Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Report

4   The Role of the DfES and Ministers

A "light touch" curriculum?

98. From the beginning, the DfES has adopted a "light touch" approach to citizenship education, allowing schools a high degree of latitude in terms of how they choose to implement it in their schools. They told us in written evidence:

"Schools are encouraged to use a number of ways of providing citizenship which may include a combination of discrete provision, explicit opportunities in a range of other subjects, whole school and suspended timetable activities and pupils' involvement in the life of the school and the wider community. There is no specified amount of teaching time for citizenship education. Schools are free to teach the subject in the way(s) which best suits their school and pupils' circumstances. However, guidance in the KS3 strategy suggests that schools should spend about 1 hour a week on citizenship."[79]

99. We understand the reasons for this approach—particularly the idea that in the beginning, schools, already pressed to deliver a full curriculum, needed to fit citizenship "flexibly" around existing timetables and other non-curricular activities. However, we were concerned about whether, given the uneven development of citizenship education programmes to date, this "light touch" approach should still be considered appropriate. Views on the need for more prescriptive guidance on the form citizenship education should take were varied—but many were cautious about too exacting a framework. Tom Wylie of the National Youth Agency told us:

"Probably we do not have to worry about the lively teacher, we have to worry about maybe the school which is a bit uncertain where to go, and I can see the point of frameworks in that context, but cautiously so."[80]

Balancing the need to ensure faster progress with the need to avoid overt prescription, thus risking stifling innovation and local appropriateness, is very difficult. Too prescriptive an approach on citizenship education could result in schools and other settings being formulaic and box-ticking, but Government should look seriously at how QCA and others speed development. As we have noted throughout this report, we see a much greater role for the DfES—along with partner agencies—in terms of sharing best practice on what other schools have found to work; of particular use would be access to whole-school "case studies" explaining the approach that other institutions have taken, and the reasons they have pursued that approach.

Policy coherence and intradepartmental working

100. Citizenship—or aspects of it—is of course highly relevant to the work of several government departments, aside from the DfES. This is particularly true of the Home Office, many strands of whose work is closely allied to the concerns of citizenship education—most recently, and most notably, in the case of the "Respect" agenda. We asked Professor Sir Bernard Crick at the start of our inquiry for his perspectives on the level of joined-up working on issues surrounding citizenship. He told us:

"I was quite startled that some senior officials in the Home Office had virtually no knowledge of the Citizenship Order or that an order—and after all this is a legal order, it is part of the National Curriculum—could be drafted in such broad terms. Whereas the lawyers in the Home Office tend to think that the Citizenship [naturalisation] Order, for what the ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] teachers shall teach, has got to be very, very precise indeed rather than leaving it to the professionalism and common sense of the teachers teaching very different people in very different parts of the country. There is a tremendous cultural difference between these two departments."[81]

Tony Breslin of the Citizenship Foundation suggested that more co-ordination was necessary, and gave an example of what this might mean in practice:

"We welcome the fact that the Home Office, DCA [Department for Constitutional Affairs], DfES and other areas in government are interested in this area, but there is a real issue about bringing those approaches together in a much more joined up and coherent way. Sometimes we find that the agencies that work with the different departments are always trying to do that linking or point that link out, and so there is a real role there for a more joined up practice. For instance, we know through the Home Office naturalisation related education programme that the parents of some of the children that Chris's members teach will be going through a citizenship education programme of one design and their children may be going through an education programme of another design, and so on. There is a real challenge, and this is really difficult ground, but actually trying to draw those initiatives together is very important."[82]

He went on to urge that more joint working with the Home Office was needed in respect of "issues around diversity, community-cohesion and those matters but they have also been key movers in terms of the Russell Commission outcomes around volunteering and charitable-giving.[83] That whole aspect of the citizenship agenda is important to look at."[84]

