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proposals to the QCA for future personal-and-social-development work

uploaded 10th June 2006


QCA is considering 'blue-sky' thinking for the future of careers work, citizenship, and personal-social-and-health education.  It is part of an on-going root-and-branch curriculum rethink for 11-19 year-olds.  Everything is subject to consultation.

One of the proposals is for LiRRiC - life-role relevance in curriculum.  It would integrate all of these elements of personal-and-social development into a coherent whole, and it would make that whole integral to the overall curriculum.  Basing the case on a contemporary account of learning needs, Bill argues we must do this now - if young men and women are to find learning a satisfying basis for sustainable action in their lives.    

download a pdf of this article - together with the LiRRiC proposals
find further material

There is a question which song-lyricist Marvin Gaye and sociologist Erving Goffman agree lies at the heart of the human condition.  And that question is - 'what's going on?'.  They have a point: as a species we survive by understanding what's happening.  The question also lies at the heart of curriculum. 

Our National Curriculum subjects each pose their own take on the 'who?', 'where?', 'when?', 'how?' and 'why?' supplementaries of that base-line question.  The answers are what any society must transmit to each rising generation.  They assemble into a body of knowledge, skills and values.  The introduction to our National Curriculum calls it education for 'spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development'.  In its purest form it is 'academic' learning.  Assessment systems tell us how well students are taking it on board.  It then becomes attainment - pursued to high standards.  Key curriculum concepts here include 'academic', 'transmission', 'assessment' and 'standards'.

All is necessary: after all, if our students don't know 'wassup?', how can they know 'what they're gonna do'?

looking for relevance

It would come as a bit of a surprise to many of our youngsters to find that academic learning can be useful with the 'gonna-do' question.  But it can - helping a person to be (say) a more satisfied customer, a more reliable parent, a more effective citizen, and an even-more welcome lover - as well as a more fulfilled career manager.  Curriculum should be a starting gun, not a finishing line.

But we know that the action only takes off when students imagine credible scenarios for where and how they will use the learning in their lives.  And we know that it pays off when they have time, space and support, not just to take on board required skills, but also how they will deal with the social influences and inner feelings that press on everything they do. 

These take-off and pay-off realities should underpin all of psd - and all of work-related-learning and education-for-enterprise.  The introduction to our National Curriculum comes closest when it speaks of preparing students for '...the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life'.  Key concepts are 'meaning', 'relevance', 'transfer' and 'action'.

So, academic attainment is a necessary but not a sufficient driver for learning.  There are two drivers: what can be known, and why it is worth knowing.  Without those standards learning would be lacking, without this relevance it would be futile.

If both had been fully engaged, then psd would not be as frail and overloaded as it is.  But we may now be looking at a chance to make relevance as centrally integral to curriculum as are standards.  We need not forever cling to the edge of timetable. 

making curriculum life-role relevant

Now is a good time to speak up: the current QCA root-and-branch review of 11-19 curriculum is looking for blue-sky thinking.  Among the proposals is LiRRiC - life-role relevance in curriculum. 

Why life-role?  Because when people act on their lives they do so in role - it speaks of where and how we use our learning in our lives.  The role scenarios may be of job-seeker, or friend, or consumer, or partner, or one off the many other roles we each take on.  The idea reaches into every corner of a person's life.  Life-role is a credible whole-person concept.

But LiRRiC does not clamour for more role-related space in the conventional timetable.  It seeks adequate blocks not squeezed-in slots.  And it organises that space so that academic standards and life-role relevance share common ground.  That requires:

> a planned programme;
> developing across the key stages;
> in a series of schemes;
> each in its own long-block time;
> each with its own team of academic, expert and community-based helpers;
> each pointing to how the learning helps in domestic, neighbourhood, working and citizen roles;
> with time and space to enable students progressively to work out why, where and how they will use this learning;
> each scheme based on a local appreciation of learning needs;
> each pursuing a clear set of outcomes.

Schemes like this sometimes feature in psd now.  LiRRiC will develop them as the principle strategy - both for enabling learning and for positioning life-role relevance in curriculum.  It asks 'what's going on?' and 'what can you do about it?' in the same breath.

Suppose, for example, a school or college were to find that year-9 students need help on substance abuse.  First of all, there are no surprises there for careers workers: what people do about drugs links to what can happen as a worker.  But, more than that, what a person does about drugs can also impact a person's life as lover, friend, parent, consumer and volunteer.

