Citizenship

31st March 2000 at 01:00
MAKING GOOD CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION A REALITY: Good Citizenship and Educational Provision. By Ian Davies, Ian Gregory and Shirley C. Riley. Falmer Press pound;15.99. What do teachers think makes good citizenship education? The authors of this book set out to find some of the answers. Their study, part of a wider international project across six countries, involved a large-scale questionnaire which drew responses from almost 700 teachers in 64 schools. This was complemented by a series of in-depth one-to-one interviews with 40 teachers, drawn in equal number from the secondary and primary sectors, supported in the text by a comprehensive review of trends in UK citizenship education since the late 1960s.

Those who expect to find a hotbed of smouldering radicalism will be disappointed. Instead, teachers' views about the nature of good citizenship, which we might reasonably expect to influence their teaching, are bound up with the ability of individuals and groups to express an active concern for the welfare of others. At secondary level the importance of civic, social and political knowledge is recognised as a prerequisite to being able to help others.

The authors identify teaching, schooling and the curriculum as of potentially great importance in promoting informed good citizenship, and suggest a range of strategies for its delivery.

They reflect on the role of regional and national teacher networks, the place of demo-cratised models of school governance and management, the importance of school councils and the broader development of the ethos of the school.

Moreover, they support Bernard Crick's 1998 keynote report in calling for a review of access to teacher training in this area. The current system marginalises and often excludes those who have the kind of academic background to "approach citizenship education confidently and skilfully". Here, they note that in 1999 there were few opportunities to enter teacher training for graduates in philosophy, politcal science, economics and sociology, with only six institutions offering PGCE places in social science and just one offering places in sociology.

The authors recognise that teachers and schools can only play a contributory role, alongside the home and the broader community, in the process of creating "good citizens", however defined. The need for citizenship education indicates the scale of the challenge but cannot hope to offer a total solution, nor should it. Rather, it needs to sit with a range of supporting strategies, including one that addresses the status of the teaching profession itself.

Here, Davies, Gregory and Riley find that anything that might be taken as evidence of citizenship is absent. The message is bluntly put: "There is an extremely disheartening recent history of educational reform in which teachers have not been treated as citizens."

Calling for teachers' views and experiences to inform policy development, they argue for new ways of involving teachers in professional development programmes, to enfranchise both themselves and their students.

Through their own research, the authors have engaged teachers in just this way. As they point out at the start: "...finding out what teachers think provides a reasonable starting point for addressing a range of issues related to education for citizenship."

At the close, the point is rather more substantive: "asking teachers" is a principle that policy makers must take on board on a grander scale. One of the greatest contributions of the current citizenship education initiative may ultimately prove to be that it provides policy makers with a rationale and a framework for doing so.

It is possible to make good citizenship education a reality, but only if the educators are acknowledged as citizens themselves at the outset.

Tony Breslin Tony Breslin is general adviser for 14-19 education in the Londonborough of Enfield, and co-ordinator of the Future Education Network


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