In 1970 a young teacher called David Blunkett attended a conference on citizenship education. Nicolas Barnard assesses its impact
Labour has signalled its commitment to citizenship education by appointing one of the subject's staunchest campaigners to chair the group charged with drawing up national guidelines.
Despite approving comments from ministers, and a groundswell of cross-party support, the subject has no assured slot in the timetable as the curriculum comes up for review.
Professor Bernard Crick, who is to chair the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's advisory group, has campaigned since the 1970s for separate citizenship lessons.
Professor Crick, emeritus professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London, said this week: "I feel very strongly that citizenship won't be taken seriously and we cannot get active and good citizenship unless there is a specific place for it in the curriculum in the last few years of school," he said.
The working group will attempt for the first time to lay down aims and principles for a subject which had become a taboo area for teachers wary of being accused of indoctrinating their charges.
The group will consider not only political education - the parties, their ideologies and the political process - but also citizenship as a way of encouraging young people to participate in their own communities.
Currently, citizenship is studied as a cross-curricular theme. But practice varies hugely, and some schools ignore it.
"Citizenship as a cross-curricular theme hasn't worked," says the group's special adviser, David Kerr of the National Foundation for Educational Research, who has studied citizenship education in England. "There is a lot of good will around, but there needs to be much tighter thinking about what citizenship education is."
Labour has signalled its belief that schools should pass on life skills to pupils. But citizenship will have to compete with health education, parenting and other related subjects for space in the timetable.
As well as setting out aims for an interim report due by March, the working group has been asked to create a framework for citizenship education.
Professor Crick says citizenship should be taught from infant school onwards, beginning by instilling an awareness of community, an understanding of how to get on with others and knowledge of the law.
As children move to secondaries they would learn the role they could play in local community organisations, with political education introduced in the final years.
Other members of the advisory group include Lord (Kenneth) Baker, the former Tory education secretary who introduced the national curriculum, and Jan Newton, chief executive of the citizenship foundation.
If Professor Crick has grounds for optimism that citizenship may finally find its way into the curriculum, it has been a long time coming. In the 1970s he chaired the Hansard Society's working party on political education. Among those attending a series of conferences to debate the issue was a young teacher called David Blunkett.