New GCSE in citizenship will teach children how to cope

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The Independent Online
EXAM OFFICIALS are preparing a new GCSE in citizenship - or how to cope in modern Britain - to reflect compulsory lessons in the subject to be announced by the Government this week.

The exam would cover very different topics from those in old-fashioned civics courses. An exam board steering group is considering including issues such as how to complain about shoddy goods and how to spot the misuse of statistics as well as voting rights and the role of government.

It is looking at posing pupils with imaginary scenarios, for example about where to go for help in the case of family breakdown. And their coursework might consist of a project in which they investigate a social problem such as the shortage of doctors in an inner-city area.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, will announce on Thursday that all secondary schools will have to teach citizenship from September 2002. Primary schools will receive guidelines on how to teach the subject, which will form part of personal, social and health education.

Officials at OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA examinations) are investigating a series of qualifications linked to citizenship, which would be directed at people of all ages.

A new statutory order on citizenship will list the topics schools will be expected to cover: for example, rights and responsibilities, how the judicial system works, how far freedom of religion and speech are compatible with tolerance, the role of the media, how propaganda can influence people, and the role of government.

There would also be a requirement for pupils to take part in some active learning involving the community though there will be no requirement of community service for all.

Don Rowe, director of curriculum resources at the Citizenship Foundation, said they were talking to the exam boards about new qualifications, including a GCSE course: "We know this is a controversial area. Some teachers are worried about the idea of failing people as citizens but if you use the example of religious education, pupils don't feel they have failed spiritually if they do badly in an RE exam."

He said they were also considering qualifications for pupils for whom a GCSE would not be suitable. He said it would not be practical for all coursework for the GCSE exam to involve projects in the community but pupils could use the Internet and the phone to prepare work about their communities.

What was important was to get away from learning the number of MPs and where the parties sat in the House of Commons. "I don't think the courses will be dominated by democratic issues. When young people start caring about issues which affect their lives then they are going to vote."