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Kids for Lions Blog

Young Ambassadors for Lions

Tuesday 28th October 2014

We are extremely excited to announce the next part of our growing ‘Kids for Lions’ educational programme – The LionAid Young Ambassador Scheme!


Texas Pic


The primary goal of the LionAid Young Ambassador scheme is to acknowledge the hard work of young people in supporting the conservation of Lions. The Young Ambassador scheme seeks to develop young volunteers from ages of 5 up to 18 by providing them with the responsibility of being an Ambassador for such a well-established charity such as LionAid.


What is a Young Ambassador?


A Young Ambassador is someone who has a passion for lion conservation, and is keen to contribute towards the work that LionAid does. The role of a Young Ambassador might include responsibilities such as: attending LionAid events, public speaking about LionAid or lion conservation, organising LionAid fundraising events and contributing towards our ‘Kids for Lions’ blog.


LionAid’s New Young Ambassadors 

Jack Parkinson-Blackburn



Jack Parkinson-Blackburn has been a dedicated supporter of LionAid for a long time now, and as a Speedway Rider who competes all over the country, he carries the LionAid logo on his speedway motorcycle and race suit. We are delighted that Jack is a Young Ambassador for LionAid and we know that he will continue to help use raise much needed awareness for a long time to come.


Siena Greenwood



Siena Greenwood is a passionate lion advocate who has been campaigning for the rights of lions at her school and within her local community since she first heard about our work in February as we prepared for the Global March for Lions in London. Siena is already in the process of organising her very own LionAid fundraiser at an upcoming Christmas Fayre and we cannot wait to share some pictures of Siena and her fundraiser with you. We are so excited to have Siena as a Young Ambassador, and we know she will be an excellent advocate for the work that LionAid does, and for the plights facing lions.

We are looking forward to sharing with you more information about both Jack and Siena and their achievements as LionAid Young Ambassadors over the upcoming weeks and months.




At LionAid, we understand that education is a vital part of conserving endangered species such as lions, and we believe that our Young Ambassadors scheme will be yet another successful addition to our ‘Kids for Lions’ programme.

For more information on becoming a Young Ambassador or to nominate somebody, please contact LionAid at:

Add a comment | Posted by Matthew Payne at 13:08

Lion Picture

LionAid is proud to be an official partner of skype classroom and we currently offer three lessons which we deliver to schools around the world through skype classroom. We offer classes to children of all ages and beyond to university students.

This is a growing area of our work and we are always delighted to interact with children across the globe about the dangers facing lions and the need for conservation.

Our presentations always include a PowerPoint presentation followed by a generally lively question and answer session. It never ceases to amaze us the intelligence of these youngsters and the huge interest they have in the topics we present. It is always a privilege to “meet” these classes over skype and it often is the case we are asked to return to deliver a second lesson.

We end the lesson by discussing ways in which the class can help spread the word about the dangers facing lions and this is always met with great enthusiasm!

So today, we received a new video, prepared by a class of 10 and 11 year olds in a school just outside Dublin in Ireland. This wonderful class, who we met over skype last week, all agreed to support our “Draw Out The Lion In You” campaign and all the children have created their pictures of lions for us to display in Trafalgar Square next Spring.  Thank you guys and gals – we can’t wait to receive all the pictures through the post.

Click on the video here to see a selection of these exquisite pictures and we are delighted (with their permission) to share them with you today.thank you to Ms  Brennock's 5th Class at St. Molaga's School in Balbriggan.

If your school would like more information or would like to take part in one of our lessons over skype, please email us on for details.


Add a comment | Posted by Matthew Payne at 10:38

Lion Talk

Over a week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to a wonderful Grade 8 Science Class in Canada via Skype about Canned Hunting and how it is affecting wild lion populations. The class is led by an inspirational teacher called Joe Grabowski, who regularly uses Skype to educate his class about wildlife conservation and he has also written a series of excellent blogs about each of the talks his class has listened to. I strongly recommend you check out his blog here. It is so reassuring to know that there are individuals like Joe out there; teachers who are proactively educating the young people of today about the threats facing endangered species.

As one of my heroes, Gareth Patterson, once wrote, “Only when we see ourselves as part of the natural world, will we then see its destruction as self-destruction!” To me, this single quote sums up the importance of conservation education, and never before has conservation education been more prevalent than it is right now!

Lion Talk B


It is only my opinion, but we need to keep searching for innovative ways of engaging the attention of young people, such as Skype in the Classroom, and trying to inspire them to get more involved in helping to preserve the natural world around them. Gone are days in which we should educate young people through crosswords and word searches! The majority of young people within the educational system are now confidently exploring websites, watching YouTube videos, responding to podcasts and interacting with downloadable apps. This is the reality of education in our ever-changing, modern world and these are the tools which we should be harnessing in order to educate young people about wildlife conservation.


