Teachers, subject experts, politicians and organisations joined together today to discuss the ‘Future shape of the National Curriculum beyond Core Subjects’.
This timely discussion was organised by the Westminster Education Policy Forum. Shadow Minister for Schools, Kevin Brennan MP chaired the first part of the event. I was there to represent the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) and Democratic Life on a panel of subject specialists.
A wide range of issues were discussed during the session including the need for an aims led curriculum that is broad and balanced; and the importance of skills, as well as knowledge and undertanding to properly prepare children for life and work in the 21st century. The DFE spoke about the curriculum review and highlighted that the majority of teachers did not see ‘dropping’ subjects from the National Curriculum as the way to reduce prescription. The DFE also confirmed government is expected to announce its proposals for non-core subjects by the summer.
The seminar papers and panel debate provided an important opportunity to restate the arguments for why downgrading Citizenship to the Basic Curriculum, as recommended by the government’s Expert Panel, would be a retrograde step for pupils, schools and society. Below is a summary of the key points I made:
1. Citizenship education makes a distinct contribution to the overarching aims of a broad and balanced curriculum. The aims of the curriculum cannot be fully achieved by schools without a statutory programme of study for Citizenship.
2. Citizenship is a unique subject that develops essential knowledge about our politics and political processes, law and justice system and how the economy functions, alongside skills for critical thinking, discussion and debate, and practical social action. Citizenship is the only subject to do this.
3. Statutory National Curriculum Citizenship ensures our obligations to teach all students about human rights are met. The obligations are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, which government formally accepted on 11 May 2010.
4. Citizenship provides the glue for a coherent, broad and balanced curriculum, bringing learning to life through the teaching of issues, problems and events facing communities. Such teaching relies on trained, specialist Citizenship teachers.
5. ‘Citizenship rich’ schools teach the subject in their curriculum and promote wider active citizenship education through school culture, ethos and links with the wider communities. But citizenship in the culture and community of schools is not enough and evidence from Ofsted and the NFER longitudinal study of citizenship shows the best outcomes for learners are achieved where there is regular and sustained periods of Citizenship education.
6. Citizenship education supports social cohesion and civic society and provides invaluable preparation for programmes such as the National Citizens Service. This requires a continuum of effective and high quality Citizenship education from primary to post 16.
7. Citizenship education must not be constructed by governments to indoctrinate us into particular ways of thinking and doing, or removed arbitrarily because it does not suit them. It should provide a broad and balanced education for Citizenship, developing citizens who are politically literate – with knowledge and skills necessary for making informed choices and contributing to public life.
8. Citizenship was a long time a-coming… because we thought we did not need it.’ (Bernard Crick). Every other high performing nation has recognized the importance of Citizenship or Civic education as part of a world-class curriculum. If we want our pupils to develop as informed, responsible and active citizens who can compete internationally, then we must have a National Curriculum that includes Citizenship education.