International human rights, not social behaviour and community involvement, should be the linchpin of any compulsory teaching of citizenship, says the Institute for Public Policy Research.
"The Government rightly says that children need to be taught moral values; but whose values? For any government this is highly dangerous territory," said Sarah Spencer, director of the IPPR human rights programme.
"A school book published in 1910, Good Citizenship, included a lesson in which children were asked to recite the first verse of "God Save the Queen". The aim, the book said, was 'to inculcate loyalty to the king and loyalty to Christ. A later book, in 1923, advised teachers 'Don't say too much about slavery, pass lightly over the right to revolution'.
"It's easy to see why fears linger that citizenship education could mean indoctrination by another name. International human rights principles trangress national politics and avoid indoctrination."
Last November David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, launched an initiative to develop citizenship education in schools. A working group, chaired by Professor Bernard Crick, under the auspices of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, was set up to develop a framework curriculum. In March the group presented an interim report. The final report is due in July.
The group is expected to recommend that citizenship education becomes a compulsory part of the curriculum from as early as next year.
However, Sarah Spencer insists Professor Crick's interim report "curiously omits any reference to human rights at all". She said: "Most countries teach some form of citizenship and within that human rights. We're lagging far behind already. In a straw poll of 12 to 14-year-olds in one class a quarter said they did not know whether they agreed with the statement 'No one must be tortured' and the same number again disagreed completely. That's shocking."
"All children struggle with issues of fairness and justice. Far from being intangible concepts, they are real issues for children. True, most primary school children would switch off immediately at the mention of a lesson on the European Convention on Human Rights.
"But try presenting them, as in Canada, with a lesson on the 'Trial of Goldilocks' - what offences did she commit? Should she be punished? Were there any mitigating circumstances? If guilty, what should her punishment be?' It wouldn't be too difficult to hold their attention, would it?"