101. In written evidence to us, the DfES emphasised the fit between policies in different departments, giving as an example current work on the Respect agenda, saying: "the aims of citizenship education are complemented by the Respect Action Plan which was launched by the Prime Minister earlier this year". [85] However, while it may be true that the aims of the two policy strands are complementary, in fact the Government's action plan for Respecta Home Office-led project—contains no obvious mention of citizenship education programmes in schools, colleges and other settings.[86] There is also scant reference to pre- and post-16 citizenship education programmes in the recently published discussion paper launching the HM Treasury-led Policy Review of Children and Young People. This is despite the fact that the latter is explicitly concerned with ensuring vulnerable young people have opportunities to participate in positive activities and to play an active part in their communities. [87]

102. Several government departments have legitimate interests in citizenship education, broadly defined. However, it is not always clear that they are working to the same ends, nor that they are working in a truly collaborative way. Rather than just issuing a commitment to work together, we ask the Government to tell us what practical steps it intends to take to ensure greater co-ordination between the departments with responsibilities in this area—and in particular, between the DfES, Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We would also like the Government to undertake a review to explicitly identify areas of overlap and complementarity in existing policies across departments.

Priority, leadership and clarity from Ministers

103. At the time of the introduction of formalised citizenship education, our evidence suggests there was strong ministerial and departmental support for the initiative. We have explored the extent to which this enthusiasm has been sustained during subsequent years. At the beginning of our inquiry, Professor Sir Bernard Crick argued that he thought ministerial interests may have been diverted away from citizenship education toward newer initiatives, which, paradoxically, had many of the same aims:

"I am amazed that from the Prime Minister and other Ministers we get now a great deal of talk about respect, the problems of integration, the problems of youth behaviour. All this was part of the reason for the Citizenship advisory group being set up originally and it is embedded in the Order itself. I am amazed that some senior politicians, if I may say so, either do not have faith in it or perhaps have forgotten it in the welter of initiatives that there are, and this one after all is a long term initiative. You cannot change behaviour, you cannot change attitudes, overnight. These things were the concerns right at the beginning."[88]

Tony Breslin of the Citizenship Foundation was more circumspect in his analysis, praising effort to date but seeing a stronger role for the Department and ministers in the future:

"I want to acknowledge the work of the small citizenship teams in the DfES and in the other key agencies, but the steer has been insufficient. We really need a much stronger sense of the messages, a much stronger sense of the importance of this from ministers across DfES".[89]

104. The idea that ministers could play an important role in articulating more clearly and consistently, and more forcefully, the aims and objectives of citizenship education has been a theme running through the evidence we have received. The National Association of Head Teachers, for example, told us:

"Recommendation 4.10 from the Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship, chaired by Professor Sir Bernard Crick, Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, QCA, 1998, stated that 'everyone directly involved in the education of our children—politicians and civil servants; community representatives; faith groups; school inspectors and governors; teacher trainers and teachers themselves; parents and indeed pupils—be given a clear statement of what is meant by citizenship education and their central role in it.' Although there are guidelines and programmes of study, the necessary level of clarity is not always present or apparent in practice."[90]

At the time of its introduction, citizenship education enjoyed strong personal support from ministers. This was crucial to its establishment and acceptance as a discipline. Four years, however, have passed since then and we are concerned about the potential for 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 on what citizenship education is setting out to achieve, and why it is considered important.

105. Para 5.11.2 of the original Crick report urged the creation of a Standing Commission on Citizenship Education. Members of the body were to include representatives of parents, the public, teachers, public authorities and cross-party political representation. In the event, a Citizenship Education Working Party was formed under the then-Schools' Minister Jacqui Smith to oversee the development and implementation of the National Curriculum.

106. We asked Professor Sir Bernard Crick how he felt about the body that now existed to oversee citizenship education's implementation, and in particular, whether he was happy with its constitution. His response to us was "no, certainly not, because the composition of it varies too much and ministers come and go". [91]

107. We put it to Lord Adonis that the current arrangements for the Ministerial oversight of citizenship education's implementation—particularly in respect of the working party— were insufficiently rigorous. He told us that the existing body "embraces leading figures from [the] Department, from the D[epartment] for C[onstitutional] A[ffairs] and from the Home Office. I do not know the membership here but I can supply that".[92] He went on to state that he was not sure when it last met, and that he "did not think that it was necessary personally to attend the working party itself for that work to be taken forward, but I meet my advisers who serve on the working party frequently and we take forward that work as we need to at ministerial level". Moreover, he challenged the general notion that Ministers' interest in this area was waning:

