Introducing the Morecambe Bay Curriculum

Prof. Robert Barrett, Eden Chair for Education and Engagement at Lancaster University, recently delivered a public lecture entitled Introducing the Morecambe Bay Curriculum.

The event was introduced by Lancaster’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Andy Schofield, who stressed the university’s commitment to the region as captured in their recently-unveiled new strategic plan. The Morecambe Bay Curriculum project, he said, would be a key part of realising the goals for the region of the Eden Project North. He then handed over to the event host, Prof. Robert Winston (formerly of ICL and an honorary graduate of Lancaster).

Winston said that Lancaster University does good things in education and the region, but stressed that the Curriculum project is more than just a regional import, and that it also addressed national issues. The education system, Winston suggested, had been too long disconnected, with universities politically separated from schools and governed separately (along with further education providers), which doesn’t make sense. Winston felt that lack of aspiration is bad problem in contemporary Britain, with many wondering why go to uni at all; in his eyes, whilst this project would be unlikely to solve the issue immediately, it may well have an impact in the long-term. He praised the involvement of the University as important, and complained that the trouble with Russell Group universities is that they starve the education system, because the focus on grades leads to division. Education, in his eyes, was not just about intelligence and excellence, but also how you get on with people, how you have a vision and so on; the most critical thing in education today is that primary school education is highly undervalued; the brain is at its most plastic when one is young, which he demonstrated by reference to various studies carried out by Hubel and Wiesel involving the temporary blinding of kittens, resulting in permanent loss of function in the eye. He suggested that, despite his background in genetics, we’ve got so focussed on genes that we’ve forgotten you can’t change them, contrasting this with the Curriculum’s environmental focus.

Winston also addressed the need for more female role models in secondary education, and for male ones in primary education, and suggested that humanities degrees were being devalued in favour of science degrees lack of science degrees. In his opinion, we need humanities as well as sciences, and he provided the example of the study of historical plagues — 1347, 1541, 1665 — presenting insights that were highly relevant in our own plague-affected times. With that, he handed over to Prof. Barratt.

Barratt introduced what he described as the greatest love story that exists between a landscape and its community, followed by a poem by Marie Tyson entitled Morecambe. He presented a potted history of the Morecambe Bay region — people coming to Bay since the first tribes arrived in the 1st century — and stressed how people were drawn to the area by the humour, hospitality and warmth of its people. He then addressed the subject of the talk: a curriculum for Morecambe Bay, co-constructed and original, and the first phase of the Eden Project North strategy. He listed the range of goals that the project was aiming to address including workforce reform and a focus on both the health of the Bay ecosystem and health of its communities, and highlighted the diversity of organisations collaborating on the project so far, including partners in the health, commercial and business sector as well as education and academia.

The Morecambe Bay geographical area, said Barratt, served as the heart and lungs of the surrounding community. The key aim of the Curriculum project is to develop a coherent Bay curriculum offer, supporting the varied agenda of the education, health, community, business and environment sectors, as well as the more-than-human material world. The Curriculum represents an intersectorial effort, concerned with the health of the Bay ecosystem and community, in which all activity is concerned with the natural processes, human activities and overall health of the Bay.

Eden Project North served as the catalyst for the Curriculum, and so Barratt briefly touched on the parent project, which represents one of most advanced national projects in the UK and aims to both establish the area as an attractive tourist attraction and to employee ~400 local people (with ~1,500 in the wide supply chain), and which expected to bring in several million pounds in revenue upon its completion. The project has, since 2019, advanced a regional approach, aiming to reimagine responsible and sustainable development and ensuring the provision of the educational skills, knowledge and behaviours that the national Eden Project and local employers both require; this all ties into wide overarching visions of building back better and levelling up the North.

The Curriculum is focussed on the resilience of the educational system, and in changing what we teach, how we teach, what we value and how we reward students. The project has spent the past two years developing a future education offering, with the guiding vision that this program is rooted in the unique place where we live. Over these two years, a community of practice has been formed and has been meeting monthly; the Curriculum, Barratt said, provides an architecture for collaboration, evidenced by several large signature projects around the Bay. With that, he handed over to Linda Pye, Headteacher at the Rylands Primary & Nursery School.

