Lessons in citizenship, made compulsory when David Blunkett was Education Secretary, offer the best opportunity to schools to combat disaffection among today's young people towards government - and impress upon them that they can get involved in trying to change institutions for the better. Unfortunately, according to a report from Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, that does not appear to be happening. Provision for citizenship lessons in one in four schools is inadequate - the worst performance for any subject. The reasons for this lie in a lack of commitment by senior staff towards the subject and a feeling among teachers that they do not really know what is expected of them.
Critics have claimed that the citizenship curriculum is all about compliance and good behaviour - yet Ofsted says some of the best practice it has seen in schools involves taking a critical look at our democratic institutions and teaching young people how to mount campaigns and challenge decisions. It would seem obvious that spreading this good practice is the right way forward and a means of making citizenship classes interesting for pupils.
Ofsted also recommends establishing a full-course GCSE in citizenship as a priority - rather than the existing half-course that tends to downgrade the subject. AS and A2 courses should also be made available at the earliest opportunity, it argues. We agree with both proposals. Its final key recommendation is that there should be specially trained citizenship teachers to deliver the curriculum. That would be a welcome development once the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Government's exams watchdog, has redefined the citizenship curriculum to make it clearer what it should cover.
The stakes are high. If citizenship is allowed to appear just as a boring add-on to the curriculum, it will have the opposite effect to that intended, and turn many young people away from participating in a democratic society instead of persuading them that they can play a part in shaping their own future. Ofsted is right to draw attention to this issue and ministers should ensure that the QCA deals with any shortcomings in the citizenship curriculum as a matter of urgency.