Historically it appears that we have relied on Zoos to educate young people about the conservation of wild animals. However, relying on zoos as a form of education is becoming increasingly controversial and in particular, a recently published paper in the academic journal, Conservation Biology, found that, of over 2,800 children surveyed following visits to London Zoo, the majority demonstrated no positive learning outcomes at all. Indeed, many children were deemed to show not just a lack of learning, but a negative learning outcome. You can read more about this paper in an news article put together by the Captive Animals' Protection Society here. Whether or not Zoos provide effective conservation education is beyond the scope of this blog, and an in-depth comparative study between Zoos and other means of education needs to be carried out, but it does raise the important point that we should not be relying solely on these establishments to educate the young people of today about wildlife conservation

Like I said in a previous blog, LionAid is proud to be an official partner with Skype! Through this partnership, we are dedicated to educating young people, from all around the world, about the threats facing lions. Skype in the Classroom is an effective and innovative way of getting experts to talk to young people about wildlife conservation. My own personal favourite conservational educational resource is Sharks 4 Kids, a website run by Jillian Morris! Her wonderful site not only provides innovative and engaging resources, but it also allows teachers to arrange for Jillian to give talks on shark conservation, either in person or through Skype. This is all without an animal having to be kept in a cage or aquarium! If you have a child, please encourage their school to organise a Skype talk with Jillian – and with LionAid as well!

Talk 3


Like I said before, conservation education has never been more pertinent than it is right now! The young people of today have a voice, and isn’t it our responsibility to provide them with the means so people can hear it? Through education, we might just be able to provide them with such opportunities, and perhaps inspire one or two future conservationists along the way! I thought it would be nice to end this blog with a few comments which I had received from my recent talk with Joe Grabowski’s Grade 8 class in Canada. You can read a blog about my talk with Joe's class here. As you read the comments, I hope you too will feel the same relief and excitement as I did when I first read them, that the young people of today really do care about the natural world, as long as we give them the opportunity to do so.


“Thank you so much for bringing what's happening to lions to our attention! It was very surprising to hear, and I hope one day it will be illegal.”



“Thank you so much for skyping us! I learned so many new things about lions I’ve never knew before and it's really surprising that people would actually pay that much to shoot a lion and real sad. Hopefully one day this ends and I’ll do my part to help out.”



“Thank you so much for skyping with us Matthew. It was very sad to learn about what a problem is facing lions. I am very glad however, to know that we have people trying to put a stop to it”



“This one was so sad but it was so educational - I loved it.”


Source: Jensen, E., 2014, Evaluating Children’s Conservation Biology Learning at the Zoo, Conservation Biology, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1004-1011

Add a comment | Posted by Matthew Payne at 17:27

Spreading the Message Far and Wide!

Saturday 2nd August 2014



The education of young people is an integral part of the work that effective conservation charities such as LionAid do in order to try and raise awareness. Without such education, charities can often lose some of their ability to change the perceptions and actions of people at an early age, whilst also missing out on the opportunity to inspire a future generation of possible conservationists.

At LionAid, we are committed to educating the young people of today about the work we do and the threats facing both wild and captive lions. Whilst we have already carried out several successful educational projects within the United Kingdom, we did not just want to stop there! In fact, we had greater ambitions! Ambitions to reach out to as many young people as possible from all around the world and spread the message that lions are in danger and we need your help! How could we possibly do this I hear you cry? Through an innovative website called Skype in the Classroom.

Skype in the Classroom

Skype in the Classroom allows organisations and individuals to link up with schools from anywhere in the world to give talks on important subject matters, such as lion conservation. Back in April of this year, we created our first lessons entitled ‘The Catastrophic Decline of the African Lion’ and ‘What is canned hunting and how is it threatening wild lion populations?’

Skype BSince then, LionAid have been made official partners with Skype, our lessons have been given Skype in the Classroom’s official ‘Lesson of the Day’ and ‘Editor’s Choice’ award and our lesson pages have been viewed over 10,000 times. Most importantly, we have been thrilled to talk to hundreds of children at schools from all around the world, in countries such as the United States of America, Singapore, Ireland, Canada and Australia.

We have loved looking at some of the fantastic artwork which some of the classes have created subsequent to our Skype talks, which you can view an example of here, as well as reading some of the blogs written about our talks, such as one put together by an 8th Grade Canadian teacher called Joe Grabowski which you can read here.

At LionAid, we believe that this is only the start of this exciting initiative and we look forward to announcing more lessons whilst also linking up with even more schools to educate as many young people as we can about lion conservation, and hopefully inspire one or two future lion conservationists as well!

