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11 March, 2008

Citizenship in the primary school curriculum needs statutory status

Amongst other proposals, the Citizenship Foundation has urged Lord Goldsmith’s Citizenship Review to strengthen the place of Citizenship Education in the Primary School. The Review is set to publish our paper on the subject. Our position is set out in summary below.

Citizenship has been a Foundation (compulsory) Subject of the National Curriculum in secondary schools since Autumn 2002. Against this background, the National Foundation for Educational Research has begun to identify the tangible benefits that accrue to those schools that adopt 'Citizenship-rich' practice, an approach that combines strong curriculum provision with opportunities for pupil participation and community engagement.

These benefits include enhanced levels of student achievement (evidenced in examination attainment) and inclusion (evidenced by declining rates of permanent and fixed term exclusions and decreased levels of truancy). It is now time to extend this practice into primary schools.

Research makes clear that citizenship learning (for instance, around concepts such as fairness, rights and responsibilities) takes place from the early years, even before children begin formal schooling. Therefore, the primary school is of crucial importance in developing the understanding, skills, values and attitudes that underpin effective citizenship.

The Citizenship Foundation has always argued that the failure to make Citizenship Education statutory in the primary school was a missed opportunity and results in developmental delay in this area. There are examples of excellent Citizenship practice in the primary phase on which to build but we argue that that current provision (based on a non-statutory joint framework for PSHE and Citizenship) is inadequate.

The absence of citizenship education has particular impact in the upper primary years at Key Stage 2 where issues such as community cohesion, bullying, stealing, the role of the police and respect for law are beginning to have a real impact on the lives of learners.

For example, young people are criminally responsible at age ten, but this significant fact and its implications, are not systematically communicated to primary school pupils as part of the statutory curriculum. Granting Citizenship ‘Foundation Subject' (compulsory) status in the primary phase would ensure that students embarking on their secondary school careers have had an induction into the key principles of social and moral responsibility, identity and diversity, community involvement and political literacy and the associated knowledge and skills.

In terms of developing political literacy in the primary phase, we believe that schools and teachers should be encouraged to enable pupils to make sense of key political ideas at an inter-personal level: justice, equality, respect, rights and duties. Statutory curriculum provision for Citizenship would facilitate this. An alternative to granting Citizenship Foundation Subject status would be to upgrade the existing non-statutory joint framework with PSHE to a statutory requirement.

While we agree that, in the primary phase, there are real benefits in combining the programmes of study for Citizenship and PSHE, we worry about the messages sent by distinguishing between ‘subjects' and ‘frameworks' within the curriculum: this can suggest a hierarchy of knowledge.

Granting Citizenship (or Citizenship and PSHE) statutory status within the primary curriculum should not be seen as an additional burden for primary school teachers. Rather, in a context where the curriculum is informed by - but not, as can be the case in secondary schools, compartmentalised into - discrete subjects such a move should be seen as:

  1. giving status to much that good primary schools already do well,
  2. emphasising the importance of learning in this area,
  3. providing a mechanism for building inclusion and, therefore, achievement, and
  4. offering a framework through which primary schools can meet complementary aspirations and obligations, for instance with regard to emotional literacy, pupil participation, parental engagement, community cohesion and the broader Every Child Matters agenda.

As such, effective citizenship-rich practice in the curriculum, in the life of the wider school and in the school's relationship with the community that it serves is a mechanism for school improvement and transformation; The DCSF accredited National CPD Certificate in Citizenship Education courses are open to primary practitioners. The TDA should give consideration as to how the Citizenship dimension in primary PGCE programmes might be strengthened and enhanced.

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