Citizens are hard to judge

28th April 2000 at 01:00
The new secondary subject is welcome but we need to consider what makes a good citizen before deciding how it is assessed, writes David Brockington

IN TWO years, the first pupils begin formal lessons in citizenship in secondary schools. For those of us who have long advocated the importance of teaching children about their rights and responsibilities as citizens, this is a welcome development.

In The TES on February 11, Joe Hallgarten, education specialist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, highlighted some important issues.

He pointed out that, if the pitfalls can be avoided, the new subject could become a catalyst for dynamic cultural change.

To achieve this transformation, we must first overcome some potential impediments concerning how the subject should be assessed. These are being addressed by the sub-group set up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to give advice on citizenship education.

One of the principles underpinning the Government decision to introduce citizenship as a statutory part of the national curriculum is to foster a more cohesive and inclusive society. Some of us on the QCA sub-group believe a number of things follow from this. It will not be acceptable to assess the subject in the traditional way. We must not rely on traditional forms of examination and assessment which distinguish learners as much by their failure as by their success.

The QCA's national framework sets out three key components for citizenship education. One is to encourage active participation in community projects. By its very nature, this does not yield easily to a traditional assessment approach. This is because the focus is not on the development of knowledge and skills alone, but on the value of the process of involvement in community activity itself. How can you assess a pupil's disposition to care for others against a national standard?

A system needs to be devised which honours and acknowledges every pupil's achievement and is based upon the ability to contribute to a common cause.

What appears to be favoured within the QCA at the moment is a "mixed economy" model: a broad offering of assessment opportunities and examinations which, it is argued, will fit the different needs of the ability range.

If this model were to be adopted, it would inevitably lead to GCSEs in citizenship for academic pupils, GNVQs and NVQ units for the vocationally-inclined and something like the National Record of Achievement or progress file for the rest.

This solution may seem to offer something for everyone. In reality, it would conolidate existing social and cultural divisions and would perpetuate an already divisive split between academic, vocational and general qualifications.

What is needed is a single model of assessment which includes all learners and which is applied across the three qualification tracks. This is especially important if we are to foster the personal values and potential benefits to the community envisaged by the working group which drew up the framework for the subject. In the words of its chairman, Bernard Crick: "Citizenship is more than a statutory subject. If taught well and tailored to local needs, its skills and values will enhance democratic life for us all."

The QCA must develop an inclusive national assessment model for citizenship and personal and social education. This must allow individual pupils to be judged in relation to their own progress, rather than by an externally-imposed national standard. Technically, a system which is individualised rather than norm or criterion-referenced.

It must also involve the active participation of pupils, encouraging them to build on and develop what they have learned. Finally, the assessment model must place as much emphasis on what the learner is entitled to receive as on what they are expected to learn.

The Office for Standards in Education, in its inspections, should be asked to consider whether schools are meeting this entitlement. The aim would be to encourage learning rather than highlight failure.

The Government recently expressed interest in the idea of a graduation certificate which would reflect a wider range of achievement than is currently represented by traditional subject examinations. The QCA has been asked to develop the idea.

This approach to rewarding achievement seems to provide a basis for accommodating the type of national assessment framework outlined here.

As members of the various working groups associated with the current deliberations taking place within both the QCA and the Department for Education and Employment, I and a number of colleagues believe the principles outlined here must be used to judge the options for assessment we are being asked to consider. The stakes are high. If we do not get the assessment system right, we risk failing all our citizens, not just those in school.

David Brockington is a member of the personal, social and health

education advisory group and the

citizenship education sub-group on assessment. His views are supported by working group members John Potter, Peter Hayes, Gabby Rowberry, Tom Wylie and Patricia Broadfoot.

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