Citizenship education

Lord Norton

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.

40 comments for “Citizenship education

  1. Lord Blagger
    21/11/2010 at 8:46 pm

    There is no point to citizenship education because the citizen isn’t allowed any say in what goes on.

    We are dictated to by unelected quangos of failed politicians and people who have bought their peerships. All are then on the take in order to get their money back.

    After all, we get told by a Peer that she is entitled to her expenses because she’s paid taxes.

    Citizens are entitled to nothing, but have to pay taxes to keep the Lords in their lunches, their drinks cellar, all 5 million of it, …

    • 22/11/2010 at 11:29 am

      Lord Blagger, you are what in the past we might have called a stuck record. Advances in technology have made that analogy obsolete, but fortunately the gramophone’s successor, the MP3 player, allows us to skip the repetitive track and move onto something more interesting.

  2. Dave H
    21/11/2010 at 9:40 pm

    From memories of when I was at school, I don’t think my friends or I would have been particularly receptive to citizenship classes as they are portrayed now (acknowledging that the reality may be different to that portrayal).

    As with much of the National Curriculum, there is no point in trying to teach children subjects about which they have no interest. The concept of the broad and balanced curriculum is flawed, because children will do well at the bits they enjoy and fail to absorb the rest. The danger is that by forcing the issue, you may alienate far more who would otherwise return to the subject later on and achieve the balance when they are ready for it.

    I never really bothered with the workings of government apart from turning out to vote when required, until a couple of years ago when I had a crash course in the subject because it suddenly became important to me. To me, this is how it should be – I had an interest in the subject, I used the resources available to learn. Teach children how to do that and make resources available, don’t force it down their throats.

  3. Carl.H
    21/11/2010 at 11:40 pm

    My Lord, school is the place where one learns in the hope of bettering oneself. If one enters politics with the concept of bettering oneself what type of politics do we get ?

    I suppose the type we have, selfish, scheming and greedy.

    My Lord a number of your fellow members have been in politics their entire lives, understand nothing and do very little.

    It`s not the greatest paid job in the World either, winners of “X-Factor” are likely to be much better off than the PM.

    The way politicians are seen by the people of my sphere is most are there for the backhanders a few, very few, have a calling and are viewed as slightly odd, eccentric or delusional.

  4. 22/11/2010 at 11:27 am

    I agree with Dave H that there’s little point in forcing children to study things at school they have little interest in, be it citizenship or foreign languages. Until they have an interest that will be enhanced by the knowledge, they are unlikely to show much enthusiasm for learning.

    Besides, while it’s possible to teach people to pass an exam in citizenship, that’s quite different from making them good citizens in practice.

  5. majortest
    22/11/2010 at 5:30 pm

    I think the general public’s view of what a good citizenship education actually looks like is often very distorted. It’s important to realize that the curriculum is very balanced between achieving political literacy through political agency. When taught in an ‘active’ way, citizenship lessons allow young people to engage in real campaigns that have a measurable impact on the community, either locally, nationally or globally. Young people engage in this through the three main skills: critical thinking and enquiry, advocacy and representation and taking informed and responsible action. By taking part in this active process, young people immediately learn the knowledge or content aspect of the curriculum as it has immediate relevance and currency. It is absurd for the government to consider cutting back on citizenship education being the right for all young people at secondary age. After all, this subject is tailor made for a government that wants active citizens running a big society. Once this subject is properly established in schools, it is set to make a bigger positive change to our society than any of the last sorry leaders put together. I, for one, am grateful to Lord Maclellan for supporting Citizenship Education.

      23/11/2010 at 11:53 am

      Yeah, beats having a decent History curriculum.

      • Dave H
        23/11/2010 at 5:59 pm

        Actually, I’d say there’s a lot of history in politics. Knowing why we’re here and doing certain things is important, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past.

    22/11/2010 at 10:38 pm

    Frankly, unless you’re also going to teach children about the Peterloo Massacre, the rise of the Trades Union movement and the Manchester Guardian, teaching them about the structure of the constitution isn’t going to do diddly squat, is it?