Skype C

If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you 

Add a comment | Posted by Matthew Payne at 16:17

Bert and Alfie's blog.

Tuesday 8th July 2014

Bert and Alfie

Bert (left) and Alfie

"Over half term we were able to raise money for lions. We decided the best possible way to raise cash was to sell loom band bracelets. We sold them for 50p. Altogether we constructed 76 bracelets. We raised a total of £60 from the sale of the bracelets together with our pocket money savings. We raised the money at a stall on Willow Tree Road. We got a write up in the Messenger newspaper.



Note from LionAid:

Bert and Alfie are pupils at Navigation Primary School in Altrincham near Manchester. 

Well done boys! We are proud of you!

We are absolutely thrilled that you have worked so hard to raise some money for us to help save the lions in Africa.You have set a great example to people who are a lot older than you and you should be very proud of your achievement.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:47


THE picture

 We're on their side!


On the 14th April, we were delighted to meet a wonderful group of 6 and 7 year old students in First Grade class at Thomas Haley Elementary School in Irving, Texas.

Using the powerful resource of Skype Classroom, we were able to connect with these children across the internet and give them a presentation on “The Catastrophic Decline of the African Lion”.

Mustofa pictureFollowing a PowerPoint Presentation, where we took them through all the major causes of decline in one of our most iconic and well-loved species, we engaged in a lively question and answer session with the students. Some of these 21 students had already worked on a project based learning activity about lions prior to the skype lesson where they had asked questions and then researched the answers in books and on the internet. As they still had unanswered questions, they were thrilled to take part in our lesson and in fact, all 21 students asked many good questions.
These young students were keen to spread the awareness of the heart-breaking declines in lions and the reasons for this dramatic fall in their populations. We would like to share with you now the pictures they have drawn to illustrate the things they have learned.Picture from Treyce


Click here to see the gallery of truly wonderful pictures from the First Grade class at Thomas Haley Elementary School.




If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 11:06

The Young Pretenders

Friday 14th June 2013

The Young Pretenders


On May 21st 2013, the Duke of Cambridge, the Royal Patron of the conservation charity Tusk Trust, gave a speech at the End Wildlife Crime Conference, where he clearly highlighted the importance of educating future generations about the conservation of wild animals, and in particular, the illegal trade in animal parts.  


To quote the Duke directly, from his speech, wants to find ways in which his own foundation can “engage young people from all around the world…to help shape public opinion and to educate people about animal parts which are traded illegally.”  The Duke carried on, stating that “now is the time for young people, who believe passionately in protecting these species to speak out before it is too late,” and, “I hope that I might find a way of helping these young people to find their voice and to have a chance to educate others.”


I would first of all like to applaud the Duke of Cambridge for highlighting the vital role education could play within the United Kingdom in not only raising awareness of the dire threats facing animals such as the lion, but also the fact the Duke mentioned the importance of giving children their own voice!  I particularly applaud the Duke because he shares the same ambitions as I do, and this what I am trying to achieve through So What? and the running of after schools clubs within primary schools.  During So What? clubs, young people have been investigated and been given their own voice on topics such as canned hunting, the global illegal pet trade, overfishing, the Chinese traditional medicine market, the ivory trade, the illegal poaching of gorilla body parts, the shark fin trade, the trade in great white shark teeth, the bear bile industry, the drive in Taiji, Japan to supply the captive dolphin industry, the abuse suffered by killer whales in dolphinariums such as SeaWorld, the declining cheetah population in the Masai Mara,  the embarrassing badger cull and the over reaction of politicians and other officials with regards to urban fox populations and the threat they pose to people.  In the next academic year, along with the amazing support from charities such as LionAid, who give their precious time away from fundraising and campaigning to support us, So What? will continue to teach as many young people as we can about wildlife conservation.   


However, and this is a massive however, because you might have noticed that in the previous paragraph, I mentioned the role education could play in wildlife conservation within the United Kingdom, rather than will play.  This is because if the current government has its way (and I am under the impression it will get its way on this), children in primary schools throughout the United Kingdom, will not be given any statutory guidance to teach young people about wildlife conservation and the trade in illegal parts as the Duke of Cambridge and I want them to be.  In spite of the Duke of Cambridge’s plea, the only mention of wildlife conservation receives is through a single piece of non-statutory guidance recommending teachers to educate children about David Attenborough, Carl Linneaus and Jane Goodall.  Therefore, all of us concerned about this issue must cross our fingers tightly and hope that teachers around the United Kingdom will decide to use this piece of non-statutory guidance as a reason to teach their pupils about the conservation of wild animals.  As you can imagine, I am not overly hopeful about this!  If the current government gets its way, and the 2014 UK primary curriculum goes through its consultation period without any amendments (I am being told that it will), then our future generations will NOT be taught about the rhino horn trade, they will NOT be having their voices heard about the trade in lion bones to supply the ruthless demands of the Chinese traditional medicine market and they will NOT be able to debate with one another about whether it is right that politicians ignore the scientific consensus and public opinion and cull badgers.  


