Citizenship Education Review

“I can absolutely and with pleasure confirm that citizenship will remain a programme of study” Michael Gove

Earlier in February the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced a public consultation on the draft of the 2014 national curriculum. This consultation will run until April 16, 2013, and if you’re interested in learning the details of the reviewed curriculum or taking part in the consultation, you can read the full documents and respond via an online form at the Department for Education (DFE) site.

A final version of the curriculum will be made available in Autumn ready to be applied in schools for the new academic year starting September 2014.

Prior to the public release of the draft curriculum there was some concern from students, teachers and groups like the SSCC that Citizenship Education could lose its statutory place on the curriculum. This concern was averted when Gove announced that Citizenship “will remain a programme of study at key stages 3 and 4”.

The news was well received, not least by David Blunkett, who expressed how pleased he was that Gove recognised the importance of Citizenship Education in schools. He went on to say that the subject, “is vital for the future of our democracy, and I am relieved and pleased that the subject now has such cross-party support”.

While Citizenship remains statutory there have been changes made to the subject description. Listed below are some of these changes that have been identified as potentially weakening the current model for Citizenship Education:

  • The new programme of study removes much of the discussion about identity and diversity.
  • It has taken away the emphasis on human rights, and refers now to ‘precious liberties’ rather than rights and duties.
  • The sections relating to politics, democracy and law now focus mainly on the UK, rather than international systems.
  • Where previously a ‘global economic understanding’ was referenced, there is now a section about personal finance.

Perhaps most significantly the new subject description appears to be promoting more passive methods of teaching Citizenship, rather than active engagement. By focusing more on civic knowledge and less on developing a sense of political agency in students, there is some speculation about how effective the new program of study will be at teaching  young people to be active and participative members of their community. Many proponents of Citizenship Education argue this should be the central aim of the subject.

As Chris Waller, Professional Officer at the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) puts it, “[Citizenship] is not learning huge amounts of stuff about government. It’s not just about learning the difference between right and wrong in a societal context. It’s more about gaining the skills, knowledge and understanding to be effective and active citizens”.

Despite some reservations with the new programme of study, there is a sense of optimism about the future of Citizenship Education. As Waller puts it, “all indications are that the DFE and Mr Gove have listened about the importance of citizenship, and what we will have in the classrooms from September 2014, will not be exactly what we have at the moment in terms of the draft program of study.”

“Undoubtedly citizenship is in a healthy place, because it has the opportunity to reinvent itself, to reinvigorate itself, to think differently”.

“There is a sense of wellbeing about the subject, certainly one that didn’t exist, let’s say, this time last year, when people really tended to think very pessimistically about the situation”.

Some of that pessimism is, however, still felt by educators who see the new slimmed down draft not as a carefully considered decision by the DFE, but instead as a matter of necessity. Alison Peacock, Headteacher at the Wroxham Academy and Network Coordinator for the Cambridge Primary Review takes the cynical perspective. “They [the DFE] didn’t change the legislation because they would have had to have gone to parliament to take citizenship out of the national curriculum. They say it’s because ‘we believe in breadth and balance’, but the reality is there might be breadth but there certainly isn’t balance.”

Regardless of what factors influenced the draft curriculum there is agreement among those working in the field of Citizenship Education that the next steps should be to support teachers by providing them with the skills and understanding to make the subject more than just a subject, so that Citizenship isn’t simply something children learn for an hour a week, but something that is a fundamental part of how a school functions. As Peacock Points out “There is no good in teaching citizenship if it’s not a lived experience. What children need to do is experience a democratic culture within their schools. There is a tremendous irony in being taught something like citizenship without being able to contribute your views”.

Waller and ACT are also keen to see the new curriculum developed to make Citizenship Education an integral part of running  a school; “The draft program of study isn’t as strong as it could be, but it’s a starting point. You enrich it, you add to it. Now it’s up to people to make it more active, more participative. To move it further away from something that could potentially be dry and boring to something that is exciting and has joint ownership between community partners, teachers and young people”.

These sentiments were echoed by David Blunkett, MP, when the announcement was made that Citizenship would remain in schools. He explained, “It is important that schools grasp any new programme of study with both hands and turn it into something that really makes a difference to the development of our children.”

“It is important that headteachers, Teaching Agency, Ofsted, Ofqual and the Department for Education give it the support that it needs to flourish back into a rigorous, nourishing and respected subject.”

With the consultation running until mid-April there is still time for further changes to be made, so there is the potential that the curriculum rolled out across schools in September 2014 will be significantly different from the draft that we have now. It’s possible that educators campaigning for a more active programme of study may yet make a difference.


More about ACT from Chris Waller


Alison Peacock on Student voice at Wroxham





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