The court system is already on the school curriculum, but Michael Gove seems too ashamed of his own work to tell people about it

With new calls for schools to teach about juries, how many people realise it’s in the national curriculum already? Probably very few, as Michael Gove seems embarrassed to talk about his new citizenship lessons.

Yesterday, the Law Commission recommended jail terms for jurors who research their trials on the internet. It also recommended that school students be taught about the role and importance of jury service.

But Michael Gove has already provided space for this in his new 2014 citizenship curriculum. At key stage 3, Gove wants students to learn about ‘the role of law and the legal justice system’; at key stage 4, he wants them also to learn about ‘the operation of courts and tribunals’.

So why doesn’t he say so publicly? As the matter is debated in the national media, why does Michael Gove not wave his hands and shout, ‘it’s okay, I’ve got this one covered!’? After all, he went to some trouble to keep citizenship education in schools: against initial advice to drop the subject completely, he wrote a whole new one instead.

What’s going on? Has he no faith in his own work?

Well, no, apparently not.

In a testimonial on Free the Children’s website, he tells them:

‘You have demonstrated that citizenship – which exists in the National Curriculum in schools, as a dry dusty subject for some, a story about parliaments and votes and procedures, and what a bicameral system’s impact on local government development will be, that’s not what citizenship is.

‘Citizenship is about doing and making a difference and change. And you’ve exemplified here far more effectively than I ever could in a hundred rewrites of the national curriculum what citizenship should mean’.

Wow. Has he really so little faith in his ability to prescribe good educational content that ‘a hundred rewrites’ could never enthuse young people about changing the world? He seems to want English teachers to enliven children to the language, so does he think citizenship teachers have no such skills to complement a vivid curriculum? Or does he avoid mentioning the subject because he’s ashamed of what he’s produced?

His track record isn’t good. Although he supported citizenship education when challenged by David Blunkett in the House of Commons in February, that was before finalising the curriculum that he seems now to be brushing under the Commons carpet. Other than that moment in Parliament and his plaintive admission to Free the Children, we can find no quotes from him about his own citizenship curriculum. (Do let us know if you can do any better!)

Meanwhile, the subject itself is losing ground. According to data from the Joint Council for Qualifications (the new umbrella organisation for awarding bodies), uptake of the short course GCSE has halved and the full course has done little to replace it. Compare this with RE, where the short course has dropped similarly but the full course has shot up in its wake.

As short courses are phased out, schools seem more likely to default to more established subjects: a salutary warning for the relatively new subject of citizenship.

But no-one in government seems to care. Under the previous administration, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency took an annual snapshot of issues related to curriculum delivery. In that way, the Education Secretary kept an eye on the delivery of citizenship education. As far as we know, the current administration is not doing this; the current administration shows no signs of caring how well its curriculum is delivered.

So, is Michael Gove simply crossing his fingers and hoping it will all go away? That free schools and academies, exempt from following the national curriculum, will assume education provision so completely that the national curriculum becomes totally redundant? If so, why on earth did he waste so much time (three years), so much energy and – doubtless – so much money on writing the thing in the first place?

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume Michael Gove takes pride in his work and believes in the national curriculum that he is introducing into schools.

In which case, he must show a bit of strength and take ownership of his citizenship curriculum. He should be puffing his chest proudly and shouting about it from the rooftops, not rubbishing it on a charity’s website.

And he can start by reminding us that education about jury service – a current hot potato for the society his government is responsible to – fits into his new citizenship curriculum, very neatly.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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