Missing sociologists threaten reform

20th February 1998 at 00:00
Citizenship education may be undermined by the bar on teachers with a social science background. Nicolas Barnard reports.

A shortage of teachers trained in social sciences could undermine attempts to introduce compulsory citizenship lessons into schools, campaigners warn.

A working party led by Professor Bernard Crick, a long-time advocate for the subject, is expected to recommend that citizenship should become part of the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools, when it reports next month.

That will be welcomed by campaign groups including the Citizenship Foundation and the Association of Teachers of Social Science. They head the Citizenship 2000 coalition which is pressing for the subject to become statutory in all years.

But they fear attempts to introduce the subject could be "significantly weakened" by the lack of teachers with a social science background now working in schools.

Since 1988, only graduates with a degree in a national curriculum subject have been allowed to enter teacher training. That effectively debarred social scientists from entering the profession, while those teaching before 1988 have either left the profession or drifted into further or higher education.

Don Rowe, the Citizenship Foundation's director of curriculum resources, said: "This is a significant issue which seems to weaken the whole capacity of schools to deliver a sound social education."

The foundation and the ATSS are calling on the Government to "urgently review the obstacles in the way of such teachers entering schools." Mr Rowe said in practice that would mean allowing social science graduates again to train as teachers.

"If citizenship is going to become analogous to say religious education, it's perfectly reasonable to look for social scientists coming into that area, " he said. "The logic would be for schools to have at least one or two people with some mainstream qualification in that area."

Professor Crick was appointed by Education Secretary David Blunkett to chair the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority advisory group which has been charged with drawing up national guidelines.

Its interim report, due in March, will lay down general guidelines, before a full report laying out a recommended curriculum in the summer.

The full report is likely to recommend the curriculum tread a line between principles and content. Wary of the risk that any prescribed content faces charges of political indoctrination, it is expected to recommend the curriculum consist of general guidelines.

Children will still be expected to know certain things at certain points in their education - for example Britain's political system. But the group sees citizenship as the development of a sense of personal and social responsibility and of the skills to participate in society as much as a theoretical understanding of politics.

It will also recommend strengthening citizenship as a cross-curricular theme. Professor Crick said in some schools it was "completely disregarded" while in others there was excellent work taking place in English, history and geography lessons among others.

"We want to see a safeguarded place in the timetable so schools take it seriously and teachers are given good advice," Professor Crick said. "But a lot of it can be dealt with by cross-curricular work."

He supported the relaxation of bars on social science graduates entering teaching but said drawing on the enthusiasm of those teachers already teaching citizenship as part of their own subjects would help bridge the gap.

Subject of the week, Social Sciences in TES Friday magazine

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