Democracy for everyone

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Diane Hofkins on plans to bring citizenship into the curriculum

Citizenship and the teaching of democracy should become a statutory part of the school timetable after the national curriculum is revised in 2000, a Government advisory group has recommended. The group, chaired by Bernard Crick, emeritus professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London, wants the subject to take 5 per cent of the school week, although the content would fit in with other subjects. The proposals are being considered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The report, published last month and welcomed by Education Secretary David Blunkett, says: "We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting..."

Its authors hope to counteract a national malaise. "There are worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life," they say.

Professor Crick says citizenship should be taught from Reception, and throughout school. An early goal might be developing pupils' confidence enough for them to express an opinion, he told The TES last month. "By the end of key stage 2, opinions need to be backed by reason."

The report says the purpose of citizenship education is to help children understand how participative democracy works; to enhance their awareness of rights, duties and responsibilities; and to help them see the value of being involved in the community. Children should also understand how democratic institutions, such as parliaments, councils and political parties work. They should learn from the very beginning self-confidence and socially and morally responsible behaviour.

Under the proposals, the citizenship curriculum would come into force in 2001 for key stage 1 and 2002 for key stage 2. Good quality training should be made available for teachers, who should be encouraged "to take responsibility for their own professional development in this area".

Extensive guidance on the teaching of controversial issues is included, in part to allay fears of bias in teaching. Although the report says, "such fears, while common, are largely unfounded and greatly underestimate both the professionalism and the prudence of teachers", it warns teachers to watch out for unwitting bias, and says they should use teaching strategies which equip children with an ability to recognise bias, weigh evidence and look for alternative interpretations.

Examining controversial issues will enhance children's willingness to see and understand others' viewpoints; to apply reasoning skills and to participate in decision-making and to value freedom.

Be prepared to be turned inside out by this month's TES Primary.

TARGETS FOR GOOD CITIZENS.

A progressive set of learning outcomes for each phase of schooling is proposed. These include:

Key stage 1

Skills

Express and justify a personal opinion relevant to an issue.

Use imagination when considering the experience of others.

Reflect on issues of social and moral concern, presented in different ways such as through story, drama, pictures, poetry and real-life incidents.

Take part in a simple debate and vote on an issue.

Knowledge and understanding

See how the concept of fairness can be applied in a reasoned and reflective way to their lives.

Understand the language used to describe feelings.

Know about the nature and basis of rules that affect their lives.

KEY STAGE 2

Skills

Discuss a range of moral dilemmas or problems.

Participate in a question-and-answer session in which a member of the local community offers an expert view.

Take part in simple debates and vote on issues.

Knowledge and understanding

Know at a simple level how rules and laws are made; understand there are various sources of authority and of help.

Understand the need for laws and their enforcement.

Know about the workings of local and national communities, including the main faiths and cultures.

Know about the world as a global community.

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