Tories must make better use of their national curriculum, a teacher will tell conference-goers

Guest post

The Conservative government wants schools to tackle British values and extremism, but seems to forget it has a citizenship curriculum purpose-built for exploring such things. That’s why a Cheshire teacher is going to the Party Conference next week.

Prime Minister David Cameron talks at Conservative Party Conference in 2014.

Prime Minister David Cameron at Conservative Party Conference 2014.
Image by mrgarethm (Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Sarah Maile teaches at a secondary school in Cheshire. In this guest post, Sarah tells us why she thinks citizenship education is so important to our future society, and why she hopes to persuade delegates at the Conservative Party Conference to give the subject more support.

Citizenship Education is such a crucial and necessary aspect of our young people’s education and development. Citizenship not only educates our young people into the local, national, international issues, responses and foci, it encourages them to get involved in making a positive change or contribution to our communities.

It saddens me to see statistics that show Citizenship as a taught subject dropping in numbers; whilst I appreciate that Citizenship is a subject which can be taught throughout all subjects discretely, a stand alone set of lessons, with assessment is so important in raising awareness and the profile of this incredibly important topic.

Citizenship covers everything from the law, politics, economy through to social action; which – at a time when British values are such a key focus for British schools and for the Conservative Party – this is something that really should be celebrated. It is a fantastic avenue to encourage all of these values, and tackle misconceptions and even extremism.

Students in my school have the opportunity to access three Citizenship focused extra-curricular clubs, numbers attending these clubs are on the rise, and we see students leaving as well rounded, passionate and engaged young women, who are able to show understanding of current issues, emotional engagement, respectful natures, determination, ambition, curiosity and resilience.

Active citizenship encourages students of all abilities to take notice of issues/concerns, and gets them involved with making a difference, our students have been praised in parliament of their anti trafficking efforts; won awards for their campaigns and fundraising, but more importantly they are not only gaining academic achievements but are leaving with an extra dimension to their education, a dimension which encourages them to think outside of the box, to think about others, and to think of solutions not just problems. Active Citizenship can be a forum for students to really tackle what is bothering them about the community, and help them develop mature responses to these problems in a safe environment.

Citizenship reminds students that they do have a voice, an extremely powerful one, which needs (and should) be heard. The youth voice of our country is strong, and so is their passion. With Citizenship education and appropriate guidance their energy can be directed and encouraged into incredibly positive directions. And, what a wonderful message to send to our young people ‘you have a voice, we will listen, and it can change things’.

Young people are capable of so much, and though Citizenship education this can be nurtured and developed. Citizenship can cover such a vast array of subjects, it could be that a student who is underperforming is missing that spark that a topic in Citizenship could ignite. Topics which are traditionally saved for older year groups like Law, Politics and Economics can be explored and enjoyed throughout all year groups in different forms/formats through Citizenship. With the development of social media students are becoming more and more engaged with politics which is brilliant, we need to encourage this and nurture this and we need to give them the facts and not just expect them to know who they wish to vote for or their views on political arguments based on Twitter or Facebook.

Our students need to have education into economics and finance not only to encourage them into perhaps a world of ‘big business’ and to help them understand the markets and how they will effect them, but also on a personal level to help educate them to make sensible financial choices when older, and avoid this growing culture of pay day loans, we owe it to our young people to offer them the facts, to protect them as much as possible. This can not always be covered in enough depth in PSHE/PSE/PSHCE sessions and needs to be addressed.

Citizenship helps schools and students achieve ECM focuses, SMSC focuses, SEAL focuses and many, many more. It is based on our students and their lives, their futures and their voice- it worries me that this is not given enough time, energy or money!

I am honoured to have the position I do in such a progressive, supportive school, I adore the topics we focus on and the wider school opportunities it encourages.

I believe the Conservative Party Conference is a fantastic forum to discuss this, Citizenship education needs more support. It helps create genuinely well rounded pupils, and encourages them to apply their understanding and skills from core subjects and explore topics/issues which will affect/do affect them in ‘real life’.

The Conservative Party Conference is a time when we can explore/encourage more support not only from ministers but through this the general public. This subject should not be cast aside, and should have the support and backing it deserves.

David Cameron’s belief in our Big Society, is fantastic, but how do we encourage our young people to embrace this fully and with genuine enthusiasm? I honestly believe it is through Citizenship education, with support from this conference.

Sarah Maile teaches Religious Studies at Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College in Cheshire, and coordinates the school’s Pupil Voice and Citizenship programmes. 

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

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