A tale of two citizenship curriculaPosted: July 16, 2013
Michael Gove has got off surprisingly lightly with his latest take on the school curriculum. Maybe it was relief that some of the worst features of the first version – notably history and design technology – have been changed. Or maybe it’s nearly holiday time and nobody much is paying attention.
But the reality is that this curriculum remains deeply flawed. There is still no attempt to articulate any broad aims for education. The government is still simply listing the stuff it thinks children should know and is leaving it to schools to work out whether there is anything else they should be thinking about.
Much is made of the supposed rigour of the curriculum. What this means apparently is doing something earlier than before regardless of whether young children have developed the capacity to cope with what is proposed.
The whole exercise is outrageously politicised with no attempt being made to build a consensus amongst either professionals, parents, pupils or other stakeholders. Success it would seem is defined as a good headline in the Mail or the Telegraph.
One area of the new curriculum which has received little attention is citizenship. There was some relief, clearly, that it did not vanish altogether but that is no reason to allow the changes to be unchallenged.
Labour’s citizenship curriculum was all about enabling young people to play an active role in society and about enabling then to understand and debate the issues that the country is facing. In summary it said that:
“Citizenship encourages them (young people) to take an interest in topical and controversial issues and to engage in discussion and debate. Pupils learn about their rights, responsibilities, duties and freedoms and about laws, justice and democracy. They learn to take part in decision-making and different forms of action. They play an active role in the life of their schools, neighbourhoods, communities and wider society as active and global citizens.”
For a Tory this is clearly scary stuff. The last thing they want it seems is people standing up for themselves and “trying to make a difference in their communities and the wider world”. The new curriculum has a very different focus. It’s all about the mechanics of government and the legal system. There’s no sign of any attempt to address the actual issues that face young people nor any attempt to develop the skills needed to engage actively in debate and decision making.
So, “pupils must be taught about how the political system of the UK has developed as a democracy, including the role of parliament and the monarch”.
So at least they will get to learn about the role of the monarch and about “the precious liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the United Kingdom”. But no debate about the balance between freedom and security and no encouragement to address these issues in contexts – such as school rules – that younger children could relate to. No doubt Chris Grayling and Theresa May will be mighty relieved if the job of defining what “precious liberties” we are to be allowed is left to them.
You can only think, looking at these two documents that this government sees no value in encouraging debate and in giving people the skills and knowledge they need to be a real participant in their community. It’s all just about passive learning with no encouragement to critique how country is run.
No doubt in practice many teachers will subvert this stuff and will carry on providing the experiences that they know young people really need. But the dismal lack of imagination or ambition for young people that the new curriculum demonstrates is deeply depressing.
Labour’s citizenship curriculum can be found at http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/secondary/b00199157/citizenship
The coalition’s version can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210969/NC_framework_document_-_FINAL.pdf