    What’s the point of teaching them how to vote if you don’t teach them why they vote?

  7. James Watson
    23/11/2010 at 12:31 am

    Your Lordship has a strange idea of what actual constitutes ‘citizenship’ as actually taught in schools. Here is a sample curriculum:

    “”So what is taught in PHSE? Teachernet gives us the lowdown.

    Citizenship at Key Stages 1 and 2;
    Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco;
    Emotional Health and Wellbeing;
    Nutrition and Physical Activity;
    Personal Finance;
    Sex and Relationship Education.””

    Not a lot about our political system is there? A lot of ‘propaganda’, is there not?

    • 23/11/2010 at 3:54 pm

      Citizenship education has been a statutory subject in secondary schools since 2002 and is separate to PSHE (which focuses on personal well being, and social and health education.)

      Citizenship instead focuses on teaching young people about the law, economy , politics and how to be an active citizen in the community. Furthermore, there is legislation in place which means schools cannot promote political parties which avoids any propaganda.

      • James Watson
        23/11/2010 at 8:39 pm

        @ Nicola

        When citizenship classes were first mooted, I was all in favour, and still am. But I was shocked to find out that ‘citizenship’ was being equated with ‘health and wellbeing’, which, as I see it, is not the idea of ‘citizenship’ at all – unless, by citizenship we mean, “Be good boys and girls and do as you are told”.

        We see, in the curriculum which I have quoted nothing but selfish aspirations. Where are kindness, tolerance, co-operation?
        (I know that Key stages 1 and 2 are for primary school children so that simplicity must be the order of the day). My daughter teaches in a primary school and has confirmed, essentially, that my quote above is correct.

        But note the difference between my quote and Carl H’s quote (05.38pm) below. The aspirations of his quote are tolerance and co-operation, whereas the aspirations of my quote are coercive and selfish.

        Now do you see the opportunity for propaganda?

          23/11/2010 at 11:30 pm

          “Be good boys and girls and do as you are told”

          Gold star!

          Of course, of such things are productive societies made. If we all do just as we are told and don’t make any sort of fuss, we can have “economic growth” and “civil discourse” and all kinds of other things which I’m told are good for somethingorother. Can’t have that jam tomorrow if you teach children about the coercive nature of government, the tendency towards abuse of power, and the necessity of vigilance against tyranny.

          After all, if you do that while trying to construct a police state full of CCTV cameras, torture, and month-long detention without trial, you might get asked a question by an eight-year-old that makes you look a right hypocritical wazzock. And who could tolerate that?

          Shhh, children. Let’s all engage with the big society, and nobody ask a question about what all this other stuff is that we’re deconstructing around your ears. It’s not important. Nobody wanted it anyway.

  8. Twm O.r Nant
    23/11/2010 at 9:11 am

    Only a limited number of schools offer Politics at AS and A-level
    It is a subject for the simple minded tabloid reader who can not read a book. They do well at it. At least they have an a level, even if it is in the humanities, and not in any real knowledge at all.

    The discipline of the class room should be used for learning periodic tables,botanical names,knowledge hierarchies,many things, not crass and empty politics!

      23/11/2010 at 11:56 am

      If you think that the Humanities aren’t useful one wonders how you would, for example, explain to your children what happened at Dachau?

      We learn about humans because that is what we are. All the maths in the world won’t help if you’re ignorant of what it means to be a person.

