Osler's passion for citizenship

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Scotland's chief inspector has gone in to bat for the newest addition to the curriculum, John Cairney reports.

Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector of schools, has entered the debate about the value of teaching pupils about citizenship, enthusiastically endorsing it.

Rejecting accusations of "creeping centralism" or "subtle indoctrination", Mr Osler told a conference in Bellshill last week that citizenship education touched on the fundamentals of what education is supposed to be about.

Political literacy "should not be the preserve of the political or intellectual elite", he said. Scotland has "a sound starting point from which to develop a basic knowledge of political concepts, awareness of political process and how the individual might relate to these".

In an all-out attack on those who have argued against a national approach to education for citizenship, Mr Osler told the conference that schools cannot stand aside from it. "The national priorities for education recently articulated by Scottish ministers expressly mention citizenship.

"Learning for life is equally emphasised to equip pupils with the foundation skills, attitudes and expectations necessary to prosper in a changing society and to encourage creativity and ambition."

In an impassioned presentation to the conference, which was organised by North Lanarkshire Council and Learning and Teaching Scotland, Mr Osler said that the citizenship debate instigated by the LTS consultative document, which has raged in the TESS over the past month, is "as good an opportunity as we are likely to get to establish society's views on what pupils are entitled to after 13 years in our education system".

He acknowledged, however, that the final curricular advice which emerges from the consultation will have to address concerns about the difference between education and political indoctrination.

Mr Osler added: "Education cannot be static and conformist. It will have to be dynamic and responsive, both to technological and social change and to the various roles that children hve to play as citizens in their local communities, in Scotland as a whole and in the global sense."

Professor Pamela Munn, who chaired the review group which produced Education for Citizenship, said that she was "disappointed" at some of the views expressed in the columns of the TESS, which presented "an image of schools semi-detached from the real world".

Schools were the first public institutions where young people gained the sense of something bigger than the family, and by their nature play an important role in bringing about a sense of "publicness".

Education for citizenship linked naturally into the work schools are already doing in relation to developing a positive ethos and in raising attainment as well as other achievements, Professor Munn told delegates.

"Education for citizenship is a key aspect of that because it is about empowering young people, both as individuals and as members of society," she said.


James McVittie, head of St Ninian's High in East Renfrewshire, stressed to conference delegates the importance of checking on how effective schools are in turning pupils into informed citizens.

His own school had set up working groups involving staff and pupils to do just that. There were also seminar groups for every pupil in every year group which are held three times a year.

"We ask pupils to talk about their experiences in the school," Mr McVittie continued."It could be about bullying or racism or how pupils feel that they are being treated by other pupils or by teachers."

This can be done through existing subjects, he said, which has the advantage that teachers feel more comfortable when their own subject is the vehicle.

Mr McVittie acknowledged that the exercise can lead to criticism of teachers by pupils which can be "hurtful".

But if teachers were confident professionals, they should be able to take constructive criticism and see what they can learn from it."If on the other hand it is poisonous or malicious, then we should have nothing to do with it."

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