What’s the point of a curriculum subject?

When Michael Gove started to review the curriculum three years ago we knew that citizenship was under question.

I found that I was recurrently asked about its value: ‘but is it working??’.

And I often asked back, ‘well, what do you mean by “working”?’.

More recently we have had to reach conclusions about how to promote citizenship education now that most of the schools in England don’t have to follow that new National Curriculum.

We’ve found that many Senior Leaders approach our subject with similar ‘working?’ questions. They’re compromised by time pressures and lack of skilled workforce for this, the newest of subjects. And so they ask the fundamental, ‘but does it work?’.

So, by example. Let’s ask the same question of some other unquestioned subjects. Say, French and Music…

French ‘works’ when people grasp the essence of another language, slowly develop an understanding of structure, remember vocabulary, and incrementally practise its use. But no-one would say that ‘success’ would be measured in ferry crossings by the under 18s (the way that some look to voting statistics to ask whether citizenship is ‘working’). Some will of course go on to be great linguists because the introduction to the subject recognised their aptitude for languages – nurturing a lifelong passion and opens doors to new cultures and more languages.

How about Music?

Music ‘works’ when students grasp how it has structure and form, how it is read, transmitted, performed, how great it is to make music and practise what skills and flair you’ve got. And then some will of course have their musical aptitudes uncovered, whether or not they came from a musical background. The door has been opened to them for a life of personal or professional fulfilment because they have a passion and talent for music.

What do these have in common?

  • A need to be introduced to the facts and concepts implicit in the subject;
  • Being given a working knowledge that you then test out so you know what it means to practise its skills;
  • Allowing those with particular aptitudes to have them uncovered, cultivated and made expert for lifelong practice.

Now ask the question – do we need citizenship and indeed how do we know if it’s working?

  • Does everyone need to understand the facts and concepts behind the society they live in and share an equal stake?
  • Should everyone have the chance to practise the skills of participation implicit in effecting that membership?
  • Should schools uncover those who have the aptitudes towards leadership, public advocacy, political thinking such that their expertise benefits our collective life (as much as those who come from a family or social background of administering power??)

And now ask – is that offer part of a broad and balanced curriculum?

And what would happen if it was really delivered with conviction?

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

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