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School Blog

Never too young to tackle the news

Safer internet Day took place on 7th February this year and one school is showing how even the youngest children can become discerning consumers of the news.

Educating young people is at the heart of schools and it is important that each generation is better informed than the last. Children need to be prepared for adulthood and learn to make decisions based on what they know and able to judge the likely veracity of new information they receive.

Over the last two years the public could be forgiven for finding it hard to sort the truth from the lies and propaganda. Instead of creating publicity, many PR companies are now responsible for keeping unwelcome disclosures under wraps and using evasion and diversionary tactics to stop readers and viewers from uncovering the real story.

News, gossip and speculation vie for column inches and ‘Likes’ and even a tweet can carry the same weight as newspaper leads. We think we know when we are being manipulated but we may be deceiving ourselves. Ofcom’s report Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report published in 2022 reveals that naivety and gullibility can be found in older readers as well as children. They found that:

  • There was often a gap between people’s confidence in being able to recognise advertising, identify a scam message or judge the veracity of online content, and their ability to do this when shown examples.
  • A third of internet users were unaware of the potential for inaccurate or biased information online.
  • 6% of internet users believed that all the information they find online is truthful
  • 30% of internet users don’t know – or don’t think about – whether the information they find is truthful or not.

Other reports show that truth and accuracy are not especially important factors when it comes to sharing stories. In some cases, the more bizarre and unlikely, the more popular stories are and the higher they rise up the ratings. As search engines pick them up and promote them more widely, they really do become, ‘lies like truth’.

Bringing the news into the classroom

Despite the hazards, there are many good arguments for including news stories in the curriculum:

  • Topicality – Children can learn how events in other parts of the world can have an impact on our day-to-day lives.
  • An international perspective – Pupils can learn about what is happening in other countries. Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe yet few children knew much about it before the current war.
  • Understanding the grown up world – Children will see and hear news stories but do not always get the chance to discuss or process them. Indeed, the news is great source of anxiety for many children and the chance to talk about the latest ‘big story’ in a calm and structured way with teachers and other children can allay some of their worries.
  • Motivating boys – A significant number of children are not turned on by stories; they want to know things and have access to facts and a deep dive into particular subjects. Current affairs tells them about the world as it is, instead of a fictionalised story book version.
  • Teaching the news benefits the whole curriculum and particularly the core subjects. In literacy for example, it supports factual writing, helping the children to express an argument from both sides. It’s also a great comprehension tool, and teachers can use a written news report or transcript as source material.

The Mulberry House School is a pre-prep school for children aged two to seven in West Hampstead. Its motto is ‘ Born Curious, Live Curious, Stay Curious’. Recently they were recognised as a UNICEF Rights Respecting School, due in part to their commitment to children’s right to learn about the world around them. They believe that the key is to get the right resources at the right level for young children. They have been using Discovery Education Espresso, a digital daily and weekly news service produced in partnership with ITN Productions.

Erika Billmore is Senior Teacher for the Arts and Innovation at The Mulberry House School and is part of the senior leadership team. She says: ‘Often we begin with a class discussion during circle time. Learning about the news ignites their curiosity and encourages independent learning, which is great to see. We’ll ask the children what they have seen or heard about this week and watch a video bulletin to find out more.

‘The Espresso News Bites area is one of our favourite resources. It’s used very widely throughout the school and is popular because of the child-friendly content and interface. The video bulletins are short, easily digestible and age appropriate. There are also lots of offline activities and links to different areas of the curriculum. As is important to give our pupils access to a range of different sources, we also watch CBBC Newsround and read First News, the children’s newspaper, for balance.’

At The Mulberry House School they sometimes watch the news together on the whiteboard, but the pupils also access content individually on a variety of devices. They encourage pupils to do their own research online, using a safe platform like Espresso to answer their bigger questions.

Dealing with controversies and fake news

As in many schools the school community is very diverse at The Mulberry House School, and the news helps them to promote a global perspective. However, some topics have the potential to cause conflict, perhaps over religious differences or reports of atrocities. This can make schools shy away from some of the more challenging stories.

‘Sometimes the children have questions about the news that can’t easily be answered through their own research,’ said Erika, ‘particularly if we’re learning about a complex or sensitive issue, such as conflict in Ukraine. When this happens, we encourage pupils to write their questions down, and post them on our ‘Wall of Wonder’ in the classroom. On ‘Discovery Friday’ we return to the questions and take time as a group to talk things out. For us, this has proved to be an incredibly effective way to provide a safe space to discuss the news. It also widens pupils’ awareness of what’s going on in the world and prepares them to become global citizens.’

At The Mulberry House School, they regularly explore the issue of fake news especially with the Year 1 and 2 pupils: ‘We’ll begin a lesson by asking, “What have you heard in the news this week? Where did you hear it? Do you think the news is real? Why?” Espresso has some great resources to support this. There are videos which give children an insight into the world of news production. They can hear from real life reporters about how journalists fact-check and why we should all question where stories come from. Even at this young age, it’s important to help children build digital literacy skills, which help them to navigate the internet safely.’

From talk to action!

Many schools like the idea of using news resources on a regular basis but struggle to fit it into the curriculum. Erika explains how they do it at The Mulberry House School:

‘Having designated news teaching time works well for us, but we also dip into the news on an ad hoc basis. Espresso News makes it easy to do this, because the platform lets you search by topic as well as simply viewing the latest bulletins. So, if we’re teaching about a country in geography, for example, we can access a relevant news clip to support the lesson. The news can also be a fantastic springboard into other subjects. Our pupils love to use it for independent research, such as learning about other cultures and countries. When HM The Queen passed away earlier this year, they used news bulletins to learn about the history and geography of her reign.’

‘Espresso has a built in Quiz feature, which is a great way to check understanding, see how much the children remember and clear up any misconceptions. ‘It’s very popular with the pupils, so much so, that they’ll often continue the quiz at snack time! It’s lovely to hear them questioning one another, because it shows that they have really paid attention to what’s been covered.’

Sometimes, talk leads to action. Climate change has become a hot topic in the school. ‘COP26 was definitely one of the key news triggers in terms of sparking student interest in climate change. It was around that time that things really started to snowball. The children started to think about how we could all enact social change and make the world a better place and the impact of this was felt across the whole school. Everything the children were voicing began to filter down through their lessons.’

After watching news clips on Espresso, and inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Pupil Parliament launched a successful campaign to stop the use of single use plastics in school. As a result, everyone uses refillable water bottles and reusable containers in their lunchboxes. The pupils also took part in community litter picking down on Bermondsey Beach and even designed their own placards after learning about the COP26 climate summit. Since learning about climate change, many of the children want to put themselves forward for the role of Environment Minister!