Schools to teach citizenship lessons

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The Independent Online
"CITIZENSHIP LESSONS" will be compulsory in all secondary schools by 2002, under plans being finalised by ministers.

In addition, they will recommend that all schools teach citizenship to children as young as five from next September.

Government guidelines are expected to include lessons, for seven-year- olds, on how to vote and, for 16-year-olds, on proportional representation. Eleven-year-olds will be taught about freedom of speech and how to tell an MP from an MEP.

There will also be guidelines on the things every teenager should know to prepare them for adult life: the difference between right and wrong, what to eat, how to protect the environment and how to be a good parent.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, wants pupils to be taught about morality and involvement in the community, as well as about how the House of Commons works and the sort of topics which featured in old-fashioned civics lessons.

The plans, which will be announced in April, are still being finalised, but Mr Blunkett is understood to have taken the controversial decision that citizenship lessons should eventually be compulsory, at least in secondary schools.

His proposal that schools should have time to adjust to the new lessons comes after months of in-fighting between a series of high-profile advisory groups. Professor Bernard Crick, Mr Blunkett's former tutor, and Michael Brunson, ITN's political editor, are among those pressing for legislation to ensure that citizenship is taught.

Sir Simon Rattle, Dawn French and Lenny Henry, who were in a group on creativity and culture, worried that compulsory citizenship might leave less time for artistic activities.

Sir Geoffrey Holland, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter and former permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, chaired a group on sustainable development, which doubted the wisdom of an immediate change in the law. Another group looked at what pupils should be taught about moral, spiritual and social development.

Mr Blunkett believes citizenship lessons are vital to safeguard democracy at a time when a dwindling number of young people bother to vote. Others, including Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, are concerned that schools will neglect the academic basics in favour of lessons in political literacy. Teachers have also warned that the curriculum is already overcrowded and that, if citizenship is to be added, other subjects will have to go.

But Mr Blunkett and Prof Crick argue that, unless citizenship is put on a statutory footing, it will not be taught. The changes are part of a review of the whole National Curriculum and the recommendations are expected to be put in place next year.

Citizenship lessons almost certainly will be based on a report from Prof Crick's advisory group, published last year. He recommended that 5 per cent of curriculum time should be spent on it, about one or two lessons a week.

Primary schools may not be forced to teach citizenship but there will be guidelines on issues which can be included in existing lessons on personal and social education. All schools will be expected to encourage children to take part in voluntary work and to become active citizens in their communities.

John Potter, Community Service Volunteers' director of education for citizenship, welcomed the idea of a formal entitlement to citizenship lessons but said that it would be regrettable if that did not extend to primary schools. "With the pressures on schools, the danger would be that teachers would feel they were too busy to teach it."

Some critics have warned of the danger of indoctrination in citizenship lessons. But Mr Potter said: "The intention of the Crick report is that people should be given the opportunity to think independently and to challenge views."

Prof Crick suggests that children as young as seven should take part in simple debates and vote, "reflect on issues of social and moral concern" and know what fairness means. They should also understand the difference between kind and unkind, good and bad and right and wrong.

By 11 they should be discussing moral dilemmas and understand increasingly sophisticated political terms. They should be able to tell an MP from an MEP, a democracy from a dictatorship and a prime minister from a president. And they should take part in a question and answer sessions with someone from the local community.

By 14, they should know about the use and misuse of statistics, use role- play to express views with which they disagree, learn about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, equal opportunities, discrimination and trade unions.

By the end of compulsory schooling, Prof Crick envisages that pupils will have an adult knowledge of how the political system works. Issues such as MPs' accountability, proportional representation and federalism and controversial topics such as nationalisation and income distribution should all be within their grasp.