Jigsaw and the Challenge of Radicalisation and Extremism

by Graham Paton, 11 May, 2015

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.

As an aid to recognising and challenging extremism in its various forms, the 2010 Coalition Government has 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 ‘Prevent’ strand 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 children’s 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 children 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 of mindfulness. From the very start and throughout the programme children are encouraged and helped to develop a capacity for observing their own thoughts and feelings within a context of ‘calming’ and reflectiveness. Mindfulness supports children 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. Children and adults 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 ‘Open My Mind’ is an element in every Jigsaw lesson, and in every lesson plan ‘Ask me this…’ directs the teacher to the open-ended questions that should stimulate the child’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 child 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 children 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 scheme 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 children encounter lessons with titles such as Getting to Know Each Other; Being a School Citizen; Rights, Responsibilities and Democracy; Being Me in Britain; Being a Global Citizen. Behind the lesson titles we find specific learning outcomes that include: I can listen to other people and contribute my own ideas; I understand why rules are needed and how they relate to rights and responsibilities; I understand that my actions affect myself and others – I care about other people’s feelings and try to empathise with them; I understand my rights and responsibilities as a British citizen; I can empathise with people in this country whose lives are different from my own.
  • 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 headings as: The Same As…/Different from…; Celebrating Difference and Still Being Friends; What Do I Do About Bullying?; Understanding Influences; Words That Harm; Different Cultures; Racism; Power Struggles; Celebrating Difference Across The World. Again some examples of the intended learning outcomes are equally telling: I understand that our differences make us all special and unique; I can explain why it is good to accept people for who they are; I know how to calm myself down and can use the ‘Solve it together’ technique; I understand that cultural differences sometimes cause conflict; I am aware of my attitude towards people from different races; I can enjoy the experience of a culture other than my own; I can explain ways in which difference can be a source of conflict and a cause for celebration.
  • 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 these learning outcomes: I understand my relationship with the members of my family and know why it is important to share and cooperate; I can demonstrate how to use the positive problem solving technique to resolve conflicts; I know how to negotiate in conflict situations to try to find a win-win solution; I understand how my needs and rights are shared by children around the world and can identify how our lives may be different; I can explain different points of view on an issue; I know how to stand up for myself and how to negotiate and compromise; I understand how to stay safe when using technology to communicate.

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 children 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 PSHE Consultant
May 2015

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