In light of this, I have sent letters earlier this week to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to Richard Benyon, the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, and to my local MP for Warrington, Mr David Mowat, highlighting my concerns regarding this matter.  I have also created an online petition asking Michael Gove to include statutory guidance on wildlife conservation within the UK 2014 primary curriculum, and within two weeks the petition has already received 504 signatures and counting. 


“Education of the next generation…is a crucial part of the solution,” the Duke of Cambridge stated during his speech – a worthy statement indeed which I am sure most conservation minded individuals would clearly support.  However, it must be stressed that in spite of the recommendations made by the Duke of Cambridge, and if the Secretary of State for Education and his team get their way, the education of wildlife conservation among young people is facing extinction, and with it, possibly “a crucial part of the solution.”  


For more information on the lack of wildlife conservation in the proposed 2014 UK primary curriculum, please see my last blog entitled, “A greenless primary curriculum” here


Matthew Payne

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:17

The proposal for a green-less curriculum

Saturday 30th March 2013

The proposal for a green-less curriculum

On the 20th of January 2011, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, confirmed that the current government will be reviewing the National Curriculum in England.  Just over two years have since passed, and the government recently published the “National Curriculum in England: Framework document for consultation,” which sets out, for the purpose of public consultation, a revised framework for the National Curriculum.  Following on from this document, the government intents to publish the final version of the National Curriculum this autumn, from which it will then become statutory in September 2014.  In this blog, I will review this proposed National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 to see how it promotes the education of conservation and environmental issues among school children.


Before I discuss this further, I want to take you back a few years ago when David Cameron was elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party.  In his first speech as the leader in 2005, David Cameron began to set his promise of environmental action by stating that: “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.” 


 A year later, in 2006, the Conservative Party then decided to change its former blue, torch baring logo to a new environmentally minded one, involving a green oak tree.  The decision was made due to the negative association with the Party’s previous leaders, and a desire to be seen as having the capacity to move on with a modern approach.  Further to this reason, the Conservative Party also wanted to be recognised for putting “environmental concerns” at the heart of their manifesto.  In the same year, David Cameron also travelled across the Arctic Ice in order to highlight his promise that environmental action was at the heart of the Conservative Party’s new image.  “Vote blue, go green” had even become their mantra. 

 The Party has left the mainstream of the British public cold...... 

Since then, as Ben Caldecott stated in his January 2013 article, entitled “The Tory party needs a vibrant green conservation movement,” the Conservative Party has been on something of an “environmental retreat.”  In fact, Caldecott goes on to state that the Conservative Party has become “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and that the Party has left “the mainstream of the British public cold.” 

 This statement is further supported by George Monbiot who, following the recent Conservative Party reshuffle in September 2012, stated that:

“So that’s it then.  The final shred of credibility of “the greenest government ever” has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter.  The appointment of Owen Paterson as environment secretary is a declaration of war on the environment, and another sign that the right of the party - fiercely opposed to anything that prevents business from doing as it wishes - has won.”


Taking this “retreat” into consideration, I was interested to see how the proposed 2014 National Curriculum promotes the education of preserving our environment and the conservation of wildlife in Key Stages 1 and 2.  In particular, I was keen to examine:

- Does the proposed 2014 National Curriculum allow children to research national and internationally based conservation and environmental issues?

- Does it enable children to discover how they themselves can assist in the conservation of endangered animals and in the preservation of our environment?

- Will it allow children to have their own voice heard on these issues, so they can become responsible, eco-minded citizens? 


Considering David Cameron’s pledge back in 2005 when he was elected the new leader of the Conservative Party (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), I was looking forward to seeing how the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, developed by Mr Cameron’s government, would help achieve such as worthy goal. However, taking into account the obvious “retreat” that the Conservative Party has gone on since David Cameron’s speech back in 2005, I had my reservations to say the least. 

 During the introductory pages of the proposed Curriculum, the initial signs are encouraging.  The proposed Curriculum states that it “promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.”  The proposed Curriculum then goes onto to state that it will provide pupils “with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens.” Considering the threats facing many of the world’s species and deterioration of our environment, such qualities and promotion amongst young people to be “educated citizens” is definitely required if we are going to “turn things around.”  


