can't be made in class
Citizenship is 'the worst taught secondary-level subject'
and pupils have little idea what it is about. However, it is the
curriculum, not teachers, that is to blame.
Despite the fact that most people are profoundly concerned about
the quality of secondary education, officials are reluctant to acknowledge
the real state of affairs.
Secondary schools in England ill prepared for the introduction of
So when David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, spoke recently
about the "high level of unsatisfactory teaching of citizenship",
you know that something must be seriously wrong.
And when Ofsted provides evidence that citizenship is the "worst-taught
subject at secondary level", it is obvious that the introduction
of this so-called subject into the national curriculum has proved
yet again that social engineering is inconsistent with the values
of real education.
From its inception, citizenship education was a disaster waiting
to happen. As far back as July 2002, Ofsted inspectors warned that
many secondary schools in England were ill prepared for the introduction
of citizenship teaching in September. A year later, the inspectors
complained that schools appeared confused and complacent. Standards
were "often low" with a lot of "unsatisfactory management"
of the subject.
Another year later and the situation had still failed to improve,
as a report by Community Service Volunteers pointed out. It euphemistically
noted that teachers still needed "more help" with citizenship
lessons, two years after they were made compulsory.
This is one problem that should not be blamed on the teaching profession.
It has been evident from the start that leading supporters of citizenship
education had little idea what the subject was about. Debating the
meaning of citizenship turned into an exchange of platitudes.
Nick Tate, then chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority, argued that citizenship education was "about promoting
and transmitting values", "participation" and "duties".
But the obvious question of "values about what?" was carefully
avoided. Instead,its advocates cobbled together a "hurrah list"
of unobjectionable and bland sentiments rebranded as values.
Alongside fairness, honesty and community, participation and voting
were turned into values. Prof Bernard Crick, who was David Blunkett's
intellectual mentor and key adviser on citizenship education, stated
that "students must demonstrate a commitment to active citizenship,
commitment to voluntary service and concern for the environment".
In other words, in the guise of studying an academic subject, school
children have to adopt a particular form of behaviour demanded by
the prevailing political code of conduct.
The significance that the curriculum attaches to the value of participation
is symptomatic of the subject's lack of moral and substantive content.
According to the curriculum, pupils are required to "take part
in school- and community-based activities, demonstrating personal
and group responsibility in their attitudes to themselves and others".
However, the exhortation to participate is not founded on any vision
of what constitutes a good society or what it means to be a responsible
citizen. Nor is it clear what kind of community-based activity pupils
should engage in. Foxhunting? Going to the pub? Protesting against
the building of a new supermarket?
The inability of the curriculum to endow participation with meaning
suggests that the promoters of this subject cannot provide a convincing
account of what it means to be a good citizen. Not only is citizenship
education not an academic subject, it is also a cause in search
of an argument.
It is therefore not surprising that 10 per cent of pupils polled
did not know what was taught in citizenship lessons and another
17 per cent remarked that there was nothing memorable about them.
David Bell is right to raise the alarm about the state of citizenship
education, but he is wrong to blame it on the quality of teaching.
Whether or not children learn how to behave as responsible citizens
is decided by their everyday experience of life. Children pick up
their ideas about personal responsibility and what it means to be
a citizen from the signals transmitted through their family and
Instilling ideas about what is right and what is wrong can be assisted
by inspired political leadership and responsible adults. Unfortunately,
inspired leadership and clarity about the meaning of being a British
citizen is in short supply.
And the failure of society to address these important questions
cannot be artificially rectified inside the classroom. Is it any
surprise that so many pupils admit that they have little idea why
they have to study citizenship education?
Of course, educators do not have to give up on the moral education
of school children. They have a wealth of material that they can
draw on. A creative use of the classics can go a long way towards
illuminating the purpose of public activity and reflection.
Teachers who can instil in children a love of history or of literature
can do a great deal to sensitise their pupils to the meaning of
life, which will help them develop a sense of right and wrong.
But adopting this approach is not citizenship education. It is
what ought to be called real education.
published in the Daily Telegraph, 3 February 2005