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18 October, 2004

Tomlinson: what does it mean for citizenship?

With Mike Tomlinson's report on 14-19 education published today, Tony Breslin challenges us to take up the gauntlet.

The key to any understanding of Tomlinson is to read it as a framework for curriculum development over the next decade, rather than as a curriculum itself.

If seen as the latter, the tendency is to ask 'where's my subject?' and that type of question is likely to lead to disappointment.

Tomlinson has built his framework around the importance of a particular set of skills for all 14-19 learners, wherever they learn, whatever subjects they study and whatever curriculum they follow.

This presents a real opportunity for a different kind of learning appropriate for the 21st century: learning that focuses on real-life issues facing society, and that encourages young people to work collaboratively, think for themselves and have a real say in their own education.

It is a major move in the right direction and promises the kind of space and flexibility in which new forms of learning and new types of subject - such as citizenship, enterprise and personal finance education - are able to develop and flourish.

The Tomlinson report offers a rational, coherent and timely vision for curriculum evolution in the 14-19 phase and begins the long overdue laying to rest of the ‘one size fits all’, single shot assessment at 16. This is welcome: a curriculum framework that starts from what learners need to achieve, a lack of dogma about how they get there and a simplified diploma model to make some sense of the current examinations jungle.

It also offers a framework in which good citizenship learning can prosper, something that today’s school timetable often frustrates.

Lively and relevant citizenship education is an entitlement for all young people; everyone is a citizen after all. It should not be just an academic subject that a select few choose to major in, but a genuine opportunity for the involvement for all. It is not just a re-branding of what we used to know as ‘community service’, but a critical engagement in the sorts of real social and political problems facing young people today.

Yes, we would like to see a stronger focus on the development and demonstration of critical citizenship skills within the proposed core and the achievement of the diploma, but that is to argue with the content and language, not the basic form of the report.

How can we enable schools and other institutions to get there? How can we enable curriculum innovators to use the flexibility and opportunity that Tomlinson’s vision offers? In particular, how can we change the existing curriculum structure to do justice to the ideals of a new 14-19 continuum: a continuum which gives parity of esteem to vocational as well as academic aspirations? How can we give equal respect and value to the contribution of all students?

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