After this, I focused on the Science section within the proposed Curriculum.  In my opinion, Science in primary schools is an excellent opportunity for children to learn about the conservation of animals and the preservation of their environments.  This is also supported by the proposed 2014 National Curriculum itself, which states that “science has changed out lives and is vital to the world’s future prosperity.”  It is important to note that for each Year group (1 to 6), within each subject the proposed Curriculum lists different statutory programmes of studies, such as “All living things” and “Reversible changes.”  Within each programme of studies are a few statutory teaching points.  Each programme of study is also accompanied by further non statutory notes and guidance which act simply as a series of recommendations.


 At first, in addition to specific sections in the proposed Science Curriculum on “Plants” and “Animals, including humans,” the most encouraging factor is the non statutory notes and guidance recommending that pupils should visit their local environments throughout the academic year in order to study different habitats and animals.  Sceptics will state that not all primary schools are fortunate enough to have a green space close to them, or have the funds spare to afford travel to one, but the proposed Curriculum’s intentions are worthy and I was happy to see that they have made such recommendations.  Furthermore, there is a statutory programme of study for the teaching of animals through “All living things” and “Animals, including humans,” what they require to survive, to reproduce and to grow, as well as non statutory recommendations where children are taught how to care for animals and how to safety place them back into their original habitats. 


Why is there only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment?

As I worked my way through the proposed Curriculum for Science, from Year 1 all the way up to Year 6, it was not until I reached Year 4 that environmental change got its first, and sadly, only mention in this document.  In the statutory programme of study for “All living things”, the proposed Curriculum for Year 4 states that pupils should be taught to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats.”  In the notes and guidance that accompanies this particular programme of study; it states that, “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.” A worthy specification - but that is it.  From Year 1 to 6, that one single teaching point programme of study, along with a single piece of notes and guidance, is the only mention that environmental issues receive in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2.  Once again, considering both David Cameron’ statement back in 2005, (“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought”), and the comments during the initial pages within actual proposed 2014 National Curriculum itself (the framework provides children with “an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens”), it is baffling as to why there is only a single vague teaching point within a statutory programme of study focused on the changes within an environment, and a single accompanying non-statutory piece of guidance relating to the environmental education issues within in the entire proposed National Curriculum. 

 To put it into perspective, in Year 3, the statutory programme of study “Rocks” alone lists 3 teaching points and 4 sentences of guidance and notes.  Whilst I am not saying in anyway that the studying of rocks in not important, I just wanted to highlight how little coverage the education of preserving our environments gets and, in my opinion, such an important subject deserves to be covered far more than it is being proposed to be. 


With regards to the conservation of animals, the situation is bleaker. 

 From Year 1 to 6, there is no direct mention of the conservation of animals within the proposed National Curriculum at all, either within any of the statutory programme of studies or in the non statutory notes or guidance section.  One area of hope is in the non statutory notes and guidance for “All living things,” where it is recommended that pupils be taught about inspirational naturalists and animal behaviourists.  Those recommended are Carl Linnaeus, Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.  I hope that through these noteworthy individuals, particularly Jane Goodall and David Attenborough that schools and teachers will be able to educate their pupils about the importance of conserving our planet’s animals and the environments that they rely on.  However, I must point out again that there are no statutory requirements for schools to teach their children about the conservation of animals.   


Whilst the focus of this blog entry is on Key Stage 1 and 2, I feel it necessary, due to the lack of coverage within the proposed National Curriculum of both the preservation of our environment and the conservation of animals, that in the Key Stage 3 proposal, it states that pupils should be taught about the “efficacy of recycling,” and “the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on the climate.”  Both are worthy teaching points, but why are they not taught from an earlier age and on a more regular basis throughout primary education? 


I found no mention of the preservation of our environment...

After being disappointed with the Science section of the proposed National Curriculum, I moved onto the Geography one, hoping to find programmes of study containing teaching points which might relate to the preservation of our environment.  After checking through it three times, I found no mention of the preservation of our environment and how people are impacting upon its decline in any of the statutory programmes of study or in the non statutory notes and guidance.


"The preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an afterthought.”

So that is it.  The future National Curriculum, which will become statutory in 2014, proposes that only once in their entire primary education, in Year 4, should children learn to “recognise that environments are constantly changing and that this can sometimes pose dangers to specific habitats,” and recommends that these Year 4 “pupils should explore examples of human impact (both positive and negative) on environments such as the effect of population and development, litter or deforestation.” 

 In addition to this, the only way the conservation of animals is mentioned is through the non statutory recommendation that children could learn about respected naturalists and animal behaviourists such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.  Whether you believe this to be sufficient or not, I think it noteworthy to reflect upon on David Cameron’s promise back in 2005 once again - “I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.”  I personally find it difficult to understand why David Cameron is happy for his Secretary of State for Education to develop a proposed Curriculum where the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals is simply an “afterthought.”


Not all is lost though. 

 The proposed National Curriculum does state that “there is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications.” 

