Wha's like us? No one;Opinion;News amp; Opinion
on citizenship education, says Bernard Crick
HENRY MAITLES certainly mounted a platform when he attacked in no uncertain terms both the impending English citizenship order (TESS, October 29) - "a recipe for disaster" - and the report that led to it (by a committee I had the honour to chair). "Pupils, teachers and parents deserve better," he says, "than the Government's proposals for England and Wales." Well I hope so. Things can always be better.
But first let me get Wales out of the way. David Blunkett's writ no longer runs in Wales. The respected advocate of modern studies should get his facts right.
His account of the English order is an inaccurate travesty, and I am puzzled why. Yet I wholeheartedly agree with the heading his article appeared under - "We must put our own stamp on citizenship". Of course, so every country does. I have said so at several conferences recently in Scotland. I hope we get it better. I say "we" for I have made Scotland my home since 1984 and was a frequent visitor since 1979, and am not normally treated as a caricature Englishman ignorant of Scottish conditions.
I had a fairly large hand with my friend David Miller in the first draft of rules for the Scottish Parliament, as big a break as we could imagine from Westminster. If Scotland were the US, I would now be Scottish without any oddity, but just a wee bit of ethnic prejudice can break out occasionally from the oddest places and people.
Enough of that, more sorrow than anger. England has had since 1988 a statutory national curriculum. None of my doing. I am disappointed that Labour has laboured on in the strait-jacket. But there being a national curriculum, if there was to be a real and effective entitlement to the values, knowledge and skills needed to prepare and practise for citizenship, it needed the status of a statutory subject. Of course, it will be assessed, I don't know why Mr Maitles found any doubt about that at the conference in London he attended.
Certainly there were a few either foot-dragging or unsatisfiably idealistic educationists against any assessment. "Can you possibly fail someone for citizenship?" I always reply: "It won't stop them voting. Plenty of people in public life would fail; but it won't stop them." Scotland is not England. No statutory national curriculum, and a good thing too.
However, who is fooling whom? The curriculum in one Scottish school is remarkably similar to another. The inspectors use a voluntaristic language of "entitlements". But they have considerable power, formal and informal, as to whether entitlements are taken up. The difference between the systems may not be absolute.
But I suspect that behind Mr Maitles's gibes at the inadequacy of the English order - apparently not "complex" enough and avoiding expense (which is quite untrue, large sums will be forthcoming for in-service and training and new resources) - lies a worry shared more reasonably by many more.
Mr Blunkett and many of us used the argument that Britain was the last country in Europe, the Commonwealth and all the states of the US not to think citizenship education essential. Now Scotland, glorying in a new Parliament, sticks out like a sore thumb. How long before the Parliament's education committee realises that. And when it does, how can one have some pupils preparing for citizenship, and others not?
The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum are, I gather, making a pre-emptive strike by conducting a mapping in schools - "What are you doing for citizenship?" That won't yield anything coherent like a curriculum, only (in some cases) pretty desperate attempts to show that in bits and pieces something is done already.
It is unlikely to have the complexity and coherence that bizarrely Mr Maitles finds lacking in the carefully planned and widely consulted upon English curriculum - a deliberately "light touch" (in Mr Blunkett's words) in content to allow schools flexibility, but within a coherent framework of learning outcomes.
Perhaps Mr Maitles wants something as coherent as modern studies, but not compulsory. But if the take-up is as low as for modern studies (about a fifth of pupils), what price education for democracy? Modern studies has striven so hard to get university credence that it could easily, lose touch with the needs of "all our nation's children".
May I quote from the English report? "We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country, for people to think
of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and radically extend to young people the best in existing traditions of volunteering and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms among themselves." That strikes me as pretty universal.
Perhaps Scotland, with its richness in civic bodies, needs it less than England.
But not at all?
Professor Bernard Crick chaired the advisory committee which reported last year on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools.