Saint or sinner? You decide

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Students can get to grips with big issues by playing a new board game. Joe Clancy reports on citizenship post-16

If life was a board game, how many squares should a student be set back for being kicked out of home following rows with parents over a drug-taking habit? How many for becoming pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted disease on a one-night stand? How many squares should passing a driving test or gaining a distinction in an exam propel a young person forward?

Students at Newcastle College in Tyne and Wear have been contemplating the answer to these questions during citizenship classes while playing a game called Heaven and Hell.

Tutors discovered that, in getting students to talk in the abstract about issues affecting the lives of young people generally, the game enabled them to get an insight into the problems affecting individuals and the impact on their learning.

Susan Davis, a personal tutor who teaches citizenship, says: "Our college is right in the city centre and our students tend to have very colourful lives. We have groups of students who tend to get involved in drugs, pregnancies and intimidations. We wanted to bring these issues to the fore to create a positive image of how they could deal with them and think about the moral issues they were getting involved in.

"We wanted them to get a grip and learn to deal with those issues. We needed to get them to talk about them openly."

Heaven and Hell is a human board game played on the floor with 50 squares represented by floor tiles one-foot square, numbered from one to 50.

There are designated heaven and hell squares, and question squares offering multiple-choice responses to scenarios. Students roll a large inflatable dice to play. When they land on a heaven or hell square they are given a card that describes a good or bad scenario. The students will have discussed in advance the punishment or reward for encountering such a scenario, and move backwards or forwards as the card decrees.

Susan Davis says: "They react so much better when they do things in a fun way. Vocational students like to do things in an active way rather than in a passive learning situation. We work on the basis of 'what's fun gets done'.

"That's how Heaven and Hell was born. It would get the students to talk about the issues and at the same time inform our teaching. It was a fantastic opportunity to weld the two together.

"They realised they were not just individuals with a problem and they discovered that lots of them had the same issues affecting their lives."

Initially, the game was played by 45 students on tourism and leisure courses. Then it was expanded to include beauty, hairdressing and catering students.

Post-16 citizenship aims to help young people develop social and moral responsibility so they can "play an active, effective part in society as informed, critical citizens". It has been hailed by some as taking the place of religion in providing a moral framework for young people.

Jo Ridley, the course leader who helped to devise Heaven and Hell, supports that view. "It is many years since religion has had any significant impact or influence on the lives of students who come to this college," she says.

"We certainly believe that the game makes the students think. Maybe after playing Heaven and Hell it was that night they didn't go out and have unprotected sex. Maybe it made them think twice about taking drugs.

"We have had students who had been kicked out of home, and whose parents were in jail. The game enables us to get a very good profile on individual and group dynamics. It helps to build up a good relationship between tutor and student. It enables us to offer individual support and group support."

Helping young people confront issues of morality is just one of the three strands of the post-16 citizenship development programme. Its other aims are to stimulate the involvement of young adults in the community, and to help them develop political awareness by encouraging them to take a more central role in democracy.

As one student admits on a CD-Rom produced by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) for use in staff development: "I did not know what democracy meant until I took part in citizenship classes."

Bernadette Joslin, project manager for the post-16 citizenship programme, says: "Even where projects are looking at one strand of the programme they are often incorporating the other two strands, maybe without realising it.

"It is important not to get stuck on personal issues. Even if a project is not specifically about government, students will be looking at the public policy issues, at who has the power, and at how to influence power. To me, the political literacy strand is the key to citizenship. It is about understanding the democratic processes and how they operate, and understanding who to go to if you want to make a difference."

Citizenship is a statutory part of the national curriculum in schools. It has been trialled in 28 colleges during the past three years, and has recently been given the Government go-ahead to expand. A total of 79 pilots, also involving training providers, school sixth-forms and youth groups, have been funded by the Department for Education and Skills and managed by the LSDA.

The post-16 citizenship development programme is now being expanded to include 120 organisations from all over England, including 41 colleges and 22 training providers. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has produced new guidance on post-16 citizenship that provides a framework for essential learning objectives, actions, and activities.

* Details are available at the QCAwebsite and at


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