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Junior citizens want more say

IN THE week that the Scottish Executive awarded a contract to find out children's views on the Education Bill, researchers meeting for their annual conference in Dundee heard how young people react to education for citizenship.

As part of a Stirling Council project to find out what learners think of their own learning, Jill Duffield and Julie Allan, of Stirling University education department, asked pupils aged 11 and 14 what it meant to be a "good citizen". The responses emphasised moral conduct, being caring and avoiding bad behaviour, but showed little interest in politics.

A group of S3 boys said learning about politics was "a waste of time . . . we are only 14 . . . we don't need to know what happens way up there". Modern studies was "garbage about how many sheep there are in Luxembourg".

Third-year girls said citizenship "is nothing to do with what the Government decides". But one boy suggested "the whole school depends on politics because politics is about money".

The researchers say pupils "endorsed an apolitical, social and moral conception of citizenship, yet they displayed a desire for greater voice and participation in their own learning, in the activities and organisation of their school and in the connections between school and social context".

One S3 girl who found that her comment at the pupil council about kitchen hygiene had been acted on said: "I felt I was being heard and had a restored faith in the school and I wanted to learn as I felt part of the school."

Boys were more aware of the political dimensions of citizenship than girls. "They overtly rejected curricular learning about politics, yet they introduced public and political elements into the conversations." Girls were more articulate about social responsibility.

Tom Johnson, principal teacher of modern studies at James Gillespie's High, Edinburgh, warned policy-makers against assuming that because modern studies is a subject in Scottish schools the theme of citizenship would automatically be covered.

A third of secondaries did not teach modern studies, and if citizenship education had to be implemented some would be "half-hearted" in their attempts, Mr Johnson claimed.

A national development officer for citizenship education has been appointed by the Inspectorate but Mr Johnson said it would be "important to fight for implementation with subtlety and ingenuity".

Communication skills developed through classroom discussions were essential for participatory citizenship. But modern studies could not always respond to relevant news events.

"Completion of the syllabus takes precedence and the essence of participatory learning can be lost through the need to maximise examination preparation," Mr Johnson said.

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