  9. SW London
    23/11/2010 at 12:14 pm

    I don’t often have the time to blog or engage in on line chat but seeing some of the responses to Lord Norton’s comment I felt moved to spend a few moments supporting what he has said.
    I am astonished by the ignorance of some of the commentators who demonstrate that they know absolutely nothing about citizenship education in schools or beyond. One person for example doesn’t’ understand that PSHE is not the same as citizenship education so a list of PSHE topics is clearly not going to include citizenship topics that are concerned with topical and contemporary issues!
    Yes-we feel angry with some politicians who might have abused the expenses system or about a basically unelected second chamber- but this does not mean that we then argue that citizenship education should be ditched. Quite the reverse- These issues are actually citizenship issues in themselves and young people need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge and understanding to engage with these issues and raise the important questions about them. Understanding our democratic system and having the skills and dispositions needed to engage are an absolutely essential part of our democracy. This is far too important to be left to chance. We need a systematic and planned approach so that all young people -not just those who will engage any way- are encouraged to stand up and make a difference in their communities. If the Big Society is a concept we should now all embrace, then we need to make sure at an early age we encourage and prepare young people to get involved in an effective and critical way
    Citizenship education is a challenging area for staff to support- it requires lots of skills and knowledge from them. When it is done well it can transform young people’s lives. I have seen this with some brilliant work done youth inclusion projects for example. Here we see young people at the very margins of society reengaged for the first time in their lives feeling they have a stake and sense of ownership in their communities.
    In my view we need more citizenship education- which is more significantly supported with resources for training etc rather than less. National curriculum citizenship should be strengthened and there should be a funded entitlement to post-16 citizenship as Bernard Crick originally recommended. He would certainly turn in his grave if he could see the type of debate that is going on about it.
    More power to you Lord Norton I say! Well done for raising these issues

    • Carl.H
      23/11/2010 at 4:02 pm

      And you intend to put this extra education into a childs day where ? Or is it that you intend to put it instead of ?

      So whilst you`re enjoying your less than 40 hour week the kids have to put in 50-60 hours. I think not !

      There are many, many subjects that it would be fantastic for our children to learn and make for a better all round person but there are physical limits and we have to allow them time of their own.

      I see so many kids that can`t even string a reasonable sentence together or fill in a form properly and you want to give them complete understanding of Political heirachy ! Please enter the real World any time you please.

      I dare say if you travel by air a lot it would be nice to know how to control a 747, or if you`re a cleaner how the boardroom works but I don`t think it`s necessity. Politics is boring…Watch the Lords having a quick kip or study the statistics for absenteeism or those for Crossbenchers not interested in many fields.

      The concept of our Political democracy is that you have someone who does understand to represent you. If kids needed to learn anything lets make them all study Law, cos Parliament makes so bloomin much of the stuff that is used to control us it is unbelievable.

      • Lord Norton
        Lord Norton
        23/11/2010 at 6:29 pm

        Carl.H: It’s not additional to anything. It is already there.

        • Carl.H
          23/11/2010 at 7:54 pm

          My Lord that was in answer to SW London`s

          “In my view we need more citizenship education- which is more significantly supported with resources for training etc rather than less. “

        23/11/2010 at 7:51 pm

        If politics is boring, how come you spend so much time on the Lords of the Blog site?

        Politics can be frustrating, confounding, confusing and a recipe for alcoholism and imprisonment, but it is never *boring*.

        Although, I daresay that any form of politics taught in schools would end up being quite sanitised so as to give the impression of boredom. Don’t want to accidentally produce some bolshy kids with notions about rights and the boundaries of state power when we’re trying to create serfs^H^H^H^Hgood citizens, do we?

        • Carl.H
          24/11/2010 at 9:32 am

          “If politics is boring, how come you spend so much time on the Lords of the Blog site?”

          Because I`m as insane as you ! Ask the “normal” people if politics is boring.

            24/11/2010 at 12:52 pm

            So you’d rather we educated our children in such a manner that taught them to disdain anything except the pretty sparkles of the X Factor, rather than instilling in them the capacity to get excited and passionate about justice?

            Even the “normal” people will complain about the bloody immigrants and the price of beer and why won’t someone do something about the state of our road I ask you and another thing etc etc etc. Everyone has an instinct for unfairness.

            Politics is boring, until it kicks down your door at 6am, or shuts down your factory, or doubles the interest rate.You want people to go through life relying on the News of the World for the context behind these events?

    • Carl.H
      23/11/2010 at 5:38 pm

      “One person for example doesn’t’ understand that PSHE is not the same as citizenship education so a list of PSHE topics is clearly not going to include citizenship topics that are concerned with topical and contemporary issues!”

