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Tuesday, September 22, 1998 Published at 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK


Classes in citizenship

The classes would begin at primary school

Lessons in how to be a model citizen could be taught by every state school in England and Wales.

The government has welcomed the findings of a report which calls for compulsory citizenship classes in both primary and secondary schools.

It recommends that pupils should be given instruction in social and moral responsibility, taught about UK government and politics, and encouraged to undertake voluntary work in the community with the elderly and other groups.

[ image: David Blunkett: keen supporter]
David Blunkett: keen supporter
The proposals, which are expected to be implemented by the government as part of its overhaul of the National Curriculum, have been drawn up by the Advisory Group on Citizenship Education in Schools.

The advisory body was set up last year by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, who is known to be a keen supporter of citizenship classes in schools.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mr Blunkett said: "Education for citizenship is vital to revive and sustain an active democratic society in the new century.

"We cannot leave it to chance. It is a key part of the curriculum throughout Europe and in countries like the USA, Australia and Canada.

'Rights and responsibilities'

"We must provide opportunities for all our young people to develop an understanding of what democracy means and how government works in practice - locally and nationally - and encourage them to take an active part in the lives of their communities.

"Linking rights and responsibilities and emphasising socially acceptable behaviour to others, underpins the development of active citizenship."

The advisory group was headed by Professor Bernard Crick, of London University.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the group was not setting out to tell children what to think, or teachers what to teach.

"We're setting out learning objectives that it will be up to the teachers to decide how to meet these broad objectives," he said.

"And of course, we're not telling people what to think. It isn't a centralised system."

The report says educating children for citizenship should include:

  • helping them to learn self-confidence and socially and morally responsible behaviour both in and beyond the classroom
  • learning about and becoming helpfully involved in the life and concern of their community, including voluntary work
  • learning about how to make themselves "effective in public life", including a "realistic knowledge of and preparation for conflict-resolution and decision-making related to the main economic and social problems of the day".
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has welcomed the report but has warned that there are implications for school timetables and staffing.

Teaching time

"It is right to emphasise social and moral issues," said the union's General Secretary, Peter Smith.

"There is a need to ensure young people have an understanding of the political processes and to instil a sense of involvement in the community.

"But if citizenship education is to be made compulsory, real time must be found for teachers to do it."

Ministers are said to be hoping that formal instruction in government and politics will eventually encourage higher turn-outs at general elections.

But they are wary of accusations of politically indoctrinating schoolchildren, and are hoping that the presence on the committee of the former Conservative Education Secretary, Lord Baker, will take the sting out of any such allegations.

And they have also pledged that citizenship lessons will in no way replace religious education lessons.

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10 Aug 98 | England and Wales
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