Whilst there are some schools which may be more flexible in how they manage their timetables, I know there will be some teachers who will find such a comment laughable, considering how difficult it is to manage the restrictions of a school timetable.  In my opinion, if we are going to educate our young people how to preserve the environment and how to conserve our wildlife, we are going to have to do it ourselves and without the support of the government. 


Further to this, it is also important to note that academies, which are publicly funded schools, have a significant degree of autonomy to deviate from the proposed National Curriculum, and therefore, in theory, may be more willing to include more environmental and animal conservation based work into their curriculum.

  It may be that groups promoting the environmental and conservation education, such as So What?, YPTE and Roots and Shoots, target these schools more specifically than state funded schools.  However, I cannot help but feel sad that I am having to propose such a strategic plan in order to educate how children about how they should preserve the environment which they rely on, and the conserve endangered animals such as the lion, whose numbers have dwindled to a lowly 15,000.


One way in which So What? aims to overcome the lack of statutory coverage within the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, is to encourage teachers to use our resources within after school clubs, and not within the curriculum as many other conservation education providers do.  Whilst So What?’s resources can be used in curriculum time, I believe that teachers might be more willing to take advantage of our free, downloadable resources if they feel like they are not having to comprise curriculum time within their school calendar.    


 "I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals "

For me, the main frustration behind the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, is that as the leader of my own So What? after school, and as a working primary school teacher, I know that many children actually want to learn more about how to preserve the environment and how to conserve threatened animals. 

 For example:

  •  During a recent school project run collaboratively by So What? and Shark Aid UK, the children at the primary school where I work were horrified to discover the threats facing wild sharks and they even asked to do an extra unit of work in order to write letters to restaurants in their community, pleading with the owners to stop serving shark fin soup.
  • During my own So What? club at Navigation Primary School, in Manchester, the children were appalled to discover the threats facing wild lions, and the fate of many lions after they have been used as constant petting objects by naïve or misinformed tourists. 


 In my opinion, the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose more statutory programmes of study relating to the preservation of the environment and the conservation of endangered of animals.  These programmes of study should also be taught at least once in Key Stage 1, and at very least twice in Key Stage (possibly in Year 4 and 6).  However, I believe for it to be effective, they should be taught from Year 4 onwards in Key Stage 2.  In addition to the statutory programme of study, I believe that the future 2014 National Curriculum should propose that pupils learn about topical issues, such as the impact of the palm oil trade, the shark fin trade, the trophy hunting industry and the impact of the Chinese Traditional Medicine Market.  


 In addition to this, they should be able to investigate controversial issues in Upper Key Stage 2, such as why do the WWF support the hunting of polar bears yet run adverts encouraging the public to adopt one?  Why are dolphins captured in brutal circumstances to supply the “swim with dolphin” trade?  Should the United States of America and Gabon stop capturing wild chimpanzees and other wild primates for scientific research? 


Further to this point, a recent article published by the Imperial College London claimed that as a result of education, children can directly influence the attitude and behaviour of their parents towards the preservation of the environment and the conservation of animals.  This article provided quantitative support for the concept that environmental education, of which there is little in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, can be transferred between generations and that is can also influence behaviour. 

The study was carried out on Mahe Island in the Seychelles, where environmental education has a strong history and where wildlife clubs are brought into the school system to educate children about the importance of preserving the environment and the conservation of animals.  

"The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education"

 In the Imperial College of London’s study, questionnaires were issued to all pupils and their parents based upon the local wildlife, habitats and the threats they both face.  The results illustrated that a child’s participation in environmental and animal conservation education not only increased their parent’s knowledge, but also their behaviour.  The parents were more inclined to preserve local environments if their child participated in environmental education.  Peter Damerell of the Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences, stated that, “school children in the Seychelles are fortunate enough to have a curriculum that emphasises the teaching of environmental concepts across a broad range of subjects.”  In addition to this, Peter goes on to state that in addition to the curriculum, “NGO supported wildlife clubs are present within all education institutions and represent an opportunity to undertake detailed and interactive activities.” 

In other word, by omitting environmental and wildlife conservation education in the proposed 2014 National Curriculum, the government are not only missing an opportunity to impact upon children, but possibly their parents too.


“I want my children, your children, to grow up in a country where…climate change and the environment aren’t an afterthought.”   I wonder what David Cameron would have thought of the proposed 2014 National Curriculum if he were to have read it back in 2005.  Such a thought is now irrelevant, but if the Secretary of State for Education’s proposed 2014 National Curriculum is finalised with no amendments as a result of the consultation period (I am pretty sure that there will be none), then we are, in my opinion, at risk of developing a country where people are “fixated on a narrow interpretation of what it means to be human, where economic self-interest trumps all,” and where climate change and the environment are an “afterthought.”


