Hum of activity on citizens' band

17th July 1998 at 01:00
Citizenship is coming closer to every school timetable with government advisers now putting the finishing touches to their report, due to be formally launched in the autumn.

However, their recommendations - which embrace teaching style, learning outcomes and whole-school ethos - are likely to raise as many questions as they answer.

An education in citizenship, says the advisory group's final draft, should be based on four essential elements to be tackled throughout compulsory education. These are: key concepts; values and dispositions; skills and aptitudes; and knowledge and understanding. The advisers have worked out what each element should contain (see table).

These advisers - a group of 15, including ITN's Michael Brunson, former Tory education secretary Kenneth Baker and teachers - have also drawn up objectives for children of different ages. So, for example, 14-year-olds at the end of key stage 3 would be expected, among other things, to be able to role play and reflect upon viewpoints contrary to their own; demonstrate an understanding of the use of statistics; know about the ideas and aims of the main political parties and pressure groups; and understand terms such as taxation, xenophobia and lobbying.

The examples of the objectives - or learning outcomes - down to precise words to be defined and understood, have come from proposals by practising teachers, says David Kerr, the group's professional officer. They draw not only on projects in British schools but also on new moves to put citizenship on the curriculum in the Irish Republic and in Australia.

The teachers were brought in to create and test what would be manageable in the classroom. According to Dr Kerr: "Teachers with day-to-day practical experience wanted the learning outcomes to be very clear, so that schools knew exactly what they are working towards."

Nevertheless, some schools will question the practicality of teaching all this to every kind of pupil within the school day. The report is likely to stress that citizenship can be taught through other subjects. But the failure of cross-curricular delivery was precisely the reason why the advisory group was established: citizenship has been on the national curriculum since its inception but inspectors found few schools systematically taught it.

Others will raise an eyebrow at some of the emphasis on how citizenship should be taught. Although the advisers promised that they would not specify methods teachers should use, they are definite about those that they should not. Traditional "civics" teaching of facts about society and politics is out; so is too much hypothesising. Instead the draft report insists that pupils should acquire their knowledge and understanding through exploring "topical issues ... and events through school and community involvement, case studies and critical discussions that are challenging and relevant to their lives".

The report will offer teachers some guidance through the minefield of dealing with controversial topics without bias or moralising. It will say they should balance different arguments, emphasise the importance of evidence to back up a case, ensure that all pupils have an opportunity to express their views and to consider the view of others. Pupils' achievements in these areas can and must be assessed, the report says, and should if possible be accredited at key stage 4 . But can you teach, let alone accredit, disposition and values? Will lessons on the "proclivity to act responsibly" really lead to fewer bricks through windows?

The advisers' final draft stresses that teaching citizenship involves a whole-school approach: "Schools need to consider how far their ethos, organisation and daily practices are consistent with the aim and purpose of citizenship education #201; schools should make every effort to engage pupils in discussion and consultation about all aspects of school life on which pupils might reasonably be expected to have a view. "

And will this be enough to answer concerns about young people's social, political and community alienation? The group bases its optimism on studies showing that young people who talk about social and political affairs are also more likely to act upon them: to vote, to volunteer, to stand for office. What those studies do not show, according to researchers in the field, is whether the talking is a cause or an effect. In other words, the people who would take action anyway may also be the ones who are more likely to talk about it.

The question could be answered by a long-term study, comparing children who have had citizenship education with those who have not, to see which group turns out the better citizens. The advisers cannot base their case on that study - because it has never been done.

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