'Populist politics' in wake of bombs

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Government plans to put history in the citizenship curriculum have been lambasted by its creator. William Stewart reports

Ministers are "playing populist politics" in aiming to promote British values by including history in the citizenship curriculum, according to the academic who drafted it.

Bill Rammell, education minister, announced a review this week into how citizenship should be taught, as part of a strategy to prevent home-grown terrorism and a repeat of the London bombings.

But Sir Bernard Crick, the politics professor and former government adviser who drew up the citizenship curriculum, attacked the proposals.

"It would be deplorable to overload the curriculum because of what could be a short-term political imperative. The idea of adding British history to it would open up a Pandora's box of controversy over what the interpretation of British history should be," he said.

History should be compulsory up to the age of 16, said Sir Bernard, but remain distinct from citizenship lessons, which already covered diversity, fairness, democracy and tolerance.

Mr Rammell's speech looked at how the Government could support Muslims in driving extremist influences from their communities and integrating into mainstream society.

He appointed Keith Ajegbo, head of Deptford Green school, Lewisham, south London, to head a six-month review into the citizenship curriculum. It aims to allow the exploration of:

* the contribution of different communities in building a "strong cohesive, modern Britain";

* Britain's contribution to world culture and values, and that of other cultures to British life;

* the principle of free speech;

* civic responsibilities in British society.

Sir Bernard said: "I suspect a bit of playing of populist politics by ministers who have not thought this through.

"Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Blunkett have made noble speeches about the idea of Britishness, but that does not mean they translate into a coherent school curriculum.

"There is something slightly comic in the Government reminding us of this in the same week that they are expressing uncertainty about human rights legislation," he added.

Se n Lang, the Historical Association's honorary secretary, suggested that citizenship lessons might include the study of the second half of the 17th century, when concepts such as habeas corpus and limits on the power of the executive were introduced.

They might also look at the British empire, which he said demonstrated a mix of values ranging from setting up the world's largest democracy in India to genocide in Tasmania.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools already taught tolerance, justice, fair play and democracy. "But these are universal values, not specifically British values," he said.

Mohamed Mukadam, head of Leicester Islamic academy, which will become Britain's third state-funded Muslim secondary in 2007, said: "It makes much more sense to talk about universal values in a globalised world. Why don't we let the youngsters come up with their own ideas about what Britishness means?" he asked.

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk



Will teaching children about "Britishness" really promote a more cohesive society, as Mr Rammell asserts? Is school the place to do it? And if the answers to these questions are "yes", then what are the core British values that should be taught? Add your views to our "Britishness" blog at www.tes.co.ukblogbritish

Overheard in the staffroom 25

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