History in the making of citizenship

7th May 2004 at 01:00
I wonder why so few secondary schools are delivering citizenship as Ofsted would wish. After all, you might expect Year 9 students, with only the diversions of choosing GCSE options and preparing for Sats to occupy them, would be spending most waking hours debating what national curriculum level they are likely to achieve in citizenship. The problem is that it's not only students who almost universally don't care about the citizenship curriculum, but schools too. And if my school is anything to go by, that includes the head. It is hardly surprising when curriculum time is so desperately precious that creating space for the discrete teaching of an additional subject is a non-starter for most.

This is not to deny that most of us aspire to preparing our students as well as we can for adult society. I'm happy to call this citizenship, and care deeply about the contribution these students will be equipped to make.

In fact, there is a real sense in which the whole-school experience we try to offer is focused on the citizens our students will become. I know my school's curriculum, timetabled lessons and the hidden curriculum provide opportunities to learn about citizenship in large measure, and I am happy to encourage staff to make explicit reference to these.

Until recently, Ofsted has shared this, as it seems to me, balanced and constructive approach. Thus the scene was set for Ofsted Update 43, published in the Christmas holidays, which made the requirement for specific citizenship teaching almost unavoidable. Although it points out that citizenship can still be delivered in a cross-curricular way, this seems to mean it must be taught as a specific subject within that framework. In other words, if it does not have discrete curriculum time, students need to know when it is being taught.

One zealous Ofsted inspector I know is promoting the notion that best practice is for students to carry a citizenship notebook at all times, in which they record examples of such learning. This smacks of a dictatorial approach; and is certainly an artificial way of doing things. What precisely would it be that students were expected to record? It reminds me of the daily diary of news we were expected to keep as Year 3 pupils in the 1950s.

The new guidelines are clearly seeking to enforce a hard line.

Unfortunately, they have brought citizenship, and indeed Ofsted, even more into disrepute. For example, the statement in Update 43 that "work in history on the origins of Parliament, the civil war, and struggle for the vote has a bearing on the work pupils should be doing in national curriculum citizenship, but it is not citizenship: it is history", is nonsense. How astonishing that a contrivance, which national curriculum citizenship is, should be accorded such alleged credibility in comparison with history.

The logical conclusion of this approach is that when students engage in all those extra-curricular activities that contribute to their development into responsible adults, they are not learning about citizenship. It's good to see recognition of something that stands outside league tables and testing, but there is urgent need for balanced rationalisation.

A tremendous opportunity was missed last year to listen to students' concern over the Iraq war, a matter of serious political and citizenship dimensions if ever there was one. To be as dismissive as the Government was, and frightened as some LEAs seemed to be to allow students to have their say, is a sad comment on our society's real commitment to the evolving attitudes of our young people.

John Claydon is head of Wyedean school in Chepstow, Gloucestershire

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