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19 January, 2016

To prevent extremism, look toward citizenship organisations, Morgan tells teachers

Nicky Morgan has unveiled her Department's new website for preventing extremism in schools. In an apparent effort to dispel concerns of stifling debate, it encourages discussion of controversial issues and recommends citizenship education organisations for ways of doing so engagingly.

A group of young people. 

Although the official statement talks in terms of protecting children, the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, told the BBC ‘this is "absolutely not about shutting down debate in schools" or "wrapping young people in cotton wool"’.

Citizenship education is purpose-built for addressing controversial issues. In fact, the Prevent Duty itself recommends the citizenship curriculum for such discussions, and the new website - Educate Against Hate - makes it clear that schools should be teaching the content of the citizenship curriculum:

‘Include in the [school] curriculum … the strengths, advantages and challenges of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain;

‘Demonstrate how democracy works;

‘Use opportunities such as general or local elections to … promote fundamental British values;

‘Provide pupils with the opportunity to learn how to argue and defend points of view;

‘Make time to discuss issues around identity, difference and tolerance. Subject Associations, particularly PSHE, RS and citizenship associations will be well placed to advise on engaging ways to promote British values and teach tolerance’.

So far, the message many teachers seem to have been getting is that they must clamp down on and monitor student activity; that they are expected to act as police and be accountable for that, rather than act as teachers and help youngsters understand the situation.

This hasn’t been helped by a lack of clarity around how Ofsted will inspect British values and the Prevent Duty and how the Home Office approves providers of Prevent training to schools. 

Neither has it been helped by leaflets such as that from Camden Council’s Safeguarding Children Board, which told parents that alarm bells of radicalisation in young people included ‘owning devices you haven't given them', 'glorifying violence', 'showing a mistrust of mainstream media reports’ and ‘appearing angry about government policies’: all of which are, arguably, traits that many of us demonstrated as young people. 

Therefore we welcome these new statements from Government, which put a clear emphasis on the need for young people to be allowed to debate and explore their society, values and citizenship openly and confidently.

The Citizenship Foundation has been helping schools nurture confident, caring and effective citizens for more than 25 years, providing schools with programmes, resources and training.

Last year we published Talking about values in the classroom, one of the resources recommended by Government's new website, which introduces teachers to a method of working that develops students' skills of thinking and talking about moral issues.

Likewise, our friends at the Association for Citizenship Teaching - the only subject association for citizenship - have worked for more than a decade on supporting its members with their chosen subject.

So it is encouraging that the Government is showing signs that it wants us to continue our work.

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