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Global learning in practice: Shimna Integrated College

Location: The Lawnfield, King Street, Newcastle, BT33 0HD

Global Learning Lead Teacher: Suzanne Mawhirt

Join Date: May 2015


Date of case study Interview: March 2018

Key themes: Global learning in the curriculum, pupil participation, overseas volunteering, community connections

Embedding global learning in post-primary schools can pose something of challenge due to the large number of distinct departments, each responsible for their own specific subject area. Shimna Integrated College, however, has excelled at bringing global learning into its classrooms, despite having a big teaching team and a student population of almost 600.

The school began participating in the Global Learning Programme (GLP) in May 2015 and has already earned a Level 2 Global Learning Certificate, the highest level of certification currently available to schools through the programme. Staff and students at Shimna have shown a real commitment to global learning, with Geography teacher, Suzanne Mawhirt, acting as overall lead for global learning within the school.

Many elements of global learning were already taking place at the college before it decided to join the GLP, with certain extra-curricular activities and lessons providing students with opportunities to develop their global understanding. The GLP came about at the perfect time to allow the school to further consolidate this ongoing good practice. Suzanne was also keen to use GLP participation as an opportunity to bring fresh ideas and new learning activities into the school.

Assessing global awareness within the school

In leading global learning at Shimna, Suzanne is very proactive and tries to involve other staff as much as possible. When the GLP first launched in the school, she organised a short presentation for colleagues, explaining what the programme entailed. At the end of this session, staff were asked to fill out a short questionnaire on global awareness within the school. The idea behind this quick survey was to assess how well staff members understood global learning and the purpose of the GLP.

It was clear from the feedback that most of the teaching staff already had a good awareness of global learning and how it fitted within their subject. A small number, however, were not so confident in their knowledge or were struggling to see how global learning was specifically relevant to them. Identifying these individuals was very helpful to Suzanne because she was then able to offer them additional support to incorporate global learning into their teaching. For example, she showed some members of staff how they could add global learning opportunities to their schemes of work. She was also able to recommend subject-specific resources to colleagues.

Global learning in the curriculum

Global learning themes are now incorporated into many different subjects at Shimna, with teaching about the world taking place within classrooms daily. Fair trade is taught through several subjects, including Geography, English and Home Economics. Pupils taking Occupational Studies are given the opportunity to learn about conservation and sustainability. In History and in Religious & Integrated Studies, students develop their knowledge of human rights and their understanding of how these rights apply to themselves and others around the world. Global learning has even made its way into art class, with KS3 pupils taking part in the annual contest to design posters for inclusion in the latest edition of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council environmental calendar.

Last year, all maths classes from Years 8 to 14 completed Children in Crossfire’s 2017 Maths Challenge. This challenge gave students the opportunity to explore global conflict through numeracy, while also raising funds for a good cause by asking friends and family to support their participation with donations to Children in Crossfire. Everyone taking part in the challenge completed age-appropriate maths quizzes related to Children in Crossfire’s real-life work in conflict areas. These weren’t easy! But classes worked conscientiously and collaboratively to finish the questions. Students made use of many skills during the challenge, including problem solving, handling data, decision making and critical thinking, and as a result their mathematical confidence increased.

In future, Suzanne hopes to identify more active learning opportunities like the Maths Challenge, which can empower students and improve their understanding of how they can work towards achieving a fair and sustainable world for all.

Direct action

Shimna students are extremely motivated to take action on global issues and therefore make the most of any opportunities to do so. They play an active role in implementing both the Eco-Schools and Fairtrade Schools programmes within their school. The former involves students actively engaging with environmental issues, while the latter involves students advocating for the school community to embrace Fairtrade products.

Every Thursday, at break time, the college’s Amnesty group meets to discuss how to promote the importance of human rights throughout the rest of the school. Made up of students of all ages, this group is highly active and an established voice for social change within Shimna. Members regularly stage activities to bring attention to global human rights issues. The civil war in Syria and resulting refugee crisis has been a central focus for the group in recent months. For example, they increased awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees by setting up a stall within the school and offering students the chance to go on a virtual reality tour of the ruined Syrian capital, Aleppo.

Members have also taken part in Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign, sending messages of hope to individuals across the globe whose rights are being unfairly and unlawfully denied. They regularly stage powerful assemblies on human rights issues, promoting tolerance for others, moral courage and respect for human rights. At present, the group is working on a number of new campaigns for 2018.

Being involved in the Amnesty group is highly beneficial to students, providing them with an opportunity to meet with like-minded students, express their opinions and feelings, and develop their communication and campaigning skills. Through their activities, members improve their understanding not only of human rights, but also of justice, government policy and equality.

Overseas volunteering

Shimna has an ongoing partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In 2016, this resulted in a group of sixth form students travelling hundreds of miles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to help vulnerable communities build new homes and sanitation facilities. Before the trip, fundraising and awareness raising activities took place at a whole school level, with students taking part in assemblies and lessons about poverty, inequality and social justice. The main outcome from this was a deepened respect among students for the life and dignity of people locally and globally.

For the team of students who travelled to Addis Ababa, it was a life-changing experience. Their self-belief, optimism and determination shone through as they worked tirelessly with local families to build homes. The rest of the college was inspired by their hard work. This recently led to a new team being formed to travel to Delhi, India, with Habitat for Humanity in July 2018.

Community connections

Updates on Shimna’s global learning activities are regularly shared with parents via the college’s social media accounts and newsletter. In recent months, the college has started working alongside a local charity, Unit T, to keep the area in and around the school clean and tidy. Students, staff, parents and friends of the college have all volunteered for this project and it has proven an excellent way to promote concern for the local and global environment throughout the school community.

According to Suzanne, the next step for Shimna will likely be to reach out to neighbouring schools who are also participating in the Global Learning Programme so they can share practice and look for opportunities for collaboration.

Reaching the next milestone

In May 2018, Shimna will have completed three full years of participation in the GLP. So much has already been achieved by the college during this time thanks to the dedication demonstrated by both staff and students. In return, the increased focus on global learning within the school has garnered many benefits for the school community.

Firstly, Suzanne feels there is now a better understanding among staff and students of how global issues relate to each subject area. Students have greatly increased their knowledge of key global learning concepts, such as poverty, equality and social justice and fairness. Additionally, their critical thinking skills have been enhanced due to looking at global topics in a more in-depth and cross-curricular way.

Suzanne also believes that students are now more motivated to think about their role as global citizens and are better able to see the connections between Northern Ireland and the rest of the world. This in turn encourages them to think about how the actions we take in this country can impact on others around the world, and vice versa. Crucially, students are more aware of what they can personally do to make positive change happen.

All of this is extremely encouraging, not least because the ultimate aim of the GLP is to ensure learners leave school ready to contribute to developing a fair and sustainable world. It would be really wonderful, and not at all surprising, if some of the changemakers of the future emerge from Shimna.

“Our Ethos in Shimna is ‘learning from each other’ so being offered the chance to share best practice, resources and experience from like-minded people is excellent. The training days and twilight sessions provided by the GLP are a fantastic way to do this. The GLP offers a relaxed atmosphere to develop your knowledge and expertise about how we as teachers can encourage our students to be active global citizens.”

- Suzanne Mawhirt, Global Learning Lead Teacher, Shimna Integrated College

Resources to Support Classroom Practice and a Whole School Approach

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