It’s been an emotional week across the nation as we commemorated the centenary of The Great War coming to an end, with Sheffield schools playing their part in paying respects to The Fallen.
Young people of all ages have had lessons and assemblies focused on the reasons the war started, the events that unfolded and the tragic cost to millions of families.
Although the poignant moment to mark the Armistice took place when schools were shut on Sunday, many schools held their own tribute by having a minute of silence and reflection in the week.
The decision whether to do this was ultimately down to the individual headteachers and I’m aware some decided not to hold a period of silence; I once worked in a school where the head refused to interrupt lessons to honour the soldiers in a move that was frowned upon by staff.
I’ve also been employed in a school where the headteacher thought it of huge importance and at the designated time staff would show a short video about the events of World War 1, the bell would ring, and all the school would stand in silence.
At the junior school my kids attend, there has been age appropriate learning about the role animals played in the war and how the symbol of the poppy grew in significance. Poppies have been made out of recycled material and books such as War Horse have been studied.
Schools have done a great job this week in helping to bring together the young people of the nation, informing them of the sacrifice made by many and the fruitless nature of the four year conflict that led to so much suffering.
It’s an important role of schools in the city to fulfil this Citizenship requirement and take steps to increase the level of tolerance our young people show in a bid to avoid conflicts in the future. These projects take place because of the dedication of teachers in the city to make a difference and keep their children up to date with events taking place in the world.
Many of the teachers used the anniversary of the war to establish a project, whether it involved creating a wall display, writing poetry or creating a small drama piece. For almost every single WW1 school project held in the last couple of weeks, the arts were hugely important.
Painting, empathising with those on the front line, learning to play period music and experimenting with their own war poetry; Sheffield children have explored many aspects of life between 1914 and 1918 by flexing their own creative muscles and getting stuck in to valuable curriculum time.
The fact that art played such an important role in the school commemorations this week is symbolic; many of the best historical records of the time come in the form of art work – think about the original film footage transformed so effectively by Peter Jackson in they Shall Not Grow Old, think about the poetry of Wilfred Owen, think about the sketches of soldiers on the front line.
Artistic media were important means to express the feelings of those involved in the war, and they have proved vital in commemorating the brave acts 100 years down the line. It has shown how crucial it is to give the arts a key place in a broad school curriculum.
A few years ago, I was involved in a secondary school visit to Belgium that visited World War 1 trenches, war cemeteries, battlefields and the town of Ypres. The children on that history trip learned so much about the conflict and had the horror of war brought home through attending ceremonies and educational talks.
There was silence as the enormity of the battles started to hit home, there were tears as the bugler played the Last Post at the Menin Gate.
Not all children are fortunate to be able to go on a school trip to Flanders Fields, but all should have the opportunity to join in national commemorations of important events, learn about events of the past and take part in creative projects to express their emotions.
Once again, our city’s schools have proved themselves to be at the centre of our communities in what has been an informative and reflective time.