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By Paul Sandford, the ASM Plus director

In an article published on LinkedIn Pulse at the end of 2015 entitled “What Education We Need in 2016” the academic emphasis that one might typically see in a school curriculum was heavily criticised. Broadly speaking the writer of this article, Eric Sim, roundly criticised US schools (parallels can be drawn with UK schools) for what he saw as an undue emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of life skills. He then called for what some would describe as radical, and some would term necessary changes, to be made in the school curriculum. Mr Sim’s article is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 2015. Given the current health emergency during which children are being schooled from home, conceivably in difficult circumstances, I suspect that his article is even more relevant.
However, as compelling as many of Mr Sim’s suggestions are, there was in my view, one glaring omission from his list, namely the lack of any reference to the teaching of mediation/dispute resolution skills.
In a world where conflict and dispute abound, UK school students are taught in what is for the most part a resolutely academic environment. Not least because of government requirements, there has to be an underlying, core emphasis on English, maths and science and high standards must be maintained. However in an age where the issue of radicalisation of school students is very much on the agenda and there are fundamental concerns about inequality, racism, discipline, bullying and gang culture, conflict and dispute resolution are skills that should be both routinely used and routinely taught in schools but all too often are not. A number of charities and voluntary organisations endeavour to redress the balance but in practice they are both small and underfunded and are not in a position to effect the widespread changes that are required.

Looking back it is all too apparent that during the Northern Irish so-called “troubles” in the latter part of the 20th century, the failure of the authorities on all sides of the divide to introduce conflict resolution programmes into the vast majority of schools is perhaps one of the main reasons why (along with a number or urban areas in the rest of the UK) Northern Ireland continues to be a divided society.
If asked, UK head teachers would all undoubtedly affirm that they aspire to their schools enjoying harmonious environments and doing well. However, unless they desist from simply espousing such sentiments and start working with both central government and their local authorities so as to introduce mediation and dispute resolution into the school curriculum, in most instances these quite modest aspirations will not be achieved. In a short time, the gains that will be made from implementing our proposals will far outweigh the very modest adjustment costs that individual schools may incur in effecting some much needed curriculum changes.

As well as offering an education service, ASM Plus offers a low-cost domestic and neighbour dispute resolution and reconciliation service which in the context of the current emergency is very well focused to assist parents and others had who are having to cope with the rigours of providing home education. (https://www.asmadr.co.uk/domestic-and-neighbour-dispute-service/)

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