It has now been twelve months since the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, which I chaired, published its Report - The Ties that Bind - Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century- to which the Government gave a response in June 2018. There are four aspects of our Report which members of the Committee wish to follow up. I am writing to you since your department was the lead department for our inquiry, but I appreciate that on some of these issues you will wish to consult other departments.
We note from a letter from Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth dated 16 November that it is not proposed· to appoint a single champion, but to give responsibility to the lnterministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities. Of course we recognise the wealth of experience available to that Group, but the evidence our Committee received was of a wealth of well-meaning, but too often short lived, initiatives with no coherent follow up as to which initiatives had proved effective and worth following through, and which had not. We are concerned that under this proposed structure this shortcoming may well persist.
Our concerns on this point were not assuaged by the fact that, in preparing for this submission, our enquiries were answered by three different ministers. In particular the Parliamentary answers by Lord Young of Cookham (HL 12923) and (HL 14295) are somewhat at odds with Lord Bourne’s letter.
Firstly, we note in the Action Plan for Integrated Communities published in February 2019 that the plan will be overseen by the lnterministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities.
We recognise that the Secretary of State of Education has committed to making no further reforms to the national curriculum during this Parliament. We congratulate the Government on introducing the category of specialist teachers of education in citizenship in January 2019. But disappointingly little progress appears to have been made towards having greater availability of teachers trained in citizenship education. The answer to Parliamentary Question HL 12924 revealed that in 2018/19 only 37 postgraduate trainees began training in citizenship. The availability of bursaries for those training as citizenship teachers remains unclear (HL 14258), and we note that no bursaries for citizenship trainees were provided in the academic year 2018–19 (HL 14253).
In the light of the answer to Parliamentary Question HL 12926 there also seems to be a risk of continuing to confuse citizenship education with PSHE education. The Chief Executive of the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) has made this point to me and to other members of the Committee, and has told us that the ACT will be raising the issue in their response to the consultation on the proposed education inspection framework for September 2019.
As we pointed out in our original report, individuals do not learn about governmental and judicial institutions by osmosis. At a time when trust and confidence in governmental systems is under strain it is surely more than ever important that their role and purpose is explained clearly and taught well. We also drew attention to the important distinction between developing the individual and developing the role of the individual in society. The inculcation of values and an understanding of democratic values come under the heading of ‘citizenship’, and these are further reasons why citizenship must be taught by those with special training. Against this background the fact that the importance of citizenship education was not mentioned in the Integrated Communities Action Plan published earlier this month is disappointing.
We congratulate the Government on the planned progress laid out in their Integrated Communities Action Plan published in February 2019. The Plan has an impressive number of steps all of which have dates for implementation - some of them as early as April 2019. It will be important that the necessary operational and financial resources are made available to ensure that these ambitious dates are met.
While acknowledging the importance of those who have arrived more recently in the UK having access to good quality English Language teaching, it will be more important to ensure that the needs of the marginalised longer established groups established are not overlooked. (HL 13509)
One of the recommendations of the Committee’s report was that the Life in the UK book on which the citizenship test is based should be revised to focus on the knowledge required for active citizenship. The Government’s response was that the Green Paper published on 14 March 2018 included a consultation on reviewing the Life in the UK test, that the consultation had closed on 5 June 2018, that the Government was reviewing the responses, and that it would respond further to the Committee “in due course”.
In a series of questions tabled last month I have tried to find out when the review of Life in the UK will take place, and when the Government plans to publish the revised text. The answers I have received so far explain that in its Integrated Communities Action Plan the Government “has committed in the Action Plan to revise the content of the Life in the UK test … We are currently considering how to take forward the process of consulting and seeking input into the Life in the UK test”. [HL 14562]
Meanwhile this test, which is accepted by all concerned, including the Government, to be outdated and, in some respects, irrelevant and inappropriate, continues to be the basis for applications for naturalisation. We do not understand how, almost a year after the publication of our report, and nine months after the closure of the first consultation, no plans have yet been made for consultation on the content of Life in the UK. We would be grateful for a target date by which it is expected that the review will be completed, and the new version published as the basis for the citizenship test.
I have discussed this letter with other former members of the Select Committee who are in agreement with it. We appreciate that you, other Ministers, and your officials, are particularly busy, but we would be glad to have a detailed reply by the end of May.
LORD HODGSON OF ASTLEY ABBOTTS