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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Schools struggling with citizenship
classroom scene
Many schools have worked citizenship into existing lessons
Secondary schools in England seem confused and complacent about the new subject of citizenship, inspectors are warning.

They have not understood the full implications of it as a statutory part of the national curriculum, so their response has often been "low-key", says a report from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

Standards are often low and teaching quality "varies widely", with a lot of "unsatisfactory" management of the subject.

statutory subject in secondary schools since September 2002
three inter-related strands:
- knowledge and understanding about being informed citizens
- enquiry and communication
- participation and responsible action
- legal and human rights and responsibilities
- "the diversity of identities" in the UK
- central and local government
- the electoral system and voting
- the work of voluntary groups
- the media
- the world as a global community
- topical issues

Citizenship became a part of the national curriculum last September after two years' notice, and Ofsted has taken a preliminary look at how it is being taught in 25 schools.

"It is important to note that we were inspecting a small sample of schools at a very early stage of a major initiative, so it was encouraging to find examples of good practice and plans with considerable potential," said the chief inspector, David Bell.

"However, the report identifies issues that must be addressed if schools are to meet national curriculum requirements while equipping their pupils to play an active part in our democracy and community."

He said there was a wide consensus in schools, Parliament and the larger community that citizenship was "a positive addition" to the curriculum.

But some schools were unclear about its aims.

'Light touch'

His inspectors found that those that had been most successful where the ones that had regarded it as something new, even though parts of their existing provision may have already promoted good citizenship.

But many confused it with what he calls the "cross-curricular themes and dimensions" approach of the early 1990s, "or with a general use of the word 'citizenship' to summarise their aspirations and ethos".

Part of the problem was the notion that it was a "light touch" subject.

That was the phrase used by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) when it said the programme of study was supposed to be flexible so schools could build on what they were doing already and tailor it to their own circumstances.

Most schools had chosen to set it within existing personal, social and health education (PSHE) programmes.

"Generally, this arrangement is proving unsatisfactory," Ofsted says.

"Standards in citizenship are too often unsatisfactory and written work is generally weaker than it should be."

Time pressures

Time in the school day was an issue, as had been anticipated.

"This problem of curriculum time had occupied the Advisory Group on Citizenship and, at one stage, threatened the unanimity of its final report," says Ofsted.

"However, this remained an open question and it was left to each school to consider in its individual circumstances."

But also the very title, citizenship, was ambiguous.

"Many schools took pride in their ethos and in general aspects of their curricula that promoted good citizenship.

"Some of these schools failed to make a distinction between this general provision and the requirements of national curriculum citizenship.

"Together, the idea of a 'light touch' and the presence of some citizenship elements may have promoted a degree of complacency, resulting in a low-key response to the citizenship initiative."

The inspectors recommend that schools should consider whether they have properly recognised and understood what it is about.

They should:

  • define it clearly and distinguish it from other subjects.
  • ensure they put in place "a broad, coherent and progressive curriculum with scope for work in depth"
  • address how they will assess and report on pupils' progress in citizenship
  • establish high standards for citizenship comparable with those in other subjects.
"In all schools, the debate about what national curriculum citizenship involves and its contribution to their pupils' education needs to continue, and for some this will be a long-term project," Ofsted concludes.

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis, said: "What is basically a good idea to involve the young in citizenship has been mishandled by government, resulting in a discredited initiative."

The Conservative spokesman, Damian Green, said: "The whole concept of introducing citizenship as a separate subject was always a dubious one, and Ofsted's criticisms reinforce my view that citizenship should infuse the whole ethos of a school, and not be treated as a separate part of the curriculum."

The Department for Education said it took on board Ofsted's views, and was "doing a lot of work to strengthen the teaching of citizenship in schools".

Schools 'unprepared for citizenship'
18 Jul 02  |  Education
Making pupils better citizens
09 Mar 99  |  Education

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