Common ground

9th March 2001 at 00:00
The cultural context of languages makes fertile territory for citizenship work, says Alan Combes.

Two of the principal areas of knowledge and understanding in citizenship offer direct opportunities for links to modern languages. The first concerns diversity and cultural differences, the second is what is cited as "the world as a global community" at key stage 3 and "global interdependence and responsibility" at KS4.

Modern languages has one important advantage over the likes of humanities and performing arts in that virtually all pupils must continue their studies in it up to age 16, so languages continue to be a useful drawing source for citizenship. Learning a foreign language in itself has openings for a link with the new subject, but for young people who are studying primarily the culture of another country, there are excellent openings. In the area of developing skills of enquiry and communication, for example, pupils have to "think about" (KS3) and "research", using some ICT-based sources (KS4), "a topical political or cultural issue". Recent weights and measures issues, and different attitudes exposed by membership of the EU, come to mind.

A resource that I reviewed in The TES (Friday magazine January 5) and that is available free to schools is the Institute for Citizenship's Speak Out on European Citizenship. (Visit for further details and a glimpse of how the resource uses the web.) The language of this resource is English, but there are numerous debates that garner opinions from all over Europe. Sports enthusiasts can tune in to the web discussion "Is Sport Uniting or Dividing Europe?" whereas "Is Bigger Better? (EU enlargement)" should attract those with a modicum of political nous.

The skills of participation and responsible action is an area which may well finish up being classed as a curriculum entitlement in some schoos. For example, the Douay Martyrs RC school in Uxbridge has a hosting policy by which a pupil is expected, during the course of KS3 and 4, to act as a host to a school visitor. The idea is that the pupil's planner bears signed evidence from the guest on the quality of hospitality provided by the host.

Visits by French, German and Spanish pupils offer just this kind of opportunity without the host school having to undergo drastic curricular surgery. If the citizenship manager and the head of languages prepare a joint document on hosting which includes feedback from the guest school, then two birds will have been halted with a single throw.

Park high school in the Wirral uses the internet for links with schools in Holland and Spain, and pupils compare issues such as public services and use of parkland in the separate cultures. Internet links are likely to be a real growth area in the first two or three years of citizenship. Such links need not be confined to the motherland of the three principal European languages studied in schools. Spanish-speaking countries in South America, French Canada and former colonies of Holland and France also offer possibilities.

Such projects are commendable but, for many schools, having internet access for enough students is a thorny issue. The practice of setting up pen-pal links with schools abroad should be revived. Writing person to person works best and if staff insist that the pupils write in their native language a natural relationship develops through which to examine a foreign culture as well as a powerful motive for learning another tongue.

If a school aims to create an individual citizenship portfolio for each pupil, the modern language department is in a strong position to contribute plenty of evidence.

Alan Combes is a former head of English and works for Cable Education training teachers for citizenship

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