By Blog Editor, on 3 May 2022
Isabel Cartwright from QPSW Education
“It fills me with hope…I’m imagining a future where the cycle of harmful behaviour policies is broken…definitely speaks to me as a teacher.”
These were the words of one trainee teacher about our new report Peace at the heart: A relational approach to education in British schools. In a way this feedback meant as much to me as the many hours of research, discussion and evidence-gathering that went into the report.
Peace at the Heart presents Peace Education as a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning that puts good relationships – peace –at its heart. Written by David Gee, Isabel Cartwright and Ellis Brooks for Quakers in Britain, a faith group committed to equality and peace, the report presents the evidence for a relational approach and shines a light on schools already putting peace at their heart. It makes five recommendations for the governments of England, Scotland and Wales to support Peace Education in line with their international commitments.
“The years that young people spend in education shape their whole lives. Their sense of self, relationships, and life chances…begin to mature in this period.” (Peace at the Heart, 2022 report, pp 3) If you’re a student, teacher, policy maker, or anyone interested in schools as healthy communities, then we hope it speaks to you too.
Why do Quakers care?
Quakers have been concerned about education since their origins in the 17th Century. The belief that the Divine Light is within everyone, leads Quakers to believe that children, like adults, are able to have a direct relationship with God that requires no intermediary. Children are valued in their own right, rather than as grown-ups in the making. Motivated by the belief that education can nurture ‘that of God’ in everyone, Quakers believed from the outset that it should be available to all, girls as well as boys, a radical view at the time. In secular terms, this could be expressed as valuing everyone’s humanity.
This belief in ‘that of God’ in everyone also led Quakers to take a clear stand for peace. The Quaker peace testimony (it’s called a “testimony” because it is how Quakers witness to the world about their beliefs) leads Quakers to try to live out their commitment to peace in their daily lives and in their work.
Today, Quakers’ faith commitment to truth, peace, simplicity and equality still leads them to work towards schools where people matter, where they thrive through relationships and where the beauty of the whole person is affirmed.
“The purpose of education is the pursuit of learning, knowledge and questioning in the service of realising our full human potential in an ever-changing world… The outcome of this approach will be a fair, diverse, just and good society.” (Quaker Values in Education Group).
So Quakers aren’t so much educating about their religion as they are educating for peace.
Making the Case for Peace Education
Peace is understood as more than the absence of war, or ‘negative’ peace as founding father of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung defines it. ‘Positive peace’ is what’s sought, the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, including the flourishing of Human Rights.
“I feel peace education is about teaching children to discover that they have the power to change things they see are wrong and developing the imagination to find alternative responses to conflict. This is not an objective for a course called ‘Peace’ on the timetable. It must permeate all our teaching. For we cannot teach one thing and act another.” Quaker Faith & Practice 23.85
In our Peace Education work, we were inspired by schools embracing peace at different levels, individual wellbeing (peace with myself), healthy peer relations (peace between us), an inclusive school community (peace among us), and the integrity of society and the earth (peace in the world). Increasingly schools were investing in peace and adopting a whole school approach, supported by partner organisations such as Peacemakers, RJ Working and Transforming Conflict. Movements such as Peaceful Schools and the growing network of Peace Schools supported by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs were showing the commitment of schools to build a culture of peace.
We were struck by the way teachers responded to the ‘peacekeeping’, ‘peacemaking’ and ‘peacebuiding’ lense presented by Cremin and Bevington (2017). These schools were building positive peace without the need for the ‘zero tolerance’ or ‘ready to learn’ type approaches gaining so much attention.
In 2019 our partners in Brussels, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, made a policy case at the European level in Peace education: Making the case. We decided we should make the same case in the British context.
A relational approach
In collating many example of peace education practice, we found that the common commitment seemed to be to the integrity of relationships.
