First steps as active citizens

7th November 2003 at 00:00
The dictionary defines citizenship as "the state of being or of having rights and duties of a citizen". It is a definition which adults will understand but say that to a five-year-old and you are likely to get a quizzical expression.

Trying to teach a primary class all about values and citizenship - one of the Scottish Executive's five national priorities - can be a daunting task, particularly when teachers already have a crowded curriculum and the pressures of national testing and league tables.

"As things stand, it is very difficult because of the pressure," says Sheena Wardhaugh, a primary teacher with advisory experience in South Lanarkshire and the vice president of the Educational Institute of Scotland. "But if the Executive is going to come away from its emphasis on testing and tables to embrace a wider picture, teachers would be freer to look at values and citizenship."

Citizenship for primary and pre-school pupils is a new subject area for many, so the first thing to consider is how to approach it.

"You don't teach citizenship," says Ms Wardhaugh. "It should underlie the curriculum and be integral to the ethos of the school. This involves pupils taking part in running the school and having their ideas taken on board.

"Pre-school children can have strong ideas about what is fair or not, for example, and you have to encourage them to speak out."

Putting structures in place to help pupils run the school is only part of the answer. Beyond school level, joint or cluster school councils develop the principle and they can be linked to area youth councils, such as South Lanarkshire's, which again links to the national youth parliament.

"There is a lot going on across the country, although maybe it's not consistent," says Ms Wardhaugh. "You have to develop your own guidelines, starting with an audit of school practice to determine what gaps might need to be filled. It's not a case of taking something off the peg but of applying it to suit your own school."

In promoting pupils as "citizens of today", the national priorities also talk of "making connections with the wider community".

"You have to provide young people with experiences in the local community," Ms Wardhaugh adds. "In my school, Stonehouse Primary, we took children to visit sheltered housing to talk to older citizens and we took part in local galas and sports days."

She says things like this help show children how the community is run. "It gives insight into local government, which will lead to them learning about democracy and, importantly, about how they can make a difference."

Another route she suggests is charities. "Oxfam or Save the Children can help children learn about global citizenship. A good start is to log into the Scottish Executive's website and simply follow the links.

"One thing which does help in the approach to values and citizenship in primary schools," she adds, "is that the teacher is dealing with only one class, which allows time to develop ideas and follow things through."

Sheena Wardhaugh talks about Education for Citizenship in the Primary School: Making Connections for Meeting Targets at 3pm, Nov 14

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