"In my experience of dealing with senior politicians of all parties, including the Prime Minister, they are thoroughly committed to the embedding of citizenship education, both as a subject and in its applied dimension within schools […]. I am sure there is more that can be done but I have never found any lack of willingness to recognise its importance or to engage in it when invited to do so."[93]

108. We consider that the level and consistency of ministerial attention to citizenship education needs to be increased—and that ministers need to be publicly seen to be engaged in this agenda. One way of doing this would be to revisit the decision to remove ministerial representation from the citizenship education working party. Such a move would send out an unambiguous message regarding the seriousness with which citizenship is taken, at the highest levels.


109. Currently, it is not possible for schools to apply for primary specialist status in citizenship—as is the case for other subjects such as maths, English or sciences. Schools which specialise in Humanities can elect to set targets in relation to citizenship (as one of their subsidiary subjects), but must have either history, geography or English as the 'key' subject specialism. Some submitting evidence to our inquiry have suggested that this implicitly accords citizenship a lower status than other subjects—and that a positive way forward would be to change the rules in this regard. For example, Jules Mason, British Youth Council, told us that "One of the things I thought might help ratchet citizenship higher up the agenda is around having that as a status for a specialism within a school".[94]

110. We asked Lord Adonis whether he foresaw a time when schools could apply for primary specialisms in citizenship. He told us:

"The rationale […] is specialisms should be in areas where you can set effective targets because of performance in National Curriculum subjects. For example, in respect of history and geography, you can set targets for performance in those subjects because they are sat widely at GCSE. In respect of citizenship, you cannot do so yet because all that is available is the half GCSE. I have debated that criterion. It may be that your Committee may want to make a case for saying that is too narrow a view of what constitutes the capacity of a school to demonstrate year-on-year improvement in a particular area and there are other ways that you could demonstrate year-on-year improvement of citizenship that are not directly related just to a GCSE. That is a debate we are having inside the Department at the moment and with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and we would welcome your view on it because it is very important."[95]

111. Written evidence we received from the QCA draws attention to newly published guidance on non-exam-based assessment of achievement at Key Stage 3, which they argue has been "extremely well received". [96] This appears to us a positive development, and one which also addresses the concerns of many of those who, in their evidence to us, have cautioned that teachers and leaders need further support on how to assess achievement in citizenship.

112. As well as providing development opportunities, a change in the rules to allow schools to obtain a primary specialism in citizenship would send a powerful signal that citizenship education is considered important and a "serious option" rather than an add-on to an already crowded curriculum. The primary objection given to date has been a lack of adequate assessment tools to measure progress in citizenship. The QCA has recently produced guidelines for assessment at Key Stage 3—so it is clear that methods for measuring citizenship attainment, even for those schools that choose not to offer the half-GCSE, are developing.[97] It is now up to the Government to work with the QCA to ensure that similar assessment guidelines are developed for Key Stage 4, with the presumption that as soon as suitable arrangements are in place schools will be allowed to apply for primary specialisms in citizenship education.

79   Ev 160 Back

80   Q 207 Back

81   Q 29 Back

82   Q 161 Back

83   The Russell Commission was established in May 2004 by the Home Secretary and the Chancellor. Its aims were to develop a national framework for youth volunteering and participation. Its final report was published in May 2005.  Back

84   Q 193 Back

85   Ev 157 Back

86   Home Office, The Respect Action Plan, January 2006 Back

87   HM Treasury/DfES, Policy review of children and young people: a discussion paper, January 2007.  Back

88   Q 11 Back

89   Q 102 Back

90   Ev 230 Back

91   Q 18 Back

92   Q 506 ff.  Back

93   Q 504 Back

94   Q 227 Back

95   Q 584 Back

96   Ev 30 Back

97   We note that Sir Keith Ajegbo's report recommends the creation of a full GCSE in citizenship.  Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 8 March 2007