Young citizens

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Kathleen Higgins, deputy head at Douay Martyrs RC School, Uxbridge, Middlesex, talks to Alan Combes about the meaning of citizenship to her students

THE SCHOOL

It is in a fairly leafy suburb of Hillingdon, but pupils come to us from all over London and from as far away as Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. We have 1,405 pupils, with a sixth form of 235.

HOW DOES THE SCHOOL APPROACH CITIZENSHIP?

The staff's approach is that any activities related to the notion of citizenship originate in school and radiate outwards.

Over the years we have had many visitors from public life - their visit becomes the occasion for a focus on growing up responsibly in the late 20th century. We have had the Princess Royal, Lord Hailsham, Lord Bramall, Shirley Williams, Sir Paul Condon, Lord Nolan, Norman Willis, the French ambassador, and Helen Sharman.

We have also been visited by several organisations, including the police, magistracy, youth organisations, the fire brigade, armed forces, local councillors and MPs. There is a cross-curricular basis for many of these visits as there is with our fund-raising for various Catholic causes. All of these emphasise the responsibility for the common good of the young citizen to the young citizen, as well as helping everyone to be aware of the civic systems.

DO THESE VISITS HAVE OTHER IMPLICATIONS?

Yes. Every visitor is hosted by a number of pupils, who develop social skills and a sense of civic responsibility through the activity. The young people are never hand-picked for this task because it states that they will do this in their pupil entitlement statements. As a result of many visits, the pupils undertake project work on citizenship.

Our pupils get involved in citizenship initiatives such as making sandwiches every Friday for a Friday night food run for the homeless in central London, organised by the Catholic Church. They also do the Canterbury to London sponsored walk for Crisis.

WHERE IS CITIZENSHIP IN THE SCHOOL'S CURRICULUM? Through personal and social education, pupils learn about public services, community and family. They look at the causes of breakdown and the support available, within the local education authority, for example. We teach them about making connections and where their responsibility as individuals fits in with the rest.

But citizenship is a cross-curricular initiative, too, so within the school development plan all subject areas have to define aspects of citizenship which will be encountered through their syllabus. Apart from making explicit what has been implicit, heads of department need to show available resources and how the curriculum is enriched.

ARE THE CHILDREN INVOLVED IN THIS PLANNING PHASE?

There are pupil reps on the committees of academic boards and they are recruited from reps in the junior, middle and senior common rooms. They also help out with taking minutes and running the more formal aspects of meetings - all of this is a part of training for citizenship.

HOW DO YOU CHECK THAT IT'S NOT THE SAME PUPILS GETTING INVOLVED?

We have an effective tracking system which checks that every pupil is realising his or her entitlement opportunities. The entitlement statement is kept in each pupil's school planner, and they record every time they are involved in an activity. The two directors of curriculum enrichment and entitlement, who co-ordinate involvement in citizenship work, use this as a way of ensuring participation. Pupils who are under-involved are then encouraged or targeted through the tracking system.

DO YOU STILL HAVE THE TIME TO DO CITIZENSHIP PROJECTS?

One thing which involves a lot of pupils across the age and ability ranges is our mock trial system. One purpose is to pick a school team for representation in a competition, but we use the occasion to involve as many as possible.

We also encourage participation in outside public speaking competitions and, as part of the build-up to this, we ensure that every pupil will do some public speaking.

Finally, through PSHE, some of our pupils are involved as Young Parliaments in preparing for an inter-school competition. This is confined to a smaller number of pupils because of the complexity of the activity.

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