United they stand

15th June 2012 at 01:00
It may not be taught as a discrete subject north of the border, but children in Scotland have a more wide-ranging grasp of citizenship than their counterparts in England and Wales, a study reveals

More young adults collect money for charity in Scotland than their counterparts in England and Wales, more are inclined to vote, and more view the European Union favourably.

Fewer young Scots view people their own age with suspicion, or feel immigrants should be forced to learn English.

The 2012 study by the National Foundation for Educational Research that produced these findings also looked at the citizenship teaching these young people got at school, and found a Scottish approach fundamentally different from that in England.

The researchers carried out an online survey of people aged 18-25, of whom 1,055 respondents were schooled in England, 426 in Scotland and 391 in Wales.

Young people taught in England were most likely to identify having received citizenship teaching (55 per cent). Fewer people schooled in Scotland and Wales - where citizenship education was non-statutory - said they experienced it, at 44 and 37 per cent respectively.

But in England citizenship has been treated as a separate subject, jostling for space in the timetable; in Scotland, it is supposed to infuse the curriculum.

The research found that the Scottish respondents may have a better recall of citizenship even though they do not always describe it as citizenship.

The study uncovered evidence of a "legacy" of citizenship teaching - "particularly in terms of the topics that (young people) remember being taught about and the perceived depth of that teaching"; again, Scots were found to be the most likely to have benefited.

"Why is it that young people in England have greater recognition of having been taught citizenship in school but their counterparts in Scotland, where it is not statutory, have greater memory about being taught certain topics in depth?" ask the NFER researchers.

"It may not be the fact that schools are told to teach citizenship that is important, but rather it may be how often and how well they teach it to young people that matters."

The researchers hesitate, without further analysis, to establish a connection between teaching and people's current "civic knowledge, attitudes and behaviours". But they have raised just that possibility: citizenship education in Scotland may be shaping the way young people view the world and live their lives.

A report published this month by the Eurydice Network, looking at citizenship education in 31 European countries, found that, while it had cross-curricular status in a majority of countries, there were only three which had defined a set of "common competences" directly linked to citizenship, to be acquired by all secondary teachers regardless of their subject - France, the Flemish community of Belgium, and Scotland.

Citizenship education in Scotland fares reasonably well in international comparisons, says Henry Maitles, professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland. In some countries, it is confined to civics courses at a certain point in the timetable, whereas the Scottish approach is rights-based and, in theory, all-pervasive. "It's not just something that you learn about - it's something that you live," he says.

Primary schools tend to incorporate citizenship better than secondaries, adds Professor Maitles. A primary project on the Holocaust, for example, may touch on literature, history, art, music and current affairs. In secondary schools, a sprawling subject like the Holocaust was often trammelled by subject boundaries: history, for example, could neglect the ethical side; religious and moral education could introduce the ethics without a historical context.

Similarly, pupil councils "seem to function far less well" at secondary level. Professor Maitles recalls one boy's comment, from a piece of research he carried out with former colleague Ross Deuchar: "In primary school, we got to choose things, but everything is decided for us here."

Across primary and secondary, "the overwhelming amount of topics are what I might describe as softer topics - recycling and so on". Many schools make commendable efforts to raise money for charity, but often fail to delve deeper, he adds.

"Citizenship should be looking at the reasons behind the poverty, not just the poverty," says Professor Maitles.

Gert Biesta, professor of education at the University of Stirling, wrote in 2008 of the risks associated with citizenship that is preoccupied with "individual responsibility and individual traits, values and dispositions". The Scottish approach, he wrote, could do with paying more attention to the "political dimensions of citizenship".

He was not advocating a party-political stance, but "a view of democracy as requiring more than just active, committed and responsible citizens" - one which is "more explicitly connected with wider social and political action".

The "responsible citizen", of course, is one of the four Curriculum for Excellence capacities. But Professor Biesta, who explored citizenship further in his book Learning Democracy in School and Society, told TESS: "Perhaps the shortest way to make my point is that a responsible citizen is not necessarily also a democratic citizen."

Children, too, have been exposed to shallow citizenship education, according to a Children's Parliament report that was part of the research underpinning the McCormac report on teacher employment.

"It appears. that children and young people have had opportunities in the context of school to discuss responsibilities, but not to have considered what citizenship means to them. This might mean that teachers need to focus on the broader meaning and experience of citizenship in the classroom," it stated.

Earlier this year, TESS reported on University of Strathclyde research that found teachers were "afraid" of human rights education.

"They are worried about parents' reaction. (Student teachers) talked at length about how there would be `all hell breaking loose' if they even broached human rights," said lead researcher Claire Cassidy.

