David Bell: Our schools must teach children to be good citizens

From the Hansard/Ofsted lecture by the Chief Inspector of Schools

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What does it mean to be a citizen? Does it mean having the right to put a cross in a box on a ballot paper every four or so years? Does it mean having the responsibility to pay your taxes every month? I would suggest that being a citizen is about all this and more.

What does it mean to be a citizen? Does it mean having the right to put a cross in a box on a ballot paper every four or so years? Does it mean having the responsibility to pay your taxes every month? I would suggest that being a citizen is about all this and more.

And that is why the introduction of citizenship as a national curriculum subject has brought with it such high expectations. Principally, it has brought to the fore a belief that our education system, and the curriculum taught in schools, has a role to play in fostering a sense of community, social responsibility and awareness among today's younger generation.

And yet Ofsted evidence shows that citizenship is the worst taught subject at Key Stages 3 and 4. Schools are seldom judged to deliver very good teaching in this subject. Even though it is early days in terms of implementation, this is unacceptable when one considers the important role the subject has in providing an opportunity to discuss the public dimension of pupils' development, including their rights and responsibilities.

The turnout for the 2001 UK election was just 59 per cent. This is the lowest turnout for any post-war general election. Turnout for local and European elections is even lower.

The introduction of citizenship challenges some assumptions about the status quo because it is intended to empower pupils. The trick is to harness that power in a democratic school where the pupils recognise their ownership and the opportunities presented to them. Schools need to go back to their aims and values to ask what their education is about. An important part of any answer should be citizenship. Developing citizenship is ultimately about developing citizens, an aim I believe is vital to the future success of a healthy, vibrant and coherent British society.

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