Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Pupils to be taught 'citizenship'
Pupils in Wallingford already do practical citizenship studies
Schoolchildren are going to have to learn how to be model citizens under proposals published by the government.
Secondary school pupils will be required to take compulsory "citizenship" lessons in the revised National Curriculum for England.
Primary schools will be urged to teach the subject to younger children, but will have the opportunity to opt out if they feel it reduces their ability to raise standards of reading, writing and arithmetic.
The proposals, which will be the subject of a consultation exercise involving schools and other interested parties, were drawn up by ministers following advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has addressed concerns that the curriculum is too concerned with telling teachers what to do - and that devoting 5% of school time to citizenship might have a negative impact on the amount of religious education.
"We need to make sure that there is flexibility for teachers to do their job professionally and we will be reducing prescription in terms of the actual detail of each course of study.
"However, we don't want other things to be squeezed out, we don't want the moral and spiritual basis to be left out and I specifically put it in myself."
He said the one third of schools already teaching citizenship and democracy in some form were doing it without damaging the core literacy and numeracy teaching.
He said he did not think too much was being asked of children.
"If I can just be an old codger for a moment ... children these days have it quite light in terms of the very prescriptive traditions that I was brought up with and we're trying to instil some of that - like being able to read and write and add up properly and do mental arithmetic - at the same time as opening up the new world to them.
"I think that balance is what teacher professionalism is all about."
There is also a proposal to make personal, social and health education more coherent in secondary schools, although it would not be compulsory. The curriculum for this covers such things as drugs education, sex education and careers education and guidance.
The review document says there are at present "quite wide variations between schools" in how these things are taught.
The curriculum is also going to get a 'mission statement'. The QCA says its monitoring "showed a clear need to develop a more explicit statement about the purposes of the National Curriculum, and the values and aims which underpin each school's curriculum."
This would in part "make more explicit the role that schools play in promoting high standards of attainment and contributing to pupils' personal and social development as active citizens in a democratic society and a rapidly changing world".
He said they envisaged three strands - social and moral responsibility from an early age, community involvement, and what he termed "political literacy".
"We certainly don't want it to degenerate into a boring, factual subject about what our MPs do and where the Speaker's mace is," he said on Breakfast News on BBC One.
"But also having a learning experience in the community, the idea of having active citizenship rather than passive learning."
An end to competition in PE
The review updates the list of recommended post-1900 authors in English literature, to add George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, William Trevor, Katherine Mansfield and Aldous Huxley.
While most of the proposed reforms are designed to be introduced from September next year, the citizenship lessons would not come into force until 2002, to give schools more time to adjust to the changes.
Teachers' leaders are not happy, though - feeling that the extra subject could overburden teachers.
The General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Nigel de Gruchy, said teachers needed this "like a hole in the head".
"The National Curriculum is already overloaded. Taking on more cargo could sink the ship," he said.
At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Peter Smith said teachers would welcome guidance but reject prescription.
"What needs to happen in education is for the dead hand of Whitehall to be released, not to be tightened," he said.
And the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said that for all schools there was a danger of the government "trying to fit a quart into a pint pot".
The QCA has been monitoring how schools in England have managed to implement the current National Curriculum, introduced in 1995, and the education secretary says it has identified some issues which also need to be addressed in the longer term - such as promoting the teaching of a modern foreign language in primary schools.
The public consultation on the present proposals will last until 23 July. Mr Blunkett says he will consider the responses and announce final decisions at the beginning of September, to allow schools to plan for changes to be introduced from September 2000.