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21 December, 2011

Citizenship education is 'of enormous importance,' say government advisers

The Curriculum Review Expert Panel has told the government that citizenship is 'of enormous importance'. But it's not important enough to need real curriculum time, they say.

On Monday the Curriculum Review Expert Panel, which is charged with providing detailed advice on the shape of the new curriculum, delivered its report to the Department for Education (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 the moment citizenship in secondary schools is a 'Foundation Subject' of the National Curriculum. This means it has detailed programmes of study and attainment targets that all schools are required to follow. 

If it is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum schools will still be expected to cover it; but how they do that, and how much importance they give it, will be up to them.

We agree with the Panel that 'citizenship is of enormous importance in a contemporary and future-oriented education'.

However, substantive evidence from NFER and OFSTED shows that the impact of citizenship education is best achieved when it is taught as a discrete subject with distinct time allocation. We will continue to press this point to the writers of the review and the Department of Education.

Most schools already devote only small amounts of time to citizenship; remove the parameters for delivering it and the danger is it will be squeezed out altogether.

The repercussions could be alarming: the incentive to hire specialist teachers disappears; the training and expertise that has built up over the last decade withers; citizenship becomes an extra responsibility for non-expert teachers who are already busy.

Twenty one years ago Kenneth Baker introduced citizenship to the National Curriculum as a cross-curricular theme. That didn't achieve its potential because schools were not expected to teach it, so few did; so in 2002 it became a statutory Foundation Subject in secondary schools and has had measurable impact when taught this way.

Is the government in danger of repeating mistakes?

A subject with 'enormous importance' must have resources to match. We are pleased that the Expert Panel recognises the value of citizenship education. However, we are not sure its current proposals will meet its aspirations.

We shall ask the government to review the evidence in the light of their proposals.

Please join us in supporting the Democratic Life campaign, which argues for citizenship education in schools.