Student teachers were worried about how to pitch lessons, and lacked an understanding of human rights; the researchers found that human rights education was not explicitly covered in initial teacher education. Their study, based on an online survey of 133 students at an unidentified Scottish university, included individual experiences: one fourth-year BEd student brought a Holocaust survivor into class and was told by a teacher afterwards that the lesson was "controversial"; another wanted to do a human rights topic, but was told by a teacher that it was "too dodgy" and did a topic on space instead.

Yet Scottish schools are "ahead of the rest of the world in integrating rights into what they do", according to Bruce Wilkinson, the former primary and secondary teacher who worked as Unicef's education officer in Scotland for 10 years until retiring recently.

There are proportionally three times as many Scottish schools signed up to Unicef's Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) - a scheme based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - as other parts of UK, he says.

"We have to be very wary of the idea of trying to educate citizenship without there being values involved," stresses Mr Wilkinson. "You can do it in a values-free way, but it's dangerous - like doing enterprise in a values-free way."

Many schools have warmed to this idea. Graham Hutton, headteacher at Dundee's Grove Academy, who was head at Dumbarton Academy when it first carried out one of the most daring citizenship projects attempted at a Scottish school (see panel, left), says citizenship education has to flow from a school's vision and values.

His successor at Dumbarton Academy, Gordon Downie, concurs: "In order to teach high-quality citizenship, I believe that the ethos of the school must demonstrate the principles that you want to impress upon your students."

Citizenship education draws upon the school's charter, created by pupils and staff, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Carleton Primary in Glenrothes achieved a world first a few years ago as the first school anywhere to have RRSA pupil assessors. Pupils and staff visit other schools to decide whether an award is merited.

Rights are the bedrock for everything the Fife school does. At the start of each new session, year groups draw up charters of rights and responsibilities for pupils and teachers. Teachers have the right to hold opinions and be listened to, but also the responsibility to listen to others and respect their opinions; pupils have the right to healthy food, but also the responsibility not to waste food.

"That isnae fair" is a common mantra among children, says Mr Wilkinson. A sense of justice is highly important to them, so the RRSA has an energising effect. "Children become incredibly passionate, they see it's incredibly fair - it makes sense to them," he explains.

"The first thing you sense is the confidence of the children," says Mr Wilkinson of schools such as Carleton. "They have a sense of ownership - they actually feel a responsibility."

"It's giving the children a voice," adds depute head Sioux Hamilton. "Every lesson it's `What do you want to know?', `What do you think?'. That can't happen unless you're respectful of others' opinions."

David Innes, depute head at Aberdeenshire's Westhill Academy, represents Scotland on the Rights Respecting Schools Award. He feels that the NFER report is a "fairly accurate snapshot" of citizenship education in Scotland.

Making citizenship part of learning throughout the 3-18 curriculum is probably a big factor in "some very positive trends" in the report, he says. "If anything, I would anticipate that if a similar survey were conducted in around three to five years, when we have seen CfE work its way through the system, you would see even stronger results for Scotland."

While there is a "massive number" of fundraising schemes in Scottish schools ("It would not be unusual for a school to be raising well in excess of pound;10,000 for good causes"), Mr Innes says most Scottish schools recognise that "citizenship can be about much more than charity".

In some areas, there are pupil representatives on local community councils and several schools, Aberdeenshire's Ellon Academy among them, have been considering formal elections to these posts.

Mr Innes praises Scotland's children's commissioner, Tam Baillie, for finding "creative ways" to enable children to "play an ever greater part in shaping their communities".

But he believes progress remains to be made: "More could perhaps be done to keep emphasising the need for young people to be engaged in their world and to feel empowered to have their voices heard."

The findings

- 38 per cent of respondents schooled in Scotland reported raising money for a good cause or charity over the past year, against 28 per cent for England and 29 per cent for Wales;

- about 40 per cent of all respondents supported a political party; the Scottish proportion was 44 per cent;

- 59 per cent of those from Scotland remembered being taught "a lot" or "a little" about the European Union, 14 percentage points higher than in England, and 10 higher than in Wales;

- Scots were more likely to feel part of Europe than people in England and Wales;

- English-schooled participants were least trusting of people of a similar age, with those from Scotland "significantly" more trusting;

- Scots showed higher levels of trust in their family;

- there were "significant differences" in local and national identity, with English people feeling less a part of their country and local town than Scots;

- Scots were "significantly" less likely to agree strongly that people not born in Britain should be required to learn English;

- participants schooled in Scotland were more certain that they would vote in local and European elections than English participants;

- across all three nations, young people were "neither disinterested in nor disengaged from political and social issues"; they use media, particularly the internet, to keep informed and participate in debate, and "recognise the importance of politics in their lives";

- young people generally find politics difficult to understand and have little trust in government and politicians.

