All the fun of fair play

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Citizenship sounds like a heavy subject for infants. But talk about a teddy and you're away, as Reva Klein discovers

What does a story about a little boy who loses his beloved toy have to do with Professor Bernard Crick, former education secretary Lord Baker, ITN political editor Michael Brunson and former chief inspector of prisons Sir Stephen Tumim?

Quite a lot, according to Alison Peacock, a teacher at Wheatcroft primary school in Hertford. She uses Shirley Hughes's Dogger as a lesson in the school's citizenship education programme.

The story illustrates a moral dilemma - should the little boy's sister, Bella, keep the teddy she's won at a fair or should she give it in exchange for Dogger, her brother's toy, which was lost and mistakenly given to a little girl. Keeping the teddy will make her happy. But if she gives it up, the girl will give Dogger back to her bereft brother. She hands the teddy over and is left with nothing but the satisfaction of knowing she did the right thing. It's a simple story with which young children can engage and empathise.

Which is where Professor Crick comes in. He chairs the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy, which includes Messrs Tumim and Brunson and Lord Baker. The group wants citizenship education to become a statutory entitlement for all primary and secondary pupils after 2000.

The group's report Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools, released last month, sets out the targets for all key stages. And alongside the understanding of the democratic process and other aspects of civics to be covered in secondary school, key stages 1 and 2 are concerned with social and moral issues as well as the consequences of antisocial and egocentric behaviour and attitudes.

According to Don Rowe of the Citizenship Foundation, an educational charity based in London, the document lays out not only a structure, but an approach. "In citizenship lessons, the classroom should become a democratic community where everybody can air their views and where ideas are taken up and challenged in a climate of justice and fairness. It's about inducting children into community life in all its complexity by allowing them to share ideas and puzzle things through."

He realises this methodology does not come easy for teachers. "Surveys show teachers often ask questions that have closed answers. They don't probe in depth and neither do they encourage children to talk to each other. In many classrooms, the teacher is the main protagonist, and this works against having every child involved in discussions," says Mr Rowe.

In Alison Peacock's Year 3 and 4 class, all the children raise their hands to contribute to a discussion on what their own teddies mean to them, why they think Shirley Hughes wrote the story and what they would do in Bella's position.

Alison Peacock sees citizenship education as surpassing particular lessons - as an approach that suffuses the school ethos.

"Citizenship puts a label on ways I hope to build relationships with the children," she says. It's about our ways of working within the school community and beyond and it's about the values we place on each other. This isn't a laissez faire attitude but a structured, planned curriculum in which children are allowed to influence the way we teach."

Annabelle Dixon, TES research fellow in citizenship education at the primary stage at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, who has designed materials for the Citizenship Foundation, confirms the complexity of this kind of work. "I have found 280 definitions of citizenship. Everybody has their own slant. But it's dangerous to take the existence of these values in all primary schools for granted. Like gas, they are easily diluted. They need careful husbandry and teachers need awareness and skills to deal with them. In many ways, it's a messy subject."

It's messy, explains Don Rowe, because elements of citizenship - which concerns the way individuals learn to live in communities - overlap with personal, social and health education as well as spiritual, moral, social and cultural education.

But he is clear it has a specific domain. For example, "circle time is not necessarily citizenship education. Playing a sharing game or turn-taking in a game is not the same as turn-taking in a discussion. They don't necessarily advance children's understanding of social issues or rights or social rules and conventions. In citizenship education, we are making moral implications explicit."

Wheatcroft primary has had a citizenship education syllabus for five years. Head Tessa Moss says: "It's taken that long for teachers to become comfortable with this work. If a school just pays lip-service to it, it's not much value. But by creating systems in which children are given a voice - a school council, circle time, a book and appointments system in which they can air their grievances or ideas with me - we have woven citizenship into the ethos of the school."

'Was it right to hide William's backpack?'

* Read a story to the class.

* Tell the class that anyone who wants to can suggest a topic for discussion. Tell them they are best phrased as questions, such as "was it right for the sister to hide William's backpack?" Alternatively, ask what they consider to be the main questions raised in the story by first giving some suggestions.

* Encourage everyone to have a say without putting pressure on them.

* Make clear there are no right or wrong answers, this is a chance to voice and share opinions and ideas. In discussions l Everyone has the right to express an opinion without fear of ridicule.l One person may speak at a time.l debate is between class members and not between teacher and pupil.

lTeachers should encourage reflective thinking. Interventions should be confined to prompts such as: "What does anyone else think about what X has said?" "Why do you disagree with Y?" "What do you mean when you say.... .?" "Do you think that's fair? Why?" * Encourage the words "agree" and "disagree" so children realise that it's possible to reject someone's viewpoint while retaining respect for that person. And help them understand the attitudes, rules and procedures necessary for shared debate.

From 'You, Me and Us', edited by Don Rowe and Jan Newton and published by the Citizenship Foundation. Schools can request two free packs from The Home Office, PO Box 999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS

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