Politicians need to start talking about Europe in an informed way, writes Kate Taylor
"IN my lifetime," Lady Thatcher once declared, "all our problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world."
It seems that politicians just cannot discuss Europe sensibly. In the classroom, however, citizenship education can equip pupils for frank and factual debate of this subject. From August 2002, some teaching about Europe will be a statutory requirement.
Key stage 3 pupils will be taught about "the world as a global community" and will consider the role of the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. At key stage 4, the UK's relations with Europe, including the EU, will be spotlighted.
These developments will be welcomed by those who believe the "national" curriculum too often lives up to its name. But as with all curriculum innovations, success will depend on the teachers and resources provided.
In 2000-01 only pound;700 to pound;1,200 has been available to the average-sized secondary school to prepare for the introduction of citizenship. Next academic year the amount will rise to between pound;1,000 and pound;1,600 - just over pound;1 per pupil to cover all aspects of a subject of which knowledge about Europe is only a small part. Good support materials will be essential.
However, a mapping exercise by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed a lack of educational resources relating to Europe. While this should be addressed by the working party chaired by schools minister Jaqui Smith as it prepares the package of support for schools, with so many new areas to cover attention to Europe may be limited.
Local education authorities may therefore prove invaluable. They were quick to respond to the 1988 EC Resolution on a European dimension in education, and have continued to lead the way, with government catching up only slowly.Oxfordshire, for example, has adopted a range of European initiatives and offers access to information on the EU.
About half of the county's schools are involved in partnership work abroad, including 38 new schools this year. The picture across the country is uneven. While Oxfordshire has a full-time international officer, other LEAs fill the post on a part-time basis or rely on other subject advisers.
Ultimately, how well citizenship education will equip young people for sensible debate about Europe and citizenship in a "global community" will depend on more than just the resolution of resourcing issues. Until the country's leaders start talking about Europe in a responsible and informed way, teachers will be facing an uphill struggle.
Kate Taylor is a researcher with the European University Institute, Florence, Italy. For information on changes to the curriculum contact the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority at www.qca.org.uk tel: 020 7509 5555, or the Department for Education and Employment at www.dfee.gov.uka-zCITIZENSHIP_EDUCATION_ba.html tel: 0870 000 2288. For information on the National Foundation for Educational Research mapping exercise contact www.nfer.ac.uk tel: 01753 574123