Flying the flag for inclusion
Tony Breslin argues that the introduction of citizenship in secondaries has had a positive impact not only on schools but also on the wider community
There is a contradiction at the heart of education that needs to be addressed with urgency. Teachers are asked to ensure that everyone "achieves". However, the more successful they are with the 50, 60 or 70 per cent who do achieve, the more excluded the other 30, 40 or 50 per cent become. Achievement creates its own exclusion.
But if we set out from the start to include everyone, we might build a better and more socially sustainable society. Inclusive schools are achieving schools that reach beyond the booster class or the targeting of those on the grade C-D borderline.
The most recent addition to the statutory secondary curriculum, citizenship, does just that: starting by including everyone. It is the "inclusion first" approach of the Every Child Matters agenda, which promotes the idea of "full service" schools, with a renewed focus on parental support and family learning.
At the Citizenship Foundation, we have long argued that citizenship is not simply a new subject but a new type of subject. It is not enough simply to teach about citizenship necessary though this is. Students need to build on their classroom learning by developing the skills of effective citizenship through a range of learning opportunities taking place in a variety of venues.
These opportunities are best provided within a context now adopted by the National Foundation for Educational Research's study into national curriculum citizenship that we call citizenship-rich. The citizenship-rich school has five characteristics:
* It is clearly identified in the curriculum model, on the timetable, in assessment frameworks, in continuing professional development and in the school's development planning.
* It helps young people to develop their citizenship knowledge through a skills-based and learner-centred education.
* It takes place, therefore, not only in a designated timetable space but also through a range of activities, on and off the school site, which are valued by everyone.
* It promotes the active and effective participation of all students, teachers, parents and the wider community.
* It shapes the way the school and community espousing such principles interact.
What does this bold citizenship-rich school of the future look like? First, it is softer less of a total institution and as a result nurtures creativity, experimentation and innovation.
Second, the principles and practice of student participation, community involvement, staff development and family learning are at the core of school activity. As a result, the environment is seen to be both inclusive and just. Significant numbers of students beyond reach in a conventional school are better engaged in the citizenship-rich school achievement grows from inclusion.
Third, the citizenship-rich school is more effective at meeting its pupils' needs in terms of teaching, pastoral support and the curriculum. The breadth of citizenship learning is wider than that of a conventional subject and influences a broader range of learners including those often thought of as disaffected, disruptive or just plain "hard-to-reach".
Our drive to raise achievement especially when reflected in league tables can add to the very exclusion we wish to challenge for some of our most marginalised learners. The citizenship-rich school might allow us to deal with these long-standing educational challenges through a new type of subject. Moreover, it offers a new approach to schooling and a better environment in which to both teach and learn.
Tony Breslin is chief executive at the Citizenship Foundation (www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk), the independent educational charity; co editor (with Barry Dufour) of Developing Citizens: a comprehensive introduction to effective citizenship education in the secondary school (Hodder Murray, 2006) and a council member of the Association for Citizenship Teaching