Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Report


Summary

During our inquiry, we took evidence from many who were clearly convinced of the potential value of citizenship education to young people and to the communities they are part of. Yet, while inspiring programmes exist, and progress is being made, the quality and extent of citizenship education is still inconsistent across the country. This patchiness needs to be tackled head-on, and progress accelerated. This will require action from those on the ground, but also demands strong support from the DfES and Ministers.

When done well, citizenship education motivates and inspires young people, because it is relevant to their everyday lives and concerns. Sir Keith Ajegbo has recently recommended that the citizenship curriculum be amended to have a closer focus on issues of identity, diversity and belonging—and the Government has accepted his recommendations. We support this move. There is a good case for increasing the level of attention paid to such issues. As the Government takes forward the recommendations of the Ajegbo report, it will be crucial that it develops concrete plans as to how it will equip those teachers and lecturers to deal with the teaching of often challenging issues on the ground.

The approach to citizenship education to date has been a "light touch" one, allowing schools and other settings a very high degree of freedom in terms of delivery. More needs to be done to communicate with leaders, teachers and lecturers—especially in settings which have not made much progress to date—about the approaches that are working in other institutions. This is particularly true in respect of information on 'whole-school' (or college) approaches, and building in opportunities for active citizenship. In so doing, the Government has a difficult balance to strike between promoting and sharing successful models, while at the same time avoiding the suggestion that "one size fits all"—it is essential that programmes are locally-owned and relevant to the particular context.

Development of the workforce is crucially important to the success of citizenship education. The subject is still new, and as such a specialist citizenship education cadre is still developing. The expansion of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) citizenship certificate programme to which Ministers have committed, is welcome, but CPD should not be considered as a substitute for the more extensive training gained during a one-year PGCE course. The number of initial teacher training places for citizenship education needs to be protected from any further reductions, and in the medium term, numbers on these programmes should be increased in tandem with efforts to ensure that trainees are employed in teaching roles that fully use their skills.

School Councils

School—or student—councils often play a central part in citizenship education. The Government has been supportive of them to date, and we welcome this. Currently, they are not statutory, but the Government should consider making them so, while at the same time avoiding tight prescription of the form they should take, or the ways in which they should operate. There should also be advice on the importance of situating councils within the wider citizenship education programme, and on ensuring participation and ownership among the whole school population—not just an elite group.

Departmental focus on citizenship education

Improving the quality and spread of citizenship education is also dependent on it being given sufficient priority at the departmental and Ministerial level. At the time of its introduction, citizenship education enjoyed strong personal support from within Government. This was crucial to its establishment and acceptance as a discipline. Four years have passed since then however, and we are concerned about the possibility of a waning of interest at a stage when much of the hard work in terms of implementation still remains to be done. To some, citizenship education's aims, objectives and methods remain opaque, and difficult to grasp. There is a need for a clear public narrative from Ministers on what citizenship education is setting out to achieve, and why it is considered important. Additionally, the DfES needs to send a clear signal that citizenship education is valued as much as other national curriculum subjects—one way of doing this would be to allow schools to apply for a first specialism in citizenship education.

Citizenship education strategy

Currently, there is an absence at the national level of a truly lifelong citizenship education strategy—which joins up primary, secondary, tertiary, adult education and training. Worthwhile citizenship education is taking place in all phases of education, yet it is hard to see these activities—particularly those in further, higher and adult education - as belonging to a coherent programme, with common aims and purposes. Such a strategy needs to be developed by the DfES in co-operation with other Government departments active in the citizenship arena—for example, the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.





 
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