The report explores the different layers of peace and shows their interconnection. Take individual wellbeing for example. As the report argues, the investment in mental health support for individual pupils has had little impact on the prevalence of anxiety and depression. To tackle these effectively, schools need also need to focus on developing healthy peer relations and creating an inclusive school community.
“A genuinely peaceful school becomes somewhere students and staff feel valued and believe they can flourish – it becomes somewhere they want to be. Indeed, research shows that students who enjoy school a lot tend to point to strong friendships, a sense of belonging, and the confidence that teachers believe in them.” (Peace at the Heart, 2022 report, pp 5)
This relational approach brings many evidenced benefits. These include the fuller development of young people, a more effective learning environment in school, and emerging citizens who are more conscientiously involved in their society. “Young mediators have become community workers and peacebuilders, former gang members have become youth coaches, teachers have witnessed their relationships with students transformed.” (Peace at the Heart, 2022 report, pp 7)
A focus on relationships is sometimes criticised for being at odds with clear expectations of behaviour, and systems that support calm environments conducive to learning. But a relational approach using restorative practice has demanding expectations. As the report argues, disciplinarian type approaches often actually deny young people the chance to take responsibility for their actions, or contribute to the life of the school community.
The report shows how the increase in these approaches in England has been accompanied by a sharp rise in school exclusions, compounding social inequality.
“…those eligible for free school meals are four times as likely to suffer exclusion, those with special educational needs twice as likely, and Gypsy and Roma students four times as likely. Exclusions are also used disproportionately to punish students of colour”. (Peace at the Heart, 2022 report, pp 24)
The report also shows how some schools, particularly in Scotland and in Wales, take an alternative approach, and how this has dramatically reduced exclusions.
Peace at the Heart shows that even with limited investment, there is substantial evidence of the difference peace education can make. The report documents the strong United Nations mandate for peace education, but the lack of statutory support in Britain. Many schools are not within reach of a peace education training provider, and without bursaries would struggle to pay for necessary support. In addition to calling for a clearer mandate and investment in peace education, the report recommends more guidance in terms of relationships with external organisations.
External voices can enrich education and can build empathy and insight, but there are blind spots where some inherently political questions are depoliticised while others seem to be subject to a chilling effect. Schools have a longstanding duty to impartiality, but Quakers and our partners have watched government endorsed engagement of weapons manufacturers and the armed forces in school life with no acknowledgement that this raises political issues. Whereas questions of antiracism, LGBT inclusion or peacebuilding in Palestine & Israel are avoided for fear of controversy. The report therefore makes the following five recommendations:
- The governments of England, Scotland and Wales explicitly recognise a duty to educate for peace.
- Teacher training institutions supported to embed peace education as a dedicated study stream.
- Funding established to enhance school communities and develop existing training providers while seeding new ones.
- Research and evaluation into how schools can embed, sustain and evaluate peace education particularly restorative practices.
- External contact. Governments issue guidance on screening external contacts according to the educational value of their interventions and schools’ legal duty to safeguard students from exploitation.
‘Peace at the heart: A relational approach to education in British schools’ launched on 11 May 2022, find out more and view the peace education videos at: www.quaker.org.uk/ /peace-education-case
Cremin, H. and Bevington, T. (2017) Positive Peace in Schools: Tackling Conflict and Creating a Culture of Peace in the Classroom, London: Routledge.
Gee, D., Cartwright, I., Brooks, E. (2022) Peace at the heart: A relational approach to education in British schools (2022): https://www.quaker.org.uk/documents/peace-at-the-heart
Quaker Faith & Practice (2013) fifth edition, The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.
Zwart, D. (2019) Peace education: Making the case https://www.qcea.org/peace/peace-education-report/
Isabel (Izzy) Cartwright is the Peace Education Programme Manager at Quakers in Britain. Her passion for peace and justice comes from volunteering in play schemes in Northern Ireland, living on-board the Japanese Peace Boat, informal and community education and work in schools in East London. Find out more about Quaker Peace Education at www.quaker.org.uk/peace-education