 I truly hope environmental educationists use such a possibility as an impetus to get into schools and teach children about the conservation and environmental issues, as it appears that we won’t be able to rely on the government to help us do this any time soon.


Matthew Payne
So What? Founder



Picture credit:

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 14:26

So What? Lion club at Navigation Primary School - Session 3

Learning more about lion conservation


After a week off due to the half term break, which provided a well earned break for myself and the children, the So What? Lion club at Navigation Primary School continued again on Monday 25th February. 


For this session, the children and I were lucky enough to have a guest speaker come and give a presentation to us.  The speaker in question was William Altoft, who has previously volunteered for the lion conservation charity ALERT on 3 separate occasions.  William had contacted me just after Christmas, asking if he could help out with So What?  After meeting William and learning more about his experiences with lions, I jumped at the opportunity for him to come into Navigation Primary School and talk to the children about the rewards and challenges when trying to preserve wild animals such as the lion. 


The children thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by William and they all learnt a significant amount about lions and the other animals they live alongside.  In addition to this, the children benefitted from William’s experience at ALERT, and in particular they enjoyed learning about the different stages in their release plan.  Furthermore, William also talked to the children about other conservation work carried out by LionAid and the Lion Guardians. 


Overall, it was excellent presentation by William which I know the children will have gained so much from.  In particular, it was great for the children to hear first hand about a conservation programme involving the lion, something which without the generosity of William’s time, they would otherwise never have been exposed to.  This is definitely something I am going to try and recreate in future So What? clubs, even if it means encouraging people working within the local community coming in to talk to the children about the conservation of species different to the one they are currently learning about.  In my opinion, it is vital that children learn first hand what it is like to try and conserve a species and various approaches which charities take in order to do so.


I would like to take the opportunity to thank William Altoft for giving up his time to come and talk to the children, and I look forward to working with him again in the future. 


Click here to see photographs taken at this Session


Matthew Payne
So What? Founder

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 20:41

So What? Lion club, Navigation Primary School, Manchester - Getting creative!

Last November, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, released his plans to reform the national curriculum.  Upon the announcement, some individuals observed that it marked a significant shift to a more “formal curriculum,” and others simply asked “where’s the creativity?”  In a short, yet interesting article, Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian Newspaper asked the very same question.  In his article, entitled “Michael Gove’s national curriculum reforms: where’s the creativity?”, Mr Kingsley puts forward an interesting case study from the “unconventional” Lumiar schools in Brazil, where teachers design lessons based upon what the children want to learn.  As a result, the children can often end up proposing rather unusual topics, but the founder of these Lumiar schools, Ricardo Semier, states that through his schools, “we are trying to prove that by giving kids freedom, they will in the end be better educated.”    


Years prior to Mr Gove’s recent announcement, the previous government released the “Excellence and Enjoyment” publication which encouraged schools to “take ownership” of their own curriculum, and be “creative” and “innovative” in how they teach.  This was believed to be the first indicator of a move towards a much heralded “creative curriculum.”  The idea of a “creative curriculum” is by no means a brand new start to primary education, and many of the elements of a “creative curriculum” have been, and still are, practised by many primary schools, and by the teachers who work within them.  In fact, I am sure that if you were to ask any teachers that you may know, most of them would tell you that young people need to be taught in a “creative” way in order to capture their attention, as well as develop their learning. 


The “creative curriculum” is not designed to be impulsive, but rather reactive.  Further to this, the “creative curriculum” discourages teachers from following their lesson plans religiously, but rather, provides them with the freedom to respond to pupils’ interests within a topic and even to current events that may positively impact upon their learning.  In other words, if it is snowing outside, why not get the children to write poems about snow, rather than teaching them about the features of a report purely because you had initially planned to?  There are, as you have already probably gathered, many similarities between the ideas promoted through the “creative curriculum,” and those installed by Ricardo Semier in his Brazilian schools.   


As a teacher, I try my upmost to be reactive to the interests of all my pupils.  In fact, if the opportunity ever arises, I always try to teach them about current events which I feel could help develop their learning.  This philosophy is not just restricted to my role as a primary school class teacher; and I always try to do the same as the leader of my So What? after school club.  As you may be aware from this blog already, I am currently running a So What? after school club at Navigation Primary School, Manchester, based upon the lion.  As the pupils who have attended my previous clubs have already found out, I do occasionally move away from the So What? teaching packs for just a single session, and present a current event to them which I feel would allow the pupils to learn more about wildlife conservation.  Further to this, I am also keen to teach the pupils about any current events which I believe to be relevant to their lives and to their local communities.  By doing this, the children are then able to relate such events that they have learnt in other contexts as well, for example, to the relationship between cattle ranchers and jaguars in the Pantanal, Brazil.  Finally, I am passionate about letting children have their voice heard about either global or local conservation issues or debates, as I firmly believe that they can often provide a non-politically motivated opinion when it is often required.  For example, the impact children worldwide had on the eventual release of Keiko, the captive orca who starred as the leading role in the movie “Free Willy,” illustrated the influence young voices can have when they show the rest of the world how much they care about a particular conservation issue. 


