Much has been made of late about the standard of Citizenship teaching. One particularly critical, teacher written piece in last week’s education supplement in the Independent has drawn letters of response in this week’s supplement from myself, Chris Waller, the Professional Officer at the Association for Citizenship Teaching and Sir Bernard Crick, no less.
Nobody should derive from these responses that any of us are complacent about the current state of play – our professional lives are centred on improving practice in this area – but we ought to point out that where teaching is good, it is very good indeed. And we ought to remember that we are in the fourth, not the fortieth year of practice.
At the Foundation this time of year – and in education generally – is bound up with award ceremonies (such as for our National Youth Parliament and Political Journalism Competitions at the House of Lords yesterday) and grand finals (such as for our Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial Competition in Trafford a few weeks ago or Speakers’ Bank Speak Out! Challenge that I attended at Stratford Circus in east London last night). Citizenship sceptics (and it is healthy that you are out there), speak to these young people about the growth in their self esteem, self confidence, knowledge and skills through engagement in these kind of active learning projects and you might begin to think again.
Of course, many of the problems are practical and all the more challenging where these kind of active projects are involved: where do we timetable it? who is going to teach it? what will it cost? These are genuine challenges but worth addressing once we stand back and ask what education is for. As one headteacher put it at the launch of our guide to the constitution, Inside Britain, earlier this week: “what we’re really about is creating citizens and supporting our community”. Schools that produce effective citizens and sustain strong communities: a tough one for the GCSE league tables to capture – but a worthy educational aim and even worth the timetabling challenge involved. And a few other statistics might change too: exclusion levels, crime rates, voting figures, volunteering levels, charitable activities. Citizenship Education: we might be onto something here!