The test of a true Brit - could you make the grade?

16th April 2004 at 01:00
With citizenship tests for asylum seekers on the agenda, Alan Combes put his home-grown students' knowledge to the challenge

The possibility of a test for British citizenship has received much press coverage. It is David Blunkett's idea, which is hardly surprising when you realise the Home Secretary was the man who introduced citizenship to the curriculum when he was Education Secretary.

After suggesting to my Year 9 citizenship students that, as Britons loyal to their monarch, they are subjects, not citizens, I asked them to take a test of citizenship. After all, is it fair to quiz asylum seekers on their knowledge of their potential adoptive home, if true Brits could not pass such a test themselves?

I designed the test after some internet research on likely areas of questioning if the notion of a citizenship test ever became a reality. I added elements of knowledge that Year 9 citizenship students should reasonably be expected to possess.

The audience was 100 mixed-ability pupils between 13 and 14; youngsters who will be given the vote in the next four years. Their school is in Whitby, North Yorkshire, and the only knowledge many of them have of the effect of minority ethnic groups on society comes from the media and the classroom.

Some interesting generalisations could be made. The first four questions targeted basic political knowledge and, by and large, the results were encouraging. A significant number of pupils listed "Ireland" as a constituent country of the UK, and were unsure of the difference between that and "Northern Ireland".

Only slightly more than half thought Tony Blair had more power than the Queen, but the large minority who had answered incorrectly here claimed that symbol and ceremony had led them to believe the monarch was more important (my words, not theirs).

Naming a Commonwealth country was probably the most depressingly incorrect answer. France, Germany and the United States were frequent responses: does this tell us something about the British Commonwealth's low status or about what is lacking in the secondary curriculum? Almost certainly this is a question which would be more successfully answered by non-Britons.

Most pupils defined freedom of speech as licence to speak one's mind without fear of reprisal, and yet much work has been done with the pupils on the close link between responsibility and rights. Similarly disappointing was the inability of even one pupil to see the global implications of being a good neighbour; few enough saw the role of a good neighbour in the wider community.

Questions 11 to 14 were intended to precipitate discussion in a follow-up lesson; there was no expectation that the pupils would get the answers right. There was a paucity of knowledge about the citizens' advice centres; something to be remedied before pupils leave school. Responses varied from "money matters" to "finding your way about", and it was obvious that few pupils had any contact through their families with the valuable services provided.

The answer that caused the most shock was undoubtedly the one about the TV licence. Even given three possible answers, only a small minority plumped for the accurate pound;121 response.

Alan Combes is a teacher and education consultant

The Alan Combes citizenship test

1 Which countries make up the United Kingdom?

2 Who is the Prime Minister?

3 (a) What do the letters MP stand for? (b) Who is yours?

4 Who has more power: the Queen or the Prime Minister?

5 In less than 20 words, what does 'freedom of speech' mean?

6 Name one Commonwealth country outside the UK.

7 What might be in a multicultural festival?

8 Name a British town with many ethnic communities.

9 List three of the UK's religious faiths.

10 In less than 20 words, what is a 'good neighbour'?

11 Are policemen allowed to carry guns in the UK?

12 In the UK can a policeman enter your house without permission?

13 Can you refuse to serve on a jury in the UK?

14 Could a job be advertised as for men only in the UK?

15 What services are available if you dial 999?

16 Name two daily national newspapers in the UK.

17 What kind of problem might you take to the citizens' advice centre?

18 How much of each pound;1 earned does the average person pay in tax?

19 Name two things that your income tax pays for.

20 Name two religious holidays in the UK.

21 How much does a TV licence cost?(a) pound;21 (b) pound;51 (c) pound;121

22 Where is your nearest public library?

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