Citizenship needs a place of its own

27th July 2007 at 01:00
A group of prominent history teachers are advising the Conservatives' education team to abolish citizenship as a subject and address it through history, geography and personal, social and health education. Tory leader David Cameron and his colleagues would do well to ignore such advice.

It is wrong for several reasons. First, it assumes that if the core knowledge, skills and values of citizenship are left to these subjects, they will be covered effectively. This was how citizenship was supposed to be taught before 2002. In practice, it didn't happen. Other subjects can support aspects of citizenship, but the idea that they can cover vital concepts such as justice, democracy, advocacy, identity, rights, and responsibilities just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The recommendation also mistakenly assumes that citizenship has somehow "replaced" history in the curriculum. In fact, history has not featured in the national curriculum at key stage 4 as a statutory subject since 1992. Citizenship was not introduced as a statutory subject until 2002 following Sir Bernard Crick's recommendations which, significantly, received support from all the main political parties, including the Tories.

There is a good argument for re-introducing statutory history for all 14 to 16-year-olds. but it is absurd to suggest that learning about Britain's past should be at the expense of learning about how our democracy and justice systems work and how communities function. Again, partner subjects are at risk of becoming competitors in a turf war that has us arguing over the same couple of hours in the week. Historians, geographers, citizenship specialists and those responsible for PSHE need to work together in pursuit of a stronger, broader social and humanities curriculum.

While voting in all forms of election is declining, party membership is at an all-time low, school governing bodies and the trustee boards of charities struggle for members, and when there is a real worry about the strength of communities, it would be disingenuous for any political party to cut short the first serious attempt in the history of the social curriculum to develop young people's political and legal literacy. If the national curriculum is a statement of what we see as vital to pass on to the next generation, then learning about democracy, justice and community values must be at its heart, not on the margins.

Developing Citizens: a comprehensive introduction to effective citizenship education in the secondary school, edited by Tony Breslin and Barry Dufour (Hodder Murray, 2006)

Tony Breslin

is chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation

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