As you may have already guessed, I recently decided to present a current event to the pupils of my So What? after school at Navigation Primary School.  In fact, my club is now in its fourth week and I had originally planned to deliver Session 3 from the So What? lion teaching pack as intended, and teach the pupils about the different habitats in which lions exist.  However, just after lunch time, in the hours leading up to my So What? after school club, two of the club attendees began to ask me several questions about foxes and the recent media coverage relating to the “attack” on a four week old baby.  The pair were extremely interested in the story and wanted to know more.  Consequently, I had a rare and rather unexpected “light bulb” moment.  I decided, in the spirit of “creativity,” that I would run a one-off session on the “issues” raised recently in the media concerning urban foxes, and get the children to put their own opinions forward about whether they should be culled or not to reduce the likelihood of another “attack” occurring.  I felt that this session would also be an ideal way of providing my pupils with an example of the complex relationship that people and wildlife sometimes have.  In addition to this, I believed that the pupils could use this case study again in the after school club when looking at the relationship between lions and people, and the pupils could also give their opinion on an issue which might be affecting their own local community.


To introduce the activity, the group of pupils looked at a series of media articles and reports regarding the recent “fox attack,” and listened to the points of view for and against any form of population control.  The children particularly enjoyed Chris Packham’s interview on BBC Breakfast earlier that day.  However, during the entire session, at no point did I share my own opinion regarding the debate.  I did this so not to influence the outcome of the pupils’ work in any way as I wanted them to give their honest opinion on the issue.  After looking at the various sources of information, the group had a brief discussion about the “pros” and “cons” of controlling the numbers of urban foxes via culling, as well as sharing their ideas for any possible solutions to the so called “problem” of urban foxes.  For their independent activity, the children were told to present their conclusion to the “problem” of urban foxes in any way they wished.  Interestingly, all of the children decided to present their conclusion as a persuasive poster.  You can see examples of the posters here.  I must also point out that all of the children who attend my So What? club are already animal lovers, and as you can imagine, they rather predictably sided with the fox.  However, this does not mean that they did not understand the frustrations of people affected by foxes in any way, or did not sympathise with the pain caused from fox “attacks.”  However, they agreed with the arguments put forward by individuals such as Chris Packham, and felt that there were more appropriate ways of controlling the population of urban foxes than resorting to a cull.    


Interestingly enough, a particular boy suggested an idea which I found to be rather innovative!  The young boy devised a plan where young volunteers (aged 16+ and interested in wildlife), would lead their own local “Fox Watch” groups in order to prevent any further urban fox “attacks” from occurring.  The young boy’s plan was for a “Fox Watch” group to inspect the storage of rubbish in urban areas where foxes are reportedly living in large numbers, and make recommendations to local people on how they can store their rubbish so not to attract foxes.  Further to this, the young boy suggested that a “Fox Watch” group could also carry out regular litter picking sessions so to reduce the chances of foxes feeding from any discarded scraps of food.  In addition to this responsibility, the young boy also suggested that when a fox was spotted in an urban area, the “Fox Watch” group could patrol the neighbourhood and ensure that all houses and other buildings are secure, and make recommendations to local people how to keep their houses “fox proof.”  The Fox Watch group could also monitor the movement of the fox/es and learn from its behaviour at the same time.  Whilst the idea is obviously basic, I was impressed by the young boy’s willingness to develop a realistic plan in order to manage the considerations of both people and the wildlife they live alongside.   


Even though I would love to have taught the session I had initially planned from the So What? lion teaching pack, I firmly believe that when a wildlife related current event occurs, such as the one regarding urban foxes, teachers or volunteers running a So What? club should take a risk and be “creative.”  Often, it is during these unplanned sessions that children can often develop new and innovative strategies, produce work of the highest calibre, and see things from a point of view which they had never considered before.  I firmly believe that no matter what you have previously planned to do, it is always worth the risk to be “creative” and react to current events.    As Ricardo Semier of Brazil stated, “by giving kids freedom, they will in the end be better educated.”  If we, as educators of wildlife conservation, give kids more freedom and be reactive to current events, particularly those relevant the young people’s local community, they will be better educated.  In the end, the animals which we care so much for and work so tirelessly to protect, will only benefit from this in the long-run.


Matthew Payne
So What? 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:40