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Crick hears citizenship is 'best taught live'

FACED with a formidable bunch of teenagers from Norlington boys' school in east London, local councillors knew they had met their match - plans to extend the playground were soon under way.

The scene was re-enacted this week by the boys for the benefit of Bernard Crick, who is advising the Government on citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools.

He had been invited by The Alliance Schools for East London, part of the Citizen Organisation Foundation, which advises leaders of local community groups.

Professor Crick heard other examples of citizenship in action. In one, girls from Bellrive FCJ school in Toxteth, Liverpool, were upset at the state of a park their grandparents remembered as idyllic, with a lake and boathouse, but which was now infested with rats and littered with condoms.

As part of their RE syllabus, and in their spare time, the girls began a successful campaign to restore the park by lobbying councillors, local people, and even helped to win a lottery grant to rebuild the boathouse.

All this, according to the east London alliance, was to convince Professor Crick that citizenship was "best taught live", by tackling real issues, rather than as a dry timetabled classroom activity.

He told his audience he had found the experience "very, very interesting" and congratulated them on their grasp of political skills, promising that the final report would mention their examples of good practice.

Ideally, Professor Crick said, citizenship would be part of the national curriculum, with schools drawing up their own syllabuses to achieve learning outcomes. However, teacher and curriculum overload meant that active community work would be encouraged, but not be made statutory.

"The committee will plant a seed, and perhaps in a decade it will be compulsory," he said, and expressed a hope that the Office for Standards in Education would offer the "carrot and stick" to schools by noting favourably the voluntary and community aspects of the curriculum.

Professor Crick was taken to task by Sue Cowhig, a teacher at Connaught girls' school, who argued for a cross-curricular, non-assessed, approach to citizenship. "You can't fail citizenship," she said. "I know some people who would," he replied.

Meanwhile, David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, who set up the Crick committee, told a conference in Sheffield that he rejected recent calls for citizenship education to be based solely on international human rights, arguing that active citizenship began locally.

"An understanding of our democracy is a pre-requisite for its continued health," he said.

Last month's study by the Institute for Public Policy Research concluded that young people should learn about international human rights rather than social behaviour and community involvement.

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