      Weird cos Teachernet lumps PSHE and Citizenship together. So is that like Maths and Algebra are not the same ?

      “ICT and the PSHE and Citizenship curriculum
      QCA states that in Key Stage 1 ’The focus of teaching PSHE and citizenship may be on giving pupils opportunities to:
      • develop self-awareness, recognise and communicate their likes and dislikes
      • join in and contribute to the life of the class through regular routines and shared experiences
      • develop awareness of their bodies
      • recognise that there are differences and similarities between people and that each person has a different identity.’”

  10. Lord Norton
    Lord Norton
    23/11/2010 at 3:03 pm

    majortest and SW London: Many thanks for your contributions, which cover what otherwise I would have said. Part of the problem is indeed a misunderstanding of what citizenship education entails. The curriculum is very relevant – it complements rather than competes with history – and it can and variously is taught in such a way as to get pupils engaged with the subject. I have spoken to some citizenship classes and the students have been informed and engaged.

    The key is ensuring that young people understand that politics is relevant to them – and that their views can make a difference. The more we can ensure that this is uniformly the case the better for our polity.

  11. 23/11/2010 at 4:00 pm

    It’s great to read Lord Nortons blog and to see so many Peers lend their support to citizenship education. Citizenship is the only subject in the National curriculum to support young people’s understanding of the law, the economy and politics.
    And, as Lord Norton rightly points out, it is young people who understand how political and legal structures work who will be able to engage effectively with a ‘Big Society’.
    For anyone who is interested in further supporting citizenship education in schools, please join which is a coalition of organisations (including British Youth Council, Amnesty International and the Citizenship Foundation) who are championing citizenship education to MPs, Peers and the wider sector.

  12. Senex
    23/11/2010 at 5:16 pm

    The peers’ in school program is a Lord Speaker outreach initiative.

    UC Berkley is promoting the science of happiness:

    Happy Thanksgiving US readers.

  13. James Watson
    23/11/2010 at 9:02 pm

    I am sorry – I must make it clear that (in my reply to Nicola’s reply to mine of 23rd) it is primary level to which I refer – stages 1 and 2.

    Majortest, S W London and Nicola clearly and fully expound the raison d’etre for citizenship classes at a higher level, with which I fully concur.

  14. Twm O.r Nant
    24/11/2010 at 6:14 pm

    “If politics is boring, how come you spend so much time on the Lords of the Blog site?”

    Heh! Still politics in the widest sense could be advanced statistics, ie dealing with “many” (polloi), but regrettably politics to most people means haranguing and argument,and fairly low argment at that.

    Lords of the blog concerns itself with legislation which can be an absorbing interest.

    Schooling and education are two very different things. One you receive, and get receipts for, and the other you acquire by hook or by crook.

    I suspect that the receipted version of citizenship is very different from the acquired one!

  15. Carl.H
    24/11/2010 at 11:37 pm


    “So you’d rather we educated our children in such a manner that taught them to disdain anything except the pretty sparkles of the X Factor, rather than instilling in them the capacity to get excited and passionate about justice?”

    I completely understand your points but getting people who believe the system is fixed, mainly against them to show interest in politics is not a task I like, though I do try.

    Talking to children of fairness and justice in a hypocrisy such as a school is just as hard. I have witnessed many times when schools impose punishment on children who are completely innocent, they (teachers)haven`t the time or inclination to be fair. They can`t control the kids because the kids know they`re not fair and become rebellious. Exclusions thrown about willy nilly without just cause in most cases, often the ones who should be excluded are not. Even the stats show the person being bullied is most likely to be excluded the moment he/she snaps.

    70 million people in the UK and how many come here regularly ? It`s not that interesting, especially when they see the insane ones, you & me, keep banging our heads against the brick wall. As much as people think the UK a Nation of moaners and whingers the public are much more likely to say where politics is concerned “What`s the point?”

