Depressing attitude to citizenship;Letter

29th May 1998 at 01:00
Bruce Douglas's article resisting the proposals of Professor Bernard Crick's advisory group on citizenship ("Just say no to this state tax", TES May 1) makes depressing reading, coming as it does not just from the President of the Secondary Heads' Association but also on the first anniversary of one of the most important general elections since the war.

Mr Douglas uses strong language - "brute legal force", "legally-imposed", "set by central committees" to dismiss what he sees as an attempt to commandeer space on the timetable for citizenship education. Well, if this is the sort of message his pupils get from their principal then he had better make room for some lessons in citizenship without delay.

For "brute legal force" read "the will of the popularly elected House of Commons"; "legally imposed" means, in a democracy, accepting the law as agreed by the majority even if you don't happen to like it. No wonder his list of three things (only three?) that a modern citizen needs does not include a word about the working of a democratic state or the citizen's place within it.

But the major weakness in his argument comes where he says that "what schools need is not more imposition, but more freedom from central regulation". It sounds good, and many teachers will instinctively applaud it. The reality is rather different.

Even with the national curriculum in place, headteachers and their deputies - not ministers, not quangos, not even inspectors - have steadily been undermining the curriculum in order to disadvantage the teaching of the humanities subjects, history and geography, which are central to informed citizenship.

The usual form this takes is by skewing GCSE options to limit access to the humanities in favour of other subjects, typically vocational courses and foreign languages. As a result, in the case of history, despite glowing inspector reports about the quality of secondary history, the number entering for GCSE has declined since 1995 by more than 20,000 and seems set to decline further.

Even more insidiously, the trend has been for the less able pupils to be directed away from the humanities, the very pupils who have most need of them. It makes history GCSE results look good - at the top end of the grade range they are about double those for English or maths - which in turn looks good in the league tables, but it doesn't do the pupils, or the society into which they will be moving any favours at all. But then why should Bruce Douglas worry? He says it himself: "What makes me do good, what alone could make me do good, is the experience of someone else being good to me." There's no lesson for citizenship in that.

Sean Lang

Vice president, Historical Association Director, Campaign for History, 9 Glenacre Close, Cambridge

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