Building a new democracy

11th December 1998 at 00:00
September saw the publication of the final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools, which under the chairmanship of Bernard Crick has produced a recommended framework for citizenship education within the national curriculum for England and Wales.So far there has been no word from the Scottish Office on whether there is a place for citizenship in our curriculum guidelines.

While there may be understandable reluctance to propose further radical curricular changes before the new parliament, the place of citizenship in Scottish schools is sufficiently important to merit discussion now. That was the thinking behind our choice of "citizenship and democracy" as the focus for the conference in May of the Gordon Cook Foundation on values education.

Professor Crick told the conference that the teaching of citizenship and democracy is so important that there should be a statutory requirement to ensure that it is part of the entitlement of all pupils across the key stages. His advisory group identified three strands: social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy.

There are elements within the Scottish curriculum which might be said to fall within each of these strands. Clearly personal and social education and religious and moral education in the primary school and personal and social development and RME in the secondary are concerned with issues of social and moral responsibility. However, since no "slice" of curriculum time is allocated to PSE in the 5-14 guidelines, this area of the curriculum sadly tends to be marginalised in Scotland.

As far as community involvement is concerned, despite much rhetoric about partnership and even though Scotland has a high reported level of participation in voluntary work, there is little evidence that Scottish schools are substantially involved in community-based initiatives. Notable exceptions exist and some excellent work is being done, including a whole range of projects under the banner of "enterprise" or "education for work",but there is much scope for development. Where the school itself is considered a community, there are signs of efforts to enhance pupil participation, for example, through pupil councils. However, evidence of their effectiveness is so far inconclusive.

It is perhaps in the third strand, political literacy, that there is likely to be most controversy and most potential scope for development. In secondary schools modern studies is clearly one focus. There is evidence that the subject is very effective in enhancing political knowledge. But modern studies is not a core subject and the issue remains: what is the appropriate locus in the curriculum to enable all pupils to achieve the learning outcomes defined as essential for those in England and Wales?

The case for making citizenship education more prominent can be made on a number of grounds. First, despite the rapid pace of political change there still appears to be significant social, political and educational disaffection among young people. Since those most to the fore in the campaign for the parliament have argued that participatory democracy is central to it, how can education equip tomorrow's citizens to play a fuller part in an evolving democracy?

Second, citizenship education and democratic participation in educational contexts are far less well established here than in other countries. There are now calls for even greater emphasis on citizenship and political literacy throughout the world. Why are there no similar calls from official bodies in Scotland? Is this yet another example of the complacency which tends to characterise much of our educational discourse? Or do we simply not need citizenship education here?

These questions were discussed at the Gordon Cook Foundation conference. Other issues raised that merit more discussion include the relationship between citizenship and personal and social development in primary schools; the distinctive role of modern studies in Scottish schools and its relationship to citizenship education; the potential of pupil councils for political awareness and social responsibility; lifelong learning in relation to citizenship; ethos and the broader context of education in home and the community; and the need to challenge assumptions about inclusiveness and to counter discrimination.

A fairly clear endorsement of the role of education for citizenship emerged, together with a belief that the new parliament should provide opportunities for wider consultation, for example, with civic groups and youth parliaments, which in turn ought to have a positive impact on the quality of educational debate.

Donald Christie is in the educational studies department and Henry Maitles in the social studies education department at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University. The conference report, "Values Education for Democracy and Citizenship", edited by Donald Christie, Henry Maitles and John Halliday, is available from the Gordon Cook Foundation, Hilton Place, Aberdeen, AB24 4FA. The final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools is available from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, PO Box 99, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6SN.

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