Agents of change

9th February 2001 at 00:00
Citizenship calls on English for key skills, says Alan Combes

There are three areas to the programmes of study in citizenship, and the English department is in a prime position for playing a leading role in two of those areas: first, that which covers "developing skills of enquiry and communication", and second, the area defined as "developing skills of participation and responsible action". In these two areas is the cement which will bind together the bricks of citizenship's knowledge and understanding.

The key words at key stage 3 of these two areas are "think about", "justify orally and in writing", "contribute to dis-cussions", "use imagination", "negotiate", "decide" and "re-flect". At KS4, the terminology has become more sophisticated, to include "research", "defend" and "formally debate".

There cannot be an English department in the country which is not dealing on a daily basis with these terms and registering teacher and student reaction on departmental record sheets. So why not add an extra section to these record sheets requesting that pupils comment on a particular speaking and listening assessment in terms of its citizenship values? For example, one school I know requires a small group discussion of a moral maze for Year 8 oral work.

When students come to assess their work, it would be quite easy to supplement their response about how the group had fared with the question:

"What do you believe the good citizen would do in this situation?" Perhaps a minimum of 40 words could be stipulated for individual responses. The result could be photocopied as evidence for each student's citizenship portfolio.

In the Crick report, George Orwell's Animal Farm receives more than a passing mention as a resource and text study that English departments would do well to heed. As an insight into the plausibility and desirability of an egalitarian society, it has few equals; as a bedroc for learning about the true significance of politics (the study of power), it makes it possible to tackle an abstract area at KS3. Where the printed text presents an obstacle, there is the opportunity to use the recent Animal Farm video, with the voices of Pete Postlethwaite and Julia Ormond.

Bearing in mind that Year 9 is the SAT year, it might be possible to squeeze in Orwell's masterpiece as a set book towards the end of Year 8.

In the area of knowledge and understanding, the English department can also make a meaningful contribution to citizenship. At KS3, human rights and identities figure large in the work of all the attainment targets.

The significance of the media can be a focal point for record of achievement work in Years 8 or 9, and considering globalism (for example, Agenda 21 issues) can begin at the start of the key stage.

When a pupil's record of achievement is appropriate for both English and citizenship, it might be photocopied. Schools that are bold enough to allow pupils a major say in the building up of a citizenship portfolio will be able to reap all kinds of dividends.

By KS4, citizenship can no longer count on help from history, geography and RE because some pupils drop these subjects. To my mind, this is the thorniest issue facing citizenship from the statutory curriculum point of view. It would not be fair to turn the screw on the English department because of this situation.

On the other hand, how individuals and groups bring about social change is implicit in much language and literature work. The importance of a free Press and the media's multifaceted role occurred in one way or another as part of the GCSE language exam on many occasions during the 1990s and is likely to be practice material in Year 11, making it doubly purposeful.

Alan Combes is a former head of English and works for Cable Education training teachers for citizenship


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