Pye said that the importance [of the Curriculum] can’t be underestimated. Teachers, in her view, had a calling to make a difference to children’s life chances, and it is in that spirit that she currently sits on both the Curriculum steering group and the Eden Primary, Early Years and Special Schools working group. She related how, when she first saw the vision of the project laid out, it completely changed the way I taught. As a teacher for 30 years and a headteacher working in a highly-deprived area, her previous focus had been to educate her students to raise their aspirations, hopes and dreams in the hopes that they would move away and fulfil those elsewhere; now, through the Curriculum, she wants to educate children to stay, to notice, to improve and to appreciate, so that they can fulfil their hopes and dreams here. The Curriculum, she felt, gives agency to us all. On the ground, the Curriculum has been developed through hands-on methods, using a project-driven approach to establish networks, groups and organisations in the area. These collaborative projects, aligned with the SDGs, will then become embedded into the Curriculum.

We then returned to Barratt. The Curriculum would, he said, represent the most advanced model of nature-based education in the world, focus on lifelong learning and attend to the health of the Bay ecosystem and beyond through longitudinal nature-based projects focussed on health needs of Bay. The project had a 25-year vision, with the aspiration of being recognised as a model of innovation in research-informed learning and teaching by 2026. It would, he hoped, present a realistic and achievable model of decarbonisation and make the Bay into a cool, healthy place to live and study, leading to secure employment at the coast and beyond. Five-year-olds now, he said, will be 30 in 25 years time, and will hopefully be able to look back and know that we answered yes to the question do we have a moral obligation to those that follow us?. Barrett continue to discuss the purpose of the Curriculum, which would clearly define pathways for children and young people to realise and maximise their potential, affect the regeneration of neighbourhoods and communities and focus on the land, the water, the air, the community and the economy.

He presented the example of the dream maker project, which involved mapping the personal interests of each child onto the natural world, academic interests and career themes (as defined by local businesses), providing opportunities to take part in practical projects with local businesses (tracked via an Eden passport e-portfolio with four levels, which the intention that children will graduate out of primary education, secondary education, etc. with their passport following them throughout). Every curriculum, said Barratt, needs a framework, and he stressed that this is fearless education which, unlike the national curriculum, is designed by and relevant to the local community.

Barrett said that each signature project of the Curriculum will involve intersectorial and intergenerational research groups and that their outcomes will inform the Bay strategic education offer. Each project will generate evidence for accreditation for each age group and involve people not traditionally involved in the education system. One idea is to have an Earth clock or Bay clock in every school and college, showing the healthy time gained by the Bay through students’ efforts.

Barrett then went through the various building blocks of the project: its roots of place, decarbonisation, sustainability, globalisation, research and innovation; its branches of planetary emergency, stories of the Bay, ecological principles of nature, the SDGs, etc.; and the trunk. He stressed that the goal was not to replace the national curriculum, but that the space between traditional subject boundaries is the most interesting to explore, as well as where innovation takes place.

The Curriculum, then, would address the circumstances and conditions that surround the educational experience, and we want to change those. It would provide agency to young people, contribute to the Bay legacy and hit on various themes, from reconnecting to natural spaces, knowing, understanding and valuing our place and being able to take positive action for positive change. Through nature-based pedagogy that considers nature first, learning would be shaped by ecological principles of nature and all learning would take place outside, in natural spaces. The Curriculum will be intergenerational, combine separate schools and rely on nature to be the assessor. Whilst the national curriculum is focussed primarily on children’s cognitive experience, the Morecambe Bay Curriculum will explore chidlrens sensory, emotional, congitive and spiritual experiences, as well as providing opportunities for them to take risk and develop resilience to change.

Barrett said that we want to get every child in the area growing fruit and veg and making their own meals, and he also highlighted a plant-noticing project that had been undertaken at Lancaster University with students from Rylands Primary School. The project supported primary age students to notice things growing in the cracks between pavements, and allowed them to build new relationships with the plant life around them by applying scientific method. Whilst the Curriculum is still in an auditing and piloting phase, the goal is to have the signature projects established before the start of the next academic year, and fully launched by September 2021.

Barrett then talked about Earth Pioneer characteristics — the skills, knowledge and values that would lead learning and protect the Bay — and the objectives of the project to ensure that young people know that they are part of nature, that they are curious, knowledgeable, caring and adaptable and that they are thinking about the future all of the time. The Curriculum will draw on playful child in each of us and, through its post-humanist perspective-informed thinking, de-centre the human and attend to the more-than-human and material world. Finally, he shared a story written by a group of early years practioners to encourage children to connect to the heritage of the place and to express their own aspirations so that, hopefully, in time, they would become stewards of the Bay and future leaders

There then followed a Q&A.

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Published:  April 11th, 12021 H.E.

Last Modified:  April 11th, 12021 H.E.

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