It is the depth, breadth and dynamics of this contemporary reality which demands that LiRRiC is part of a unified curriculum - with academic and life-role relevant learning as full partners.  To know 'what's going on?' students need expert sources - people who can help them find out what they need to understand.  On substance abuse, understanding the science of biological effects will help, as will the mathematics of probability, and the history of prevalence, the geography of supply, the economics of demand, the media-study of how people are informed, and the literature of experience.  It's hard to see how anybody can properly get to grips with the challenge on any lesser basis.  And it's also hard to think of a better reason for probing all that so-called 'academic' stuff.  This is where 'academia' and psd make common ground. 

is LiRRiC practical enough?

There are two starting points for practicality.  Resource-based practicality moves from what is available to what can happen - action is sometimes rejected as impractical because we can't afford it.  But such 'practicality' risks allocating scarce resources to schemes that won't work.  And that is doubly impractical. 

LiRRiC practicality starts with needs: it seeks the resources to fit the task.  The panel suggests how.










"we survive by understanding 'what's going on?' - the question lies at the heart of curriculum"




"it would come as a bit of a surprise to many of our youngsters to find that academic learning can be useful in life"




"no standards means learning is lacking, no relevance means it is futile"




"we need not forever cling to the edge of timetable"




"the idea of life-role reaches into every corner of life - it is a whole-person concept"



"LiRRiC seeks adequate blocks not squeezed-in slots"




"it asks 'what's going on?' and 'what can you do about it?' in the same breath"





"some 'practicality' risks allocating scarce resources to schemes that won't work"


A LiRRiC scheme


> identify learning needs - at this stage in our students' experience;
> identify life roles - in which students will see the usefulness of the learning;
> identify academic teachers - willing and able to help;
> identify helpful community-based mentors - with appropriate experience;
> bring in community-based experts - such as Connexions people;
> negotiate common ground for the scheme - pointing to who will do what;
> design a scheme - engaging small-group, whole-group and individual activity.


> engage students in examining clear role markers - pointing to where and how this learning is useful;
> engage students and their helpers in a progressive sequence - helping each other to examine, question, sort, probe, explain, try-out and adapt the learning for its usefulness.


> engage students in anticipating where else in their lives they can see that they can use this learning - other life roles;
> engage students in recording learning outcomes and planning how they will learn more.


> take on board students' reactions to this learning - for its relevance and its usefulness;
> identify where this learning can usefully be improved;
> begin work on the up-coming LiRRiC scheme.


LiRRiC is a sequence of such projects.  None will fit into conventional timetable slots.  On substance abuse, a group of sixty year-9 students could make good use of three two-hour blocks.  Much of its usefulness would be in finding out how to find things out - learning-to-learn.

Such arrangements won't be new to anybody who has helped to set up a well-managed experience-of-work programme.  And the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative was noted for such schemes: subject-linked, life-relevant, community-based, active learning. Youth Matters and Next Steps are egging us on to do even more of this now.

It all calls on a flexible practicality; and the positioning of LiRRiC gives it plenty of room for manoeuvre.  Some LiRRiC schemes need more time, some less.  Some need to be continuously concentrated, some episodically spread out.  And the opportunities for the use of new learning technologies will take you as far as your commitment and imagination can go. 

But it is in team building that LiRRiC flexibility is most fruitful.  The team for each scheme is different - each specifically brought in: for a clear purpose, calling on particular expertise, experience - and an ability to get a buzz into learning.  We could call it 'new-model' team building. (Oliver Cromwell won with a smaller 'new-model' army - with its sharp appreciation of what needed to be done, and why.  A C17th manifestation of 'less is more'.)

is it radical enough?

Any 'new-model' move is bold.  In LiRRiC it links subject to subject.  It also links life-role to life-role.  This is because the social-and-emotional pressures on leisure, family and community roles are much the same as they are on work roles.  And people seek well-being across the board - 'work-life balance'.  None of these dynamics are weakening: at the extremes struggling with the question 'what can I do about this?' can lead a person into exclusion - or drive him into crime.  The LiRRiC response is - as-and-when needed - to restructure both the academic subject-base and the psd-work-related-enterprise timetable:

> linking role to role - enabling learning for work-life balance and well-being as well as for targeted performance;
> linking academic learning to life-role relevance - drawing in useful expertise on what is going on and how to find out more;
> linking academic subjects to each other - in a scheme-by-scheme joining together of what a wholly subject-based timetable puts asunder;
> linking to community-based help - bringing in both useful expertise and credible experience;
> negotiating the time and space required for learning progression, transfer-of-learning and learning-to-learn.

