Dementia and schools – not your obvious combination…

The launch of the Dementia UK cartoon clip to help children understand dementia got us thinking about the work we did a few years ago around the Intergenerational Schools Dementia Project. We thought we’d provide a quick recap of the project as the findings are just as relevant today as they were nearly six years ago – by the way, we can’t believe it was that long ago either!

Why do children need to know about dementia?

With a growing awareness of the challenges of dementia within our communities, there is a need to educate and prepare future generations to enable us to build stronger, more resilient communities and more understanding citizens of tomorrow. Schools are a key component within any community, but despite a full and comprehensive citizenship programme little attention has been given to exploring dementia within the curriculum.

So what happened to try and address this?

22 schools comprising primary schools, secondary schools and colleges were invites to participate in a pilot intergenerational schools dementia project funded through the Department of Health. Over 2,000 pupils were involved. They were keen to learn about the subject and recognised the importance of knowing more about dementia.

What did the pilot show?

The Association for Dementia Studies evaluated the pilot and identified a number of benefits, not just for the pupils involved but also for other groups within the schools and the local communities more widely.

A table showing the impact of the project on pupils who were directly involved
Impact on pupils directly involved
A table showing the impact of the project on wider groups of people
Impact on other groups

Several recommendations were drawn from the evaluation to help schools develop a dementia curriculum:

  • Allocate a lead teacher to oversee the dementia curriculum intervention. The lead teacher should have dedicated time to plan and deliver the project, and should be supported by fellow teachers and administrative staff wherever possible;
  • Ring-fence time for the project. Time allocated to the project should be ring-fenced to avoid competition from other subjects and events;
  • Make sure teachers involved in the project understand dementia. In order to confidently teach their pupils, the teachers themselves need sufficient knowledge and understanding of dementia;
  • Work with groups in the local community. Lead teachers should try to make links with key local community resources in their area;
  • Involve people with dementia and their carers. Wherever possible, pupils should be given the opportunity to meet people with dementia in order to reduce fear and stigma;
  • Encourage pupils to take ownership of the project. Allowing pupils to generate their own ideas and initiatives can help to embed deeper learning;
  • Ensure appropriate support is available. Pupils and staff may be affected by issues arising from the project, and the suitability of the environment should be considered when inviting people with dementia into a school.

Have you got any examples of what schools did?

All schools adopted different approaches to delivering the dementia curriculum based on knowledge of their own pupil population, creating age-appropriate interventions. The following case studies provide three very diverse examples of the types of approach adopted by the schools. These have been chosen to represent the differing amounts of time and workload involved, but also to serve as examples which may be easily adapted by schools seeking to address dementia within their education programme.

Many of the resources, ideas and activities undertaken by the schools during the project were captured as part of the evaluation and are freely available online for other teachers and schools to use. We also produced a short guide for teachers looking to include dementia in the curriculum.

Other resources you may find useful:

If you would like to learn more about the project, please contact Teresa Atkinson or Jennifer Bray.

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