How does the Alive to the World programme fulfil the 2020 Government requirements for Relationships Education?
The rationale behind the Government’s requirements for Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education is set out in the Department for Education (England)’s Introduction to Requirements (9 July 2020) as:
To embrace the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life, pupils need knowledge that will enable them to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships and to build their self-efficacy. Pupils can also put this knowledge into practice as they develop the capacity to make sound decisions when facing risks, challenges and complex contexts. Everyone faces difficult situations in their lives. These subjects can support young people to develop resilience, to know how and when to ask for help, and to know where to access support.
Alive to the World has the same goal of educating children and adolescents for resilience, self-reliance, and life skills. Through the books, it presents the pupils with a wide variety of social scenarios which they can think through and discuss together, preparing them in advance to discern and make difficult decisions and to take responsibility for their actions. Their self-understanding grows at all levels, spiritual, emotional and physical, and they become more respectful of the people around them. They also learn to address common fears at third party distance, increasing their self-confidence. This encourages them to demand more of themselves, aim high and develop fortitude. They also learn to recognise when it would be wise to ask an adult’s help, and to speak confidently to members of their family and others they trust.
Just as there is a specific age when children are ready to read, so there are specific moments when they can best learn social skills. Alive to the World has been scientifically structured to teach children self-handling in a cumulative way around the Golden Rule “do to others as you would have them do to you”. It provides teachers with a ready-made resource to explain friendships, teamwork, respect and politeness in all relationships. It also explores mental and physical wellbeing, welcoming changes at puberty, avoiding risky behaviours, and the importance of pride in community, amongst many other topics. UK Books 1-3 are shorter; Years 4-8 have 35 chapters each (see Books tab for further details).
Books create a special intimacy. They involve the senses in an immediate way, triggering the imagination and making the story and the discussion that follows easier to remember. The colourful pictures are part of this. Having a book also gives this diverse subject a sense of continuity which impacts the pupils, more especially today when books are becoming rarer in classroom use.
Each book is arranged in units and chapters which cover a broad range of issues around developing concepts. The teacher manuals have a Framework of topics in their introduction which describes the subjects covered, the objectives and the hoped for outcomes which are being addressed in each chapter. The respective Frameworks can be downloaded from the Books page.
Schools are given considerable freedom in how they teach the subject. They are required by law to draw up their own policy documents, naming the subjects they will cover and at what age, and to do so in consultation with parents and carers.
This is emphasised by the Department of Education (England)’s further Guidance of 24 September 2020 which specifies that:
When planning their curriculum, state-funded schools should be mindful of the requirement under the Human Rights Act 1998 to respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions, and all schools should be mindful of their duties under the Equality Act 2010.
Documents from the Department for Education (England) explain that the new topics can be taught within the earlier Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) framework which Alive to the World follows. “The new curriculum and your PSHE education framework do not need to be seen as separate subjects” (Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum, 24 September 2020). Alive to the World brings in topics such as tidiness, disposal of litter and care of the immediate environment, taking on positions of responsibility, and volunteering to help those in need. The stories are supported by short extracts of general knowledge which expand pupils’ horizons. Each book also has a section on care of the body.
The programme shows children that customs and rules are necessary if people are to live together in harmony. This applies in a family, in a school, in the local community or in society at large. Society functions to the benefit of all where rules are well chosen, kept to what is necessary and are willingly obeyed. Truth, honesty and freedom of thought are further essentials which enable civil society and business to flourish. Alive to the World teaches children to put honesty above their own short-term interests.
Alive to the World was created because of a need for a sexuality education which would be holistically conceived so as not to fall into the error of inciting experimentation and promiscuity, as many programmes have done. A search for a full definition of Sex Education was sought and was determined to be “all that an individual must learn, from birth, that will prepare him or her for a happy and enduring relationship as a couple”. As relationships are happiest and most lasting where patience, loyalty, generosity, perseverance, solidarity, understanding, etc., are practiced, it was decided that these and other values and interpersonal skills would be the basis of the contents.
Alive to the World also encourages parents and carers to talk to their children on a whole range of subjects in a natural way. This makes it easier for them to embark on sex education at home when the moment is ripe. Our related resource Sexuality Explained: a Guide for Parents and Children helps them in this task.
More detail about the generic sense in which we approach Sex Education may be found explained under Our Philosophy.
Alive to the World is very clear in teaching the importance of respecting everyone, no matter how different. This is an element present in every book. The stories show how easy it is to be caught up in bullying situations, both as victim and as bully, for any number of reasons and they propose strategies to help children extricate themselves from such situations.
On the specific topic, it leaves it to schools and parents to decide when it is appropriate to teach the details about same-sex relationships and transgender issues. These sensitive topics touch closely upon parents’ beliefs and the ethos of the school.
Alive to the World further believes that pupils benefit from being able to explore the characteristics of friendship, including same-sex friendships, before thinking about sexual drive, for which many are not ready.
Alive to the World is not religious and does not mention God or religious belief. In this way, it can be used in any school and to date has had some of its greatest successes in state-run schools in poor countries. At the same time, both in the UK and internationally, it has received strong support from religious educators, especially from Catholics and other Christians, as well as from Muslims and Jews. What attracts all users is the programme’s holistic approach to life, its practical understanding and application of universal values, its respect for different beliefs and cultures, and the way it helps children to become the best version of themselves.
Official guidance requires schools to teach about marriage and stable relationships but the main families in the stories are all married. Is this not insensitive?
Alive to the World always encourages children to treat their parents and those of their friends with respect, regardless of their marital situation. This often helps children who are struggling with tensions at home.
However, children themselves recognise the difference between marriage and other intimate relationships. Marriage starts at a specific time with a public declaration and looks forward to the future, while “stable relationships” can only be recognised looking backwards. Many young people have thought that they were entering lasting love when in fact it was only a few nights’ stand.
Girls, with their natural desire for love and security, are particularly susceptible. They frequently lament that nobody has explained to them the difference between sex and love. Women are also more likely than their male partners to believe that by living together they are committing themselves to a lasting relationship (see research by the Marriage Foundation). Alive to the World protects girls by allowing them to focus in a concrete way on the end goal of reliable love, which is the commitment implicit in marriage.
Marriage secures for young men the best prospect of living with and raising their own children (see Marriage Foundation research). Boys also have ideals, and look for permanence in relationships even though they may take longer to be ready for them. However, it is difficult for boys raised in homes without strong models of faithful fatherhood to know how to go about becoming a future, dependable, husband. The stories portray ordinary families who have stresses and problems, but they also show how these can be resolved. For some children, Alive to the World is the only introduction to married life, and the only model of overcoming tensions that they have.
Is it fair to raise children's expectations of marriage while knowing that statistically so many marriages fail?
The picture of marriage given to children can be unduly pessimistic. There are known patterns of behaviour which lead to good marriages, and by beginning with children when they are young much can be done to help them achieve success. Alive to the World helps children to respect their physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual integrity and that of others, and encourages them to become people who are easy to live with.
Alive to the World shows each value in its universal application and includes examples from many cultures. Respect for other people is fundamental to its teaching throughout. There are individual chapters on understanding people from other backgrounds, but most of the teaching is centred on respecting others whoever they are. There are, for instance, moving chapters on making friends with a child with Downs’ syndrome, welcoming foreigners, and valuing street people. A 2007 survey of 8,000 Peruvian pupils carried out by Performance Results, Inc compared schools using Alive to the World with others that were not. It found that Alive to the World is particularly strong in encouraging children to accept people who are different from themselves while being self-confident in their own identities.