Citizenship education is ‘of enormous importance’, but not a subject, says Expert Panel

Michael Grimes
Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Curriculum Review Expert Panel has told the government that citizenship is ‘of enormous importance’, but should not remain a National Curriculum subject.

The Expert Panel, which is charged with providing detailed advice on the shape of the new curriculum, delivered its report to the Department for education yesterday, the content of which prompted Education Secretary Michael Gove to change the timetable of his Review.

In its report the Panel says:

‘Citizenship is of enormous importance in a contemporary and future-oriented education.

‘However, we are not persuaded that study of the issues and topics included in citizenship education constitutes a distinct ‘subject’ as such. We therefore recommend that it be reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum.’

At present citizenship is a National Curriculum foundation subject in secondary schools. This means it has programmes of study setting out what must be taught and an attainment target that describes the standard at which pupils should attain knowledge, understanding and skills in the subject.

If reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum schools will still be expected to provide citizenship education but what they teach, how and to what standard will be up to them.

Whilst Democratic Life is pleased that the Panel has recognised the importance of Citizenship, we are disappointed with the recommendation that it be downgraded to a statutory requirement rather than a foundation subject.

Most schools devote only relatively small amounts of their curriculum to citizenship. This downgrade in its status may result in the subject being squeezed out altogether.

The repercussions for society could be alarming as no other subject teaches pupils about our political system, law and democracy. The incentive to hire specialist teachers and the expertise that has built up over the last decade may disappear, with citizenship left as an extra responsibility for non-expert teachers who are already busy.

When Kenneth Baker as Secretary of state for Education introduced citizenship to the National Curriculum as a cross-curricular theme, most schools did not make it a priority, provide adequate resources or space in the curriculum for effective teaching.

In 2002, citizenship became a statutory national curriculum Foundation Subject in secondary schools.

Evidence from Ofsted inspections and the NFER Longitudinal study show significant improvement in the quality of teaching and outcomes for pupils.

We ask that the government takes time to consider the future for Citizenship education and recognises that a subject with ‘enormous importance’ must have resources and status to match.

The DFE have announced a revised timetable for the curriculum review and will be providing further details on the next stage of consultation early in 2012.

This post is based on an article for the Citizenship Foundation.

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