Source: Citizens in Transition in England, Wales and Scotland: Young citizens at 18-25, NFER

When bib-wearers learned vital lessons from the Holocaust

Last year, it emerged that a group of S1 pupils had been deliberately ostracised by staff at Dumbarton Academy, in a project designed to show how genocide could occur.

It took place on the final day of the school's 12-day "One World" citizenship project, which suspended the usual S1 timetable and was highlighted by Learning and Teaching Scotland as good practice.

S1 was addressed by head Graham Hutton and West Dumbartonshire education director Terry Lanagan. First Minister Alex Salmond was, they were told, acting on (bogus) research which showed that, because they had absorbed less vitamin D, children born in winter were inferior. As a result, 20 pupils wore yellow bibs for the day and were treated differently; they knew in advance what was planned, but other pupils were not briefed.

The winter babies were made to sit on the floor, ignored when they put their hands up, and let out last for lunch. This took place during a day of workshops exploring the Holocaust, Anne Frank, stages of genocide and a visit to Auschwitz.

The experiment, based on the American teacher and anti-racism activist Jane Elliott's "blue eyesbrown eyes" experiment of 1968, led to a research paper by Henry Maitles, of the University of the West of Scotland, and Glasgow teacher Erin McKelvie.

"There was an undertone of discrimination in every workshop", wrote Professor Maitles. At one point, two winter-baby girls became "overcome with frustration".

Most non-bibbed pupils kept their heads down, but 18 complained about treatment of the winter babies - "a positive sign", said Professor Maitles - although the dissent petered out. All pupils thought the project had been a good idea.

They were "confused, angry and disbelieving of what was happening in front of their eyes", says current head Gordon Downie; when it was over "their relief was palpable". The debrief was crucial, allowing pupils to pick apart the issues that had unfolded.

"It increased their awareness that individuals or groups can manipulate others to achieve their own selfish objectives," says Mr Downie. Important elements of citizenship had been reinforced, including the security and moral support that a community can bring, and one's personal responsibility within a community.

From an education director's perspective, Mr Lanagan views the project as the epitome of good citizenship education, which should provide "real contexts to which youngsters can relate and experiential learning, rather than adults telling young people how to be good citizens".

`A golden thread of humanitarianism'

In 2008, Karen Sinclair, P6-7 teacher at Thornlie Primary in Wishaw, asked pupils to bring in interesting newspaper headlines. The conflict in Georgia, and its human impact, kept coming up.

Madge Bray, from Georgian charity Heart of the Brave, heard of the school's interest and asked if pupils would like to quiz her about the country.

As a result, Thornlie forged links with Temi, a "singing orphanage", at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, which encourages a Georgian form of polyphonic singing to build children's self-belief. Pupils were shown a video by Ms Bray, and wanted to find out more about one boy in a wheelchair.

Dato Valishvili was two when he fell from a seventh-floor window. Many believed he was pushed by a close member of his family: a disabled boy would elicit more sympathy when begging on the streets of Tbilisi. He broke his back and was paralysed from the waist down. His spleen was removed, but his broken arms were never treated. For the next three years, he could be seen imploring passers-by for change in the Georgian capital. Eventually, he was taken to the Temi orphanage, but he was not expected to live and remained mute for months.

Thornlie pupils successfully campaigned for a disabled ramp to be built at Temi and for Dato to come to Edinburgh for his life-saving operation. There was huge excitement when he visited the North Lanarkshire school.

Dato is now in recuperative care in Edinburgh and goes to Oxgangs Primary. Thornlie pupils still visit him, and Dato, now 11, enjoys visits to Thornlie when possible. There are hopes he may eventually be able to walk again. His leave to remain expires in August, but he is being considered for entry into one of Scotland's best-known independent schools, which would allow him to remain on an educational visa.

The Thornlie-Georgia link led to a rich list of activities: pupils made traditional Georgian costumes; worked with an University of Edinburgh linguist specialising in Eastern Europe; and, memorably, travelled to Georgia to show off their polyphonic singing.

Ms Bray believes that the project achieved a rare profundity, partly because the school staff had a deep-thinking, philosophical approach to learning, but also because the children developed a close connection with an individual.

Headteacher David Hughes describes the work with Dato and Georgia as "a golden thread of humanitarianism, compassion, and care and respect for the other", not a "simple tick-the-box charity hit".

Original headline: Young Scots have their fingers on the pulse of citizenship

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