Long-block programming is the only strategy which can do all of this.  A key concept is 'integration' learning-for-life cannot be enabled without such links.  But careers-education-and-guidance has been stronger on 'vertical' links with other career-management specialists.  LiRRiC does not abandon vertical links; but it is bolder, making 'lateral' links to a wider range of academic and community resources - and for a wider range of life-roles.

enough to think about?

Much our past thinking has focused on change in global markets, on the need for competitiveness, and on our economic significance. 

But there is a neglected second-wave effect of globalisation - impacting people in their communities.  An example is how global technologies are changing the way people learn about what they will do in life.  They have new ways of finding options for action - whether in political, religious, consumer or working life.  And there are more groups ready to inform, advise and cajole in all these spheres.  More than that: allegiances form around these groups, focusing for example on social membership, ethnicity, and - increasingly - around commercial logos.  It is all media-transmitted, but its messages form some of the most powerful influences on local lives.  And if people are changing how they learn, we must think again about how we help.

LiRRiC therefore urges some serious professional head-work - for:

> deepening our understanding of our own school 's or college 's catchment economy and culture - and the learning needs that stem from that;
> drawing on the breadth and depth of academic curriculum - relying on its high standards;
> engaging resources from across the curriculum - and making life-role relevant learning integral to the whole;
> using this central position to gauge the usefulness of the whole curriculum - so that we can suggest needed curriculum reform.

Take the substance-abuse example: we start from local needs but we move to thinking about what we transmit - from the biology of bodily effects to the epistemology of why we believe anything.  There are serious possibilities here for making the whole curriculum more responsive to twenty-first-century change.  And we would be at the heart of it.

what can you do about this?

LiRRiC may stand or fall.  If it falls, familiarity will not have been the problem: more-of-the-same is no longer an option.  In changing times habitual thinking is a poor guide. 

There is a long way to go.  We have some policy support, but we 'll need more.  But policy is no more than aspirational: it needs LiRRiC 's operational strategy for achieving its priorities - right now for those in Youth Matters and Next Steps.  Both publications acknowledge that the stage-by-stage development of local and specific tactical measures will take time.  And LiRRiC poses its own batch of questions for the needed research and evaluation.  There is no quick fix here.

Which is where our professionalism comes in.  There is nothing in LiRRiC that will undermine that professionalism.  There is, though, much that might cause us to rethink what we mean by the term: LiRRiC will draw on the whole of our current apparatus, but it will also expand its scope and extend its usefulness. 

And so it is crucial that careers workers have their say - not to defend what we have been doing but to help shape what more can be done.  LiRRiC needs help because...

1. hinges on neighbourhood-based programme-development - locally designing an engaging and productive journey-through-learning; 
2. relies on an understanding of how students are, and are not, able to use and adapt what they learn;
3. requires a special kind of programme-management - building teams from a varied range of organisational, community, and voluntary help. 

The experience of careers-work people will have taught them a great deal about all of this.  We need to hear what they know on all three matters.

And, of course, if policy were to prove less supportive than we might like it to be, that would not rule out wholly locally-driven action.  You could develop something more practical, really bold and much smarter.

So, whatever happens to LiRRiC, we 've a lot to say to the QCA.

"the positioning of LiRRiC gives it plenty of room for manoeuvre"





"'new-model' team building brings in only people who know what to do - and why"





"LiRRiC joins together what a wholly subject-based timetable puts asunder"





"long-block timetabling is the only strategy which can do this"






"if people are changing how they learn we must think again about how we help"






"there are possibilities here for whole-curriculum reform - and we would be at the heart of it"





"in changing times habitual thinking is a poor guide"






"there is nothing here to undermine professionalism - but much to cause us to rethink it"

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back to the beginning
a pdf of this article - together with the main LiRRiC proposals
a pdf of the LiRRiC proposals for psd across-the-board - the policy frame, programme-management issues, FAQs and support material
Bill's work on Learning from Experience

and, available later in 2006

The Copenhagen Strategy - thinking outside the box

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