Is your school geared up for citizenship? Reva Klein visits two that are taking a positive approach
Amorphous. Superfluous. Intruding on territory no other subject has dared to go before. Citizenship is arousing dissent and disquiet before it has even arrived than any other subject could ever achieve. But then, it is not like any other subject. It is a great fruit salad of different things, some of them teachable, such as how the economy and democratic institutions are run. But some of the components of citizenship education are concerned with developing enquiry, reflection and communication skills and promoting spiritual, moral, social and cultural development - things that defy the knowledge-based approach of the rest of the curriculum. So maybe it is no wonder that its advent is not being welcomed with open arms. But among those who have already introduced it, there is optimism in the air. Why? Because they know that when planned and delivered with creativity and rigour, citizenship can not only enhance knowledge but also enrich schools and the communities they are part of.
Take Colne community school in Brightlingsea, Essex. Just as citizenship is not your average subject, neither is Colne your average school. It has broken down the barriers between school and community and opened the doors for a symbiotic partnership that involves all pupils as active members of their locality in one way or another. Colne may be a rural school, but it is in the vanguard of citizenship, leading the way for other schools to follow its example. It is designated as one of nine Lighthouse Schools in the United Kingdom, working in partnership with Community Service Volunteers to develop active learning as a whole-school policy.
These nine schools involve their pupils in a range of activities, including a school council, peer tutoring activities, projects in the schools that benefit the wider community, outreach projects, partnerships with schools in their area and links with business, community organisations, parents and other volunteers. It is a lot for a school to take on and requires a community liaison teacher to co-ordinate and administer. But once the floodgates open and the potential for citizenship-related projects are seen, it is pretty unstoppable. Colne is particularly strong on active learning (or service learning as it is called in the United States, where it was pioneered). This takes traditional community service a stage further, by integrating it into the curriculum.
Candy Garbett, Colne's deputy head, says: "It's all about looking at the national curriculum and finding ways of relating it to the outside world. Take geography, for example. When we look at the local environment as part of the syllabus, we find that there are fewer boat builders because our bit of the Thames Estuary is no longer deep enough for barges and also that the need is no longer there. As a result, an old shipbuilding yard has lain empty for years. So students do a needs assessment of the community to find out how to develop the area most effectively. In addition, they're part of the local democratic process of making their views known, attending public meetings to talk about what they think needs to happen to that space."
Another project was instigated when a local councillor approached the school to ask the pupils to look at the feasibility of creating a skateboard park in the town. A survey was designed by GCSE sociology and psychology students to canvass local opinion. Several Colne pupils volunteered to sit on a committee with other members of the community to liaise with the town council.
Liaise they did and after a lot of hard work, including locating an appropriate spot for it, Brightlingsea now boasts a skateboard park, complete with signs designed by American students who were on an exchange at Colne, and litter bins thestudents insisted were necessary.
Another active learning project involves Year 9 graphics students who are carrying out an audit for a nearby village on the accessibility of public buildings to disabled people. This involves looking at the buildings to assess whether they meet specifications for access and then coming up with designs that will improve them.
In addition to community projects such as these, the school runs a full programme of in-school activities that include an active school council, students involved in interviews and staff recruitment, circle time up to Year 9, peer drug and sex education sessions, peer mentoring and the creation and maintenance of school gardens.
At Colne, citizenship is not an add-on. As Candy Garbett puts it, "Citizenship has to be embedded in the ethos of the school. For it to work, you can't have a tick-list mentality towards it. The values have to be in place for it to happen."
Primrose Hill primary school in north London is a very different school to Colne but shares some of its spiritual and moral values.
Recently, the children got an invigorating dose of political education when they were involved in a project focused on the London mayoral elections. They ran hustings in the school, learned about each party's policies and were invited to participate in a schools' conference with all the candidates. A more tangible result of democracy in action is on view every time you look out at the playground from the school, where a brightly coloured mural emblazoned with the word RESPECT adorns a playground wall.
Last year, two classes of nine-year-olds looked at creative strategies to get children to respect each other more. With the help of Community Service Volunteers's citizenship education materials, they compiled a "wish list" of what they most wanted to make a reality to address the issue. They came up with the idea of an anti-bullying mural on the outside wall.
Then came the planning. They wrote to the head and governors for permission and involved the whole school in a survey for views on how it should be designed. Next, they raised pound;500 for materials through cake and jumble sales, aided by their own press and publicity work. Within weeks, the mural was planned and executed, to the satisfaction of everyone who had taken part.
Year 5 teacher Nicola Hayden stresses how far reaching citizenship activities such as the mural can be: "What the children learn through activities such as these are skills that they need to succeed - respecting each other, listening to each other and how to be active citizens."
CITIZENSHIP IN A NUTSHELL
CITIZENSHIP education becomes part of the statutory requirement for secondary schools in September 2002.
A non-statutory framework for primary schools through the PSHE syllabus is recommended from September 2000.
Citizenship education consists of three main strands:
* social and moral responsibility;
* community involvement;
* political literacy.
The quality of schools' citizenship education will be assessed as part of OFSTED inspections.
Citizenship education lends itself well to learning across the curriculum, for example in promoting:
* spiritual, moral, social and cultural development;
* communication skills;
* problem solving;
* thinking skills;
* financial capability;
* work-related learning.
Community Service Volunteers (CSV) and the Citizenship Foundation have been at the forefront in the UK in supporting schools in citizenship education and developing teaching materials. For more information, contact CSV on 0207 278 6601 and Citizenship Foundation on 0207 929 3344.
Barclays New Futures, in collaboration with CSV, offers schools sponsorship to support projects focusing on citizenship education. For details, tel: 0207 221 7883.