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28 February, 2006

Power Inquiry welcomed with caution

The Citizenship Foundation shares the Power Commission’s aim of creating a culture of participation. We welcome the wider ranging public debate about the health of democracy that should follow. However, its recommendation for the citizenship curriculum will undermine rather than fulfil that goal.

Front cover of the report from the Power Inquiry into British democracy.

Building a real culture of participation will rely on the development of the skills, attitudes and understanding that underpin it as an inherent part of learning throughout school. It cannot be generated through a short course in Year 11.

The report implicitly narrows the conception of participation to political participation, ignoring other strands of effective citizenship highlighted elsewhere in the report.

Moreover, the report misrepresents the citizenship curriculum:

- With most schools spending less than one hour per week on citizenship education, it is unhelpful to suggest that the curriculum needs to be shorter.

- The report seems to reduce its content to political education, ignoring the other crucial elements such as legal understanding, media literacy and community involvement.

- Good citizenship education is highly practical. Whereas the report caricatures the delivery of citizenship education as ‘abstract discussion about procedures and structures’, the national curriculum in fact recommends that students should learn about political structures and the key elements of public life through discussion of social, moral and political issues of relevance to young people.

The problems with the citizenship curriculum that the report identifies are not solved by its proposed solutions. Rather, we need to:

- raise the quality of citizenship teaching through better quality (and subsidised) CPD (training);

- ensure there are specialist citizenship teachers in every school;

- support schools in providing ample opportunities for students to learn skills of engagement through participation in school and community life.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that citizenship education is both a new subject and a new type of subject, and that practice is still developing. A significant number of schools are engaged in very good practice. Our task is to ensure that other schools learn from this. We need stronger, better citizenship education not a reduction in provision and a narrowed curriculum.

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