Lessons to make citizens of us all;Platform

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Bernard Crick believes that citizenship means social and moral responsibility as well as political

Since the time of Aristotle most of the civilised world has recognised that citizenship is itself a great educative force and not something that can be simply bolted on to the aims of education as a nice optional extra.

Back in July the Secretary of State pledged in an overlooked section of the White Paper Excellence in Schools: "to strengthen education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools" The press release later that month, announcing the setting up of the advisory group that I chair, also attracted little attention - which is perhaps as well - until we had time to form a view of the way forward. We were appointed directly by the Secretary of State, not as part of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's already on-going review of the whole curriculum, but in touch and in parallel.

The nature of the appointment meant that, though uncontentious in any party sense, our work is a political matter - at least in terms of helping to shape public policy. It is, perhaps, at one with moves for constitutional reform, freedom of information and enhancing local democracy.

If anyone had feared or wished to ferment a political storm, the composition of the committee was distinctly calming - more an old-fashioned Royal Commission in its wide diversity of responsible representatives. Neither professional educationists ready to carve into a changing curriculum, nor New Labour trusties ready to override professional opinion.

As chairman I fitted neither category too well, but far more significant is that the Speaker of the House of Commons is the committee's patron, with her representative reporting to her. That means (if I may intrude a little premature political education) that she had consulted the leader of the Opposition before agreeing to take up the post.

Our terms of reference were precise: "to provide advice on effective education for citizenship in schools - to include the nature and practices of participation in democracy; the duties, responsibilities and rights of individuals as citizens; and the value to individuals and society of community activity". So citizenship is by no means just political education. Education about the community and for community service is equally stressed. Indeed we see three strands of citizenship: social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy.

To introduce citizenship into the curriculum is no small matter - nothing less than a key part of trying to create a genuine citizenship culture in our country. It is potentially contentious only because it is new in England and Wales, even if commonplace in all our European partner states, the United States and on the way in Australia. In Scotland, as in modern studies, it has been present for almost 30 years.

So a case has first to be made to the public by public figures. And the evidence we received from civic bodies is echoed in our recommendations - a remarkable consensus that it must be done.

But how should it be done? The devil is always in the detail which is what will interest and worry the teaching profession. And on that we have had little to say, as yet. It must be made clear by July, and in that short period we will be consulting, arguing and listening, widely.

However, our interim report (unanimous, incidentally) is not tentative in our basic recommendation: that there should be a statutory entitlement for pupils which schools must realise through the curriculum.

This entitlement (to quote in full as it is so important): "is established by setting out specific learning outcomes for each key stage, rather than detailed programmes of study.

"We advise substituting for the present input and output model of the existing national curriculum subjects, an output model alone based on tightly defined learning outcomes.

"This offers flexibility to schools in relation to local conditions and opportunities, and allows the possibility of different approaches to citizenship education, involving differing subject combinations and aspects of the curriculum based on existing practice in each school.

"The learning outcomes should be tight so that standards and objectivity can be inspected. This approach would avoid objections that a single way of teaching about politics is being imposed, and lessen the dangers of subsequent ministerial interventions on precise content."

The last sentence is important to us all as citizens, but the first three sentences will, we hope meet many of the worries of teachers.

We will give enough guidance for clarity - the learning objectives and a general framework - but do not wish to impose rigid schemes and risk over-burdening schools. We don't know yet how our recommendations will fit in with the general intentions of the QCA to get a greater flexibility and reduce overburdening.

The Secretary of State welcomes our interim report - and its recommendations that five per cent of curriculum time should be taken up with citizenship education - but he will reserve his decision until July, when the picture can seen as a whole.

But we are forging on at once. Obviously our committee does not include specialists in curriculum development.

Two sub-committees of teachers and educationists, one for the primary and one for the secondary key stages, will report to it. This will threaten no existing subjects; it will be a matter of adjustment not hard choices.

Schools already give time to citizenship, civics or current affairs. They may welcome greater clarity and help. For just as we say that citizenship must be phased in over time, so we will argue that it needs new resources, especially for in-service teaching.

I am a political philosopher who for long suffered as a chief examiner for a London A-level syllabus, in order to turn the subject from something boring and purely institutional into something dealing far more with issues and concepts.

So I take no stick from anyone who thinks that knowledge of our Western tradition of free politics, and cultivation of the skills to practice it, is an educationally "soft" or improper subject.

As Professor Michael Barber, head of the government's standards and effectiveness unit, said in a recent lecture, to achieve world standards in the new century will demand that everyone is "highly literate, informed, capable of learning constantly and to play their part as an ethically-informed citizen of a democratic society".

Professor Bernard Crick is chairman of the government advisory group for citizenship and democracy in schools.

Responses should be sent to David Kerr, The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Newcombe House, 44 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3JB

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