'Britishness will be hard to teach'

14th March 2008 at 00:00

Teachers will struggle to teach compulsory "Britishness" lessons because most are untrained and suffer a dearth of resources, according to citizenship experts.

From September, all secondaries will have to teach a new citizenship topic - "Identities and diversity: living together in the UK" - as part of the revised national curriculum.

The plan predates the report on citizenship submitted by Lord Goldsmith to the Prime Minister this week, which suggests pupils could swear oaths of allegiance to the Queen or country (see panel).

Teachers back the idea of teaching pupils what it means to be British. A poll of nearly 2,000 teachers for The TES Big5 series found that 63 per cent supported it.

But the Association for Citizenship Teaching believes it will be difficult to teach well because of the sensitivities involved, and because its research shows a lack of suitable textbooks and other materials. "This requires a lot of new knowledge and skills that cannot just be picked up overnight," said Chris Waller, ACT professional officer. "We are talking about issues such as at what point does a young person in Britain decide to plant a bomb on a tube train? This is going to be a challenge for many citizenship teachers."

The association's concerns follow calls from David Blunkett, who introduced citizenship to the curriculum in 2002, for more teacher training and for a minister to be given responsibility for ensuring the subject is a success. The former education secretary has said that only 1,600 teachers had trained for the subject, which is mandatory in some 3,500 secondaries.

Ofsted warned last year that around half of schools gave insufficient emphasis to "diversity in Britain" and that a quarter had inadequate citizenship lessons because too few teachers had been trained.

Mr Waller said there is a "small core" of enthusiastic, trained citizenship teachers, but the majority lacked on-the-job and initial training and were reluctant and pressed into teaching the subject.

"Ministers need to lead on the importance of this," he said. "There is a lot of rhetoric, but we need to have that backed up more by direct action. They need to be saying, `more teachers needed to be trained' and to be saying to heads that giving this subject to Tom Cobley and all to teach is not acceptable."

In a study commissioned by ACT, Ted Huddleston of the Citizenship Foundation found that although there was a vast range of resources related to the topic, a lot were brief, simplistic, repetitive and emphasised diversity rather than identity. The idea of Britishness fared "particularly badly" from poorly thought out, undemanding activities, and very few dealt with patriotism or patriotic behaviour.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said it was committed to high-quality teaching, with around 200 people a year gaining initial teacher training, while another 600 teachers received professional development courses. The department funded ACT, she said, and helped provide "a wealth of good quality resources". The Big5 series, centre pages.


Citizenship should be introduced in primary schools, a report to the Prime Minister has proposed.

Lord Goldsmith's report also provoked a cynical reaction from teachers by recommending that young people be made to swear oaths of allegiance as part of coming-of-age ceremonies.

The report suggests the Government should consider compulsory citizenship classes in primary schools because changes in society mean that children are "exposed to more of the world at a young age".

"Against this background, the absence of statutory citizenship education in the primary phase is problematic," it said.

The reports also suggests that schools should create their own "citizenship manifestos", based on consultation with pupils, teachers, and parents, in which they outline what they can do to promote citizenship, and what the community can promise to do to help them.

But the coming of age ceremonies, yet to be approved by ministers, have been criticised by teachers' unions. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This is a half-baked idea, which should be allowed quietly to go mouldy."



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