CITIZENSHIP lessons for secondary pupils will be compulsory from 2002 if the proposed new curriculum goes ahead.
In the interim, all schools will be expected to follow a broader programme of citizenship and personal, social and health education from September 2000.
Government advisers say the new lessons will mean little upheaval because most schools have already adopted many of the proposals. However commitment and quality vary widely and secondary schools are lagging, the document's authors admit.
The citizenship proposals are based on recommendations made to the Government by Professor Bernard Crick's advisory group, while the rest of the programme has been strongly influenced by the PSHE group.
Five groups - on creativity, citizenship, values, sustainable development and PSHE - originally fed their views into the curriculum review conducted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Concerns had been voiced that the final proposals would be weighted in favour of citizenship, not least because of Education Secretary David Blunkett's support for Professor Crick, his former university tutor.
Mr Blunkett rejected the QCA's intial report and, instead, proposed compulsory citizenship lessons for secondary pupils. However, most advisers are now reasonably satisfied that a good balance has been struck between subjects, despite citizenship's statutory status.
Jane Jenks, vice-chair of the PSHE advisory group, said: "The important thing is not to panic. Schools need to take a holistic approach. The curriculum document will help them to identify the different strands and have a clearer view of what they are probably already doing."
The new framework is intended to extend good practice and enable teachers to work from a common base. It sets out what pupils might be expected to know and able to do. But it leaves details of content and delivery to schools.
Non-statutory guidance will highlight links with other subjects, particularly teaching citizenship through history, geography and English.
The aim is for seven-year-olds to be able to recognise their likes, dislikes and justify their opinions; name and manage their feelings and understand that bullying is wrong. By 11 years, children should understand puberty as well as the concept of democracy and the consequences of racism and bullying.
Secondary citizenship lessons will cover the basics of the criminal justice system, central and local government, the electoral system and diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK.
Pupils will also have to express and defend their views, both orally and in writing, as well as taking part in formal debates.