In an article published in Linked-In Pulse at the end of 2015 entitled “What Education We Need in 2016” the academic emphasis typically seen 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 sees as an undue emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of life skills. He then calls for what some would describe as radical and some would describe as necessary changes, to be made in the school curriculum.

As relevant to 2019 as this article is and as compelling as many of these suggestions are, there was one glaring omission from Mr Sims’ 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 emphasis on subjects such as English and Maths 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 skills 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 all small and underfunded and sadly 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 of urban areas in the rest of the UK) Northern Ireland continues to be a divided society.

If asked, all UK head teachers would 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, 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.

One development that will undoubtedly be of interest to those who have a stake in the education process is the suggestion that in due course the UK government will create a non-sectarian, politically neutral Peace Ministry which will support and help to implement a conflict resolution programme in all UK primary and secondary schools and colleges. An enlightened move such as this will help to ensure that the concerns raised above are properly addressed. We have no doubt that in the long term, a significant amount of both economic and emotional well-being will be generated.