On Thursday, Lord Maclennan initiated a debate on the need for active citizenship in society. I spoke and focused on citizenship education. There are reports that citizenship teaching in schools – it has been part of the national curriculum since 2002 – is under review and may possibly disappear. I made the case that there may have been problems with the teaching of citizenship but that this derived from such teaching being under-resourced and under-valued. My view was that it was essential that it was retained and that schools were provided with the necessary incentives to take it seriously.
As I said in the debate, if citizenship education disappears, then we will end up with a massive divide between those who do understand how our political system works, and how they can contribute to it, and those who have a limited awareness and for whom the political system may be a closed book. Only a limited number of schools offer Politics at AS and A-level. Where it is taught, it tends to be taught extremely well, often by teachers who have degrees in politics and entered teaching through the history route. The teachers are keen and know how to teach politics. Pupils who study politics end up having some understanding of the community around them and how to influence it. They are the ones in a position to make the Big Society a reality. Except, of course, that they are in a minority. We have the potential not for a big society but rather a small one if we exclude most of our young people from being able to get a good understanding of the society they inhabit.