Citizenship will be taught by law

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Lessons in citizenship will be taught by law under Government-backed plans to fight young people's "ignorance and cynicism" about public life.

A special committee of the great and the good, including Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons, former education secretary Kenneth Baker and ITN's Michael Brunson, says that citizenship should take up 75 minutes a week - the space of half a GCSE - in the national curriculum.

But teachers must wait until July for full details of the Government's citizenship programme.

The subject is a special interest of Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett who appointed his former tutor, Professor Bernard Crick to chair the 16-strong advisory committee. Mr Blunkett, as a mature student, enrolled on Professor Crick's course in politics at Sheffield University.

His recommendations carry substantial weight with the Government, and citizenship is a near-certainty for inclusion in the revised national curriculum for 2000.

This week, the 16-strong advisory group published an initial report saying that there must be a statutory requirement on schools "to ensure that it is part of the entitlement of all pupils".

This, says the report, is essential to combat "worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life", and to secure the future of British democracy.

The document is, however, short on detail, most of which is saved for the final report in July. But it concludes that citizenship is made up of three elements: responsible behaviour, community involvement and political literacy.

David Kerr, an academic advising the group, said that activities such as voluntary work are important, but cannot be made compulsory.

Citizenship is likely to command its own lesson time, he said, and could eventually have its own exams. But much of the subject will be taught through related subjects - the group is concerned not to increase teachers' workload.

One of the report's key paragraphs suggests that citizenship should be defined in terms of "learning outcomes". This would allow schools to use different approaches suitable for local conditions.

Professor Crick, who writes on page 17 of this week's TES, is particularly concerned that the exercise be seen as non-partisan.

"The learning outcomes should be tightly defined so that standards and objectivity can be inspected," says the report. "This approach would avoid objections that a single way of teaching about politics is being imposed and lessen the dangers of subsequent ministerial interventions."

Britain is one of the few European countries not to teach some form of civics.

The new plans could prove a much-needed shot in the arm for history and geography which have found themselves squeezed at the top end of the secondary curriculum.

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