Early trials of citizenship lessons suggest that they can dissolve pupils' cynicism about voting and helping others. Amanda Kelly and, below, Ceri Williams report.
STAFF at a secondary school in a deprived area of south London were so enthused by the Government's citizenship programme they asked ministers to make them a specialist citizenship college.
But, though citizenship is one of Education Secretary David Blunkett's favourite initiatives, the request by Deptford Green school in New Cross was turned down. A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said specialist status would continue to be reserved for subjects that required significant capital investment, such as technology, sport and languages. But he added that there was no reason why schools that were pioneers in citizenship could not apply to become beacon schools.
Deptford Green has received pound;150,000 over two years from the Excellence in Cities project - and another pound;50,000 from the investment bank UBS Warburg - to develop practical curriculum models for citizenship and to pilot a short course in the subject.
Pupils regularly take part in projects such as recycling programmes, entertaining the elderly and visiting court. At present, they are learning how an election works with the help of a mock election.
Pete Pattisson, who is a full-time citizenship teacher at the scool, is guiding Year 7 and 8 pupils through the mock election. He said: "Projects like this have really captured the imagination of the youngsters.
"Even though they are not old enough to vote, a lot have said they will be nagging their parents to make sure they go along to the polls and that has to be a good sign."
Although it will not become a compulsory curriculum requirement in secondary schools until September 2002, many schools are already using citizenship to get pupils fired up about the general election.
Teachers said pupils who had previously shown little interest in politics were now gripped by the subject after serving on a school council or taking part in activities such as mock elections and visits to the Houses of Parliament.
At Deptford Green, Robert Glen, 11, who particularly enjoyed preparing his own environmental manifesto, said: "I used to think that politicians were boring and didn't do anything but now I know that they have to think of good policies. I think citizenship is much more interesting and fun than most lessons."
Bernard Crick, an adviser to the Government on citizenship, said encouraging youngsters to vote was only a small part of citizenship. He said: "For me, a far more important aspect of citizenship is encouraging youngsters to become volunteers and participate in all aspects of public life."