Social subjects need better support and qualified teachers, Democratic Life tells Inquiry

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Last Friday, the Youth Select Committee heard the first oral evidence in its inquiry into education for life skills. Citizenship and PSHE need better support and qualified teachers, it was told.

The Youth Select Committee is chaired by 18 year-old Natsha Browne, Member of Youth Parliament for Solihull, and is comprised of 14-18 year-olds from across the UK. This year, it is running an inquiry into a curriculum for ‘life skills’ such as personal finance, political understanding and cultural awareness.

Giving evidence on behalf of Democratic Life, Liz Moorse told the Committee that all subjects contribute to the learning of life skills, and citizenship is no exception.

In fact, she said, citizenship is the only National Curriculum subject that teaches about the law, politics, democracy and the economy and prepares young people with the skills needed for active citizenship to make a positive contribution to society.

But these skills are being undermined by a lack of support, she said. Cutting funding for CPD and having no bursaries for trainee citizenship teachers is a big mistake: good and effective citizenship education can only be taught by trained, knowledgeable subject teachers, she told the Committee, just as good maths and English can only be taught by trained, knowledgeable subject teachers.

And it gives the wrong message, she told them. The Department for Education should be making a sustained effort to raise the profile of citizenship and PSHE (personal, social and health education), she said, so that everyone – including employers and university admissions tutors – understand how the subjects contribute to young people’s learning.

These sentiments were echoed by Harry Walker of the Family Planning Association, who said that issues such as sex and relationships should be taught in line with government policy, as part of a statutory PSHE curriculum and by trained professionals. Currently, he said, a lot of groups are taking their own agendas into schools and, in many cases, spreading dangerous misinformation.

The National Curriculum itself must be treasured, said Liz Moorse, as it marks a crucial national entitlement and sets high expectations for all pupils. However, over 60 per cent of schools are now Free Schools or Academies and can opt out of the National Curriculum. It is worrying, she said, that Labour would extend this freedom even further.

She told the Inquiry:

‘The National Curriculum must be treasured and valued. Its central purpose is to prepare young people for life and work’.

Michael Grimes works for the Citizenship Foundation.

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