Citizenship lessons for 5-year-olds

Education: A report says public responsibility should be taught, as a council claims inspectors misjudged one of its schools
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The Independent Online
LESSONS IN citizenship should be compulsory for pupils as young as five to help safeguard democracy, a government- commissioned report said yesterday.

The report, drawn up by Professor Bernard Crick, lays down what pupils should learn about morality, how to join in public life and how to help their communities.

Even infant pupils should be able to take part in a simple debate and vote on an issue and juniors should discuss "a range of moral dilemmas" and understand the meaning of freedom of speech. Secondary school pupils should learn about the changing constitution and "the values, interests and policies of the main political parties".

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, warmly welcomed the report, drawn up by his former tutor at Sheffield University.

He declared himself to be a "conservative with a small 'c' in these matter.". "Children in primary schools need to be taught right from wrong. We have to be clear about that." He added: "Education for citizenship is vital to revive and sustain an active democratic society in the new century. Linking rights and responsibilities and emphasising socially acceptable behaviour to others, underpins the development of active citizenship."

Citizenship will take up no more than 5 per cent of curriculum time. In primary schools it will be part of other lessons but there may be separate citizenship lessons in secondary schools. Because the requirement to teach citizenship will be new to English schools, an independent commission on citizenship education will be set up "to guard against any suggestion of political bias". Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education will check that schools are fulfilling their legal duty.

Professor Crick said that schools were already used to teaching children about sensitive subjects using "balance and fairness".

"It is an insult to the professionalism of teachers to think that these areas cannot be dealt with in the same way that controversial areas of history would be dealt with or aspects of the environment in geography lessons."

The report's recommendations, including "learning outcomes", will now go to advisers drawing up the new national curriculum for 2000. About a third of schools are at present teaching citizenship.

Mr Blunkett said the Government was not telling schools what to teach but setting out learning objectives. Teachers would decide how to meet them.

Teachers' leaders warned that the curriculum was already too full.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "I am afraid that a lot of good work being done in health education, careers, sex education and personal and social education will be squeezed out." An independent commission was unnecessary, he said, and smacked of "Big Brother".

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