How Jigsaw PSHE Helps Challenge Radicalisation and Extremism

by Joanna Feast, 23 January, 2019

How Jigsaw PSHE Helps Challenge Radicalisation and Extremism

In recent years, events on both the national and the international stage have given rise to concerns, widely expressed by politicians and in the media, about the threat posed to our national life by radicalisation and the promulgation of extremist – particularly violent extremist – beliefs and attitudes. Such beliefs and attitudes are seen as coming from both the right and the left of the political spectrum as well as arising from religious and cultural fault lines in our national and global communities.

Finding your own way amid diverse opinions

Finding your way amid diverse opinions

As an aid to recognising and challenging extremism in its various forms, the 2010 Coalition Government identified a core of ‘fundamental British values’, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. In the Preventstrand of the government’s overall counter-terrorism strategy, extremism is defined as vocal or active opposition to these fundamental values.

The Prevent strategy specifies the sectors and institutions that have a role to play in addressing the risks of radicalisation including, naturally enough, schools and education. The broad aim of the strategy is simply expressed as being ‘to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. In this context, the school’s role relates partly to its pastoral duty to care for and safeguard individual pupils. But more importantly, it relates to the way that students’ learning experience, through the curriculum and through the culture and ethos of the school, responds to what the strategy calls ‘the ideological challenge’ of terrorism and extremism. Here the expectations placed on schools under the Prevent strategy can be seen to converge with existing statutory duties: to teach a broad and balanced curriculum; to promote the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils; to prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life; to promote pupil wellbeing and community cohesion.

Schools will naturally look to their programmes of PSHE and Citizenship education to play a key role in meeting these demands. What, then, can Jigsaw offer to a school, as a scheme of work and as a whole-school philosophy, to take up the challenge posed by the threat of radicalisation? The answer lies essentially in the contribution Jigsaw makes towards ensuring that the curriculum and the learning environment that students experience lays down a grounding in which the ideological and emotional roots of extremist beliefs, attitudes and behaviours cannot flourish. This contribution emerges first and foremost through the overall character of the Jigsaw scheme and the learning styles it advocates, but also through many aspects of the specific content of the themes or ‘Puzzles’ that make up the programme.

Thus, for instance:

  • The whole Jigsaw philosophy is underpinned by the concept and philosophy of mindfulness. From the very start and throughout the programme, students are encouraged and helped to develop a capacity for observing their own thoughts and feelings within a context of ‘calming’ and reflectiveness. Mindfulness supports students in regulating their emotions and building emotional resilience and in choosing and managing their responses rather than being caught up in negative and unconsidered thought-flows. Students and staff members equipped with this capacity are far less vulnerable to the influence of the narrowly prescribed thinking and unexamined responses that characterise radicalised and extremist ideologies and attitudes.
  • Jigsaw relies on learning approaches which consistently emphasise enquiry, questioning, critical evaluation. It is significant that each lesson includes numerous Ask: questions, that direct the teacher to the open-ended questions that should stimulate the student’s curiosity and encourage reflection on the issues at hand. Working actively to arrive at an understanding and a standpoint that is personal to the individual student always takes precedence over the passive acceptance of prescribed ideas.
  • Every Jigsaw lesson plan is also explicitly located within the twin frameworks of, on the one hand, emotional literacy with its five domains, and on the other hand the interconnected realms of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development. Taken together, the attention to these frameworks demonstrates that Jigsaw espouses and promotes a breadth of vision and a level of personal awareness, insight and sensitivity that stand in clear opposition to extremist ideologies. Who would claim that Managing Feelings, Empathy, Social Skills – or for that matter broad sympathies in the spheres of spiritual, social and cultural life – could form part of the required toolkit for an extremist world view?
  • Teachers and students using the scheme are inducted into the ‘Jigsaw Approach’, encapsulated for every individual class in their own unique Jigsaw Charter. It is intended that each class will express this in their own way but the Approach, and the Jigsaw Charter that articulates it, has at its heart consideration and respect for others and their ideas, the value of learning with and from each other, acknowledging and accommodating a range of different views and perspectives. These open, creative and constructive values are the very antithesis of the closed and destructive standpoints associated with extremism.

Within the compass of these generic features of the Jigsaw programme, there is a multitude of ways in which the specific content and learning opportunities correlate closely with the core ‘British values’ and help to counteract any threat of radicalisation. Among instances too numerous to mention in full, perhaps the best examples by way of illustration may be found in the Puzzles (units of work) entitled Being Me in My World, Celebrating Difference and Relationships.

  • In Being Me in My World students encounter lessons on cultural diversity, influences, cultural norms and prejudice, faith and beliefs, and social groups. Behind the lesson titles we find specific learning outcomes that include: I can appreciate that identities are complex and can change over time; I can appreciate the similarities, differences and diversity of people’s identities; I understand that faith, families, communities and cultures influence identity and can start to identify the influences in my life; I can understand that there are differences between social groups and the influences that social groups can have on people’s choices.
  • The very inclusion in Jigsaw of a Puzzle with the title Celebrating Difference already speaks volumes about where the programme’s values lie. Here we find such lesson on the nine protected characteristics, social mobility, equality and equity, balance of power, and challenging prejudice and stereotype. Again, some examples of the intended learning outcomes are equally telling: I can appreciate other people’s opinions and views and know how to rationalise how I feel about them; I can challenge prejudice and discrimination assertively; I can challenge social injustice and inequality; I understand that there are similarities, differences and diversity among people and why this occurs.
  • The scope of the Relationships Puzzle embraces the successful and positive management of relationships across the interpersonal, social and community levels. Some of the flavour of the Puzzle can be seen in lessons on social groups, choices and consequences, brain function and extreme emotion, conflicts in relationships, and family changes.

This is no more than a scattering of examples but it should serve to illustrate that Jigsaw, both in its broad scope and philosophy and in its detailed and specific content, falls unequivocally in line with those principles outlined by the government as ‘British values’ and stands opposed to the radicalisation that is negative and destructive in nature. This is a learning programme that comprehensively addresses the understanding, the skills and the values that students need if they are to choose their own path in a world of diverse and contradictory influences and resist the manifestations of extremism that can only harm themselves and the social fabric around them.

By Graham Paton (Senior Jigsaw Consultant) 2015
Updated by Joanna Feast (Senior Jigsaw Consultant) 2019

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