills and confidence, as well as access to persisting and reinforcing sources of social support from local schools, community centres, and their intervention peers whom they identify with and value
  • Promote pro-social and emotional skills to support their transition into secondary school and adolescence
  • Prevent further escalation of anti-social behaviours and support their social, emotional and leadership (agency) development

Scope

The programme is a direct response to the consequences of the pandemic on education and children; targeting the region that has had most impact in terms of Covid 19 and the subsequent restrictions (first place to be under tier III restrictions); but also considering the wider health and social determinants and challenges that could lead to conflict in communities.

Geographically the programme will operate in the six districts of the city region and the neighbouring borough of Warrington.

The programme aim is to identify, with stakeholders, the most impacted children and schools and to engage further target stakeholders in a process of intervention and to enable children to participate in additional experiential learning to work on skills and strategies to take action to address conflict.  It will also enable children who are most challenged at this time to receive targeted subclinical support to stabilise and normalise any psychological health issues and to put in place social and health support actions to avoid exclusions or detrimental actions and strengthen their abilities to progress and cope with the ongoing and post-pandemic situation.

Field work has suggested that children in upper primary are most at risk and should be the priority for the programme, along with some level of family, whole school, and community engagement.

The programme will be scheduled for two years in four phases.  It will start in November 2020 with phase one ending March 2021.  Phase two will run until August 2021.  Phase three will run from September 2021 to end of spring term 2022 and a final phase in summer term and through to reporting in September 2022.  Additional funding will be sought to enhance the programme and to ensure it has sustainable benefits.

 

 

We will aim to work with the most challenged education establishments, because of CV19, and as agreed with local authorities in the region. The aim will be to supplement mainstream education provision to promote pro-social and emotional skills and to prevent further escalation of anti-social behaviours and support their social, emotional and leadership (agency) development.

We will involve families and the wider community, so we have the biggest impact, not just within the school walls. The funding will provide a high level of additional pastoral care to deal with some of the behaviours we have observed. For example, we will develop ’trauma informed/aware’ response with the schools/community we engage and offer time/space for their employees to air their concerns/anxieties and support with ways in which to manage these.

With the children and young people, we will deliver our programmes to increase critical thinking and build resilience and to enable pupils to engage with education and the ‘new normal’ and deal with any acute issues on an individual needs’ basis. The key is to build social capital (e.g. looking at routine and their views on the future – those disempowered and not able to feel in control/see opportunities).

This programme has some relationships with other programmes (Blackpool and possible Greater Manchester and Lancashire bids) and others such as Harriet and Neil will need to be kept informed.

Why are we doing this?

CV19 is the great divider. It has turned back years of work to promote cohesion. The restrictions, the inequalities, the divisions are writ large. Its impact on education is catastrophic and it has hit hardest in left-behind communities and in marginalised groups such as BAME. It has created opportunity for those who seek to divide, its consequences are likely to be with us forever and it is far from certain what a ‘new normal’ will look like. Recently we have seen protests, conspiracy theories and evidence of violence.

Our education work stalled during summer and is now back in action. What we have found is very worrying. Children and young people have been hugely impacted. Our work and research has already shown that those born post 9/11, known as Generation K, are living with ‘information overload’ but are also uncertain and fearful of the future.  Our team are observing very worrying trends in primary education and reports of younger children being adversely impacted by conflict and facing exclusion and possibly no opportunity to progress, through transition, to senior schools.

 

In returning to schools we have observed widescale problems, particularly in inner city and, so-called hard to reach or left behind areas. The constrained access to schools, friends, teachers, connectedness, and loss of ‘normal’ social structures, and economic instability is harmful. The uncertain and restricted world we now inhabit has led to isolation, a lack of structure, confused and ‘frightening’ information, some aspects of cognitive overload and even dissonance that is presenting in stress, trauma, and conflict. There is evidence that critical thinking skills are impacted, and risky behaviours heightened.

Parents and families are on the front-line; and where stability is lacking there is little social protection and in some cases gender-based violence. The current crisis makes women and children even more vulnerable to violence.

There are then the cohorts such as BAME who have been disproportionately impacted and some such as refugee and migrant children or affected by conflict that are particularly impacted.

The additional local restrictions in place in the Liverpool City Region and Warrington places huge constraints on children, young people, families, and communities and is likely to be impacting right throughout this academic year.

We are to undertake a programme of work in the Liverpool City Region and Warrington (seven districts) that identifies the most ‘high risk’ school(s) in each district and provides a range of programmes that we will run with ‘high risk ‘cohorts that are at sensitive timeframes of life change e.g. transition from primary to senior school.

We will use a range of determinants for selection working with each local authority and other local partners to ensure we target the ‘toughest problems. A programme will be delivered in each location and individuals/families requiring an intervention will receive trauma informed support using our bespoke model for mental health wellbeing.

In 2020, Liverpool City region (apart from Blackpool) recorded the highest disadvantage gap in educational attainment. The reasons are multiple from poverty, low health determinants, lack of opportunities (e.g. to own vital technology). This statistic was prior to CV19 that has seen education ‘closed’ for over six months.

On return to our education work we have found a crisis ultimately concerned with ‘externalising behaviour problems and emotional difficulties’ in children and young people which may move them towards engaging in violence.

 

 

Teachers are indicating that CV19 is creating real issues such as: primary children who will not cope with mainstream secondary schooling and would be moved to other education facilities, young people engaged in anti-social behaviour, generalised anxiety, lack of a sense of self-efficacy, scepticism of alternative life choices or the value of school, lack of faith in the future facilitating impulsivity (risky behaviour), less opportunity for new, more positive reference points outside peer groups, and, lack of access to social support to address their pre-Covid issues and how Covid has exacerbated these.

Our programme aims to address issues by equipping young people with conflict resolution skills and confidence, as well as access to sources of social support.  In addition, we will provide enhanced training to education professionals in the schools to enable them to spot the warning signs and ‘hold difficult conversations’ and to provide some tools in psychological support.

We are specialists in trauma informed psychosocial casework (including peer to peer support), mediated dialogue and experiential learning – we adopt the UNESCO approach to preventing violent extremism through education (PVEe) and the application of the United Nations Global Goals.

We are also operators of a large community facility. The casework was developed to support people who have lived through conflict (war and terrorism) but is now used to support individuals, including children and young people, and families with a wide range of traumatic experience, to help them cope and recover.

The experiential learning complements traditional teaching primarily helping young people with their critical thinking, addressing aspects such as identity, belonging, wisdom, compassion, and conflict resolution skills to avoid violence. It works with any youngster susceptible to violence. Our community work tends to be with marginalized groups (refugees, LGBT, BAME, disability groups, women from conflict backgrounds) and uses dialogue processes to resolve conflict and helps in enabling conflict resolution and peace building.

The pandemic restrictions in England and local restrictions are a constraint, although education establishments will continue to operate.  We will use a blended curriculum of delivery and open new delivery and engagement opportunities as matters progress over the two years.

For more information contact:

Nick Taylor – nick.taylor@peace-foundation.org.uk

Ciara Kinsella – ciara.kinsella@peace-foundation.org.uk

© 2020 Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation. This programme is made possible through the community match challenge #CommunitiesCan funded by the Steve Morgan Foundation and the Department for Digital, Culture & Media and Sport (DCMS)