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9 January, 2009

Citizenship Foundation challenges portrayal of citizenship education in Times Online article

In an article on Times Online today, Joanna Sugden reports that Sir David Watson, Professor of Higher Education Management at the Institute of Education, said, in a speech to the North of England Education Conference, that Citizenship teaching in schools and at university was nationalistic, politically slanted and disguises what it is to be a citizen.

The Citizenship Foundation and colleagues from across the Citizenship Education community disagree strongly with Sir David's comments and the way that Citizenship Education has been portrayed in Joanna Sugden's article. We have responded to the article with the following letter to the editor of The Times:

Sir,

Your coverage of Sir David Watson's speech (‘Citizenship lessons "nationalistic and politically skewed"') is disappointing on two counts: proportionality and accuracy. Sir David granted less than a minute to Citizenship Education in his wide-ranging, hour-long speech to the North of England Education Conference. Your story does him - and your readers - an injustice in not saying anything about his broader comments.

Leaving aside Sir David's representation of the quite different education programmes for those seeking naturalisation (which we also contest), let us focus on his comments with regard to the (secondary) school curriculum.

He is right to argue that ‘a brittle, nationalistic, quite possibly politically slanted view of what it is to understand and project rights and responsibilities as a member of a democratic society is unpersuasive'. This is precisely the approach to Citizenship Education - a tired, behaviourist civics - that the Citizenship Foundation has argued against since its establishment twenty years ago, which its partners across the Citizenship Education community have contested in equal measure and which the late Sir Bernard Crick's landmark all-party report, Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools, challenged.

Where Sir David gets it wrong is in his suggestion that this nightmare vision is what National Curriculum Citizenship in schools amounts to. As the inspection evidence makes clear, nothing could be further from the truth. The Citizenship curriculum focuses on enabling young people to develop the political, legal and economic skills and knowledge necessary to function as effective citizens in twenty-first century Britain, not simply on teaching some phoney (or state approved) notion of ‘Britishness'.

Developing the legal, political and economic literacy of our young people has never been more important. Building the skills and knowledge of new and existing teachers to do so should have our highest priority. Sir David's academic base, the Institute for Education, is amongst the best placed to help meet this challenge and runs some excellent programmes in precisely this area. We can forgive him his bad minute. Be assured, we too are working actively for the inclusive, internationalist lessons that he seeks - as are teachers and schools - strengthened by a renewed curriculum given precisely this orientation (launched in September 2008) and an inspectorate, teaching and policy community pulling in the same direction.

Dr. Tony Breslin
Chief Executive, Citizenship Foundation

David Barrs
Chair, Association for Citizenship Teaching and Co-Headteacher, Anglo-European School, Essex

Dr. John Lloyd
Formerly member of the Citizenship Working Party, DfES, and Citizenship Adviser, DCSF (2000-2008)

Jan Newton
Adviser on Citizenship Education to the Minister of State, DfES (2001-2008)

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