    There`s no privacy, it`s a Police state, you`re charged a fortune to own your home in Council Tax, robbed by backdoor taxes so in reality you get about 25p in the pound if that, you can`t do anything without stupid health and safety :

    You`re jumped on for car offences but can`t get a copper for love nor money if you`ve been burgled and your kids have got no chance of ever getting a home unless you`re planning on dying.

    “Everyone has an instinct for unfairness.”

    You`re absolutely right but they have to scrape a living and watching the footie, cricket, X-Factor is better than putting up a tent in Parliament Square or coming on here getting told your angry and hostile all the time ( see Lord Soley`s remark aimed at me).

      25/11/2010 at 8:36 pm

      All in all, a fine education in both the inherent unfairness of authority, and in the capacity of unsavoury elements to turn the attentions of those under the heel on distractions rather than on the system that creates them.

      “Can’t do anything…” my arse, sir. I trust that you don’t hold that there should be a way to prevent those whose children suffer brain damage from seeking damages in civil courts?

      • Carl.H
        26/11/2010 at 11:13 am

        In the case above, I see it as an accident. Life is dangerous, we cannot put everyone in soft bubbles, as our American friends would say ” **it happens”.

        Four kids laying on a floor painting with brushes, two get up and bump into each other causing one to fall and he`s impaled on a paintbrush. Unfortunate but an accident, there is a limit to foreseeing every possible accident else cars would be completely banned.

        And yes in the situation if a Lawyer said to me we could go to court….I`d go for it too, but let`s be realistic Health and Safety and the use of the Courts has got ridiculous.

          26/11/2010 at 4:37 pm

          If you believe what you read in the papers, yes it has.

          If you look at the actual realities of what Health and Safety legislation actually results in, it all seems very fair and, if anything, overdue.

          In any event, what you linked to wasn’t anything to do with Health and Safety legislation, was it? Let’s stop conflating everything we think is wrong into one massive indistinguished mass of “wurgh, people telling me what to do!” Legislation and litigation are different things.

          • Lord Norton
            Lord Norton
            26/11/2010 at 5:13 pm

            I think this is a form of citizenship education at work.

  16. Carl.H
    26/11/2010 at 8:15 pm

    Of course it was to do with Health & Safety.

    “The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that North Lanarkshire Council failed to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm.”

    Rish assessments must be done by a School as with industry. What the Judge is saying is that they were negligent in assessing the risk in this instance and should have “known” it could happen. It`s basic H&S.

    Risk assessment:

      27/11/2010 at 11:17 am

      Just because two things use some of the same language does not make them the same.

      It might be to do with health and safety, lower case, although probably more to do with the safety part of it, but the HSE didn’t come round with clipboards and install rules and regulations regarding paintbrush length and sharpness.

      As far as risk assessments go, again, in my experience these are just formal writing down of things you should consider as part of your day-to-day business anyway. If you don’t assess the risks, you end up, for example, getting surprised when a thin, foot-long paintbrush ends up in a ten year-old’s brain.

      It’s funny how people get ornery about health and safety and related issues. The things that people get upset about always turn out to be, on closer inspection, institutions and authorities being held to account because someone with no power was injured on their watch. Funny, you’d think people would be all for that, but no. It’s almost as if there’s some dedicated, full-time misinformation team working round the clock to convince people that this most welcome development is in fact a terrible thing.

      • Carl.H
        27/11/2010 at 6:09 pm

        As a self employed person with lots of self employed friends I can tell you now HSE is a terrible thing. Hours and much finance wasted, stupid rules and regs like having to wear a hard hat on a roof incase something falls on your head, that`s a very real instance by the way.

        HSE legislation is vague there really isn`t anything it doesn`t cover, it`s just like giving a copper carte blanche over what is an offence and isn`t.

        “The HSE didn’t come round with clipboards and install rules and regulations regarding paintbrush length and sharpness.”

        They don`t need to, now every Council will ban paintbrushes or ensure they`re all rubber tipped, why because if not the HSE will be on their backs. The HSE just sits back until after the unexpected and states you should have expected that and assessed it properly.

        How long before someone decides it`s dangerous for electricity and water to be together and we ban washing machines or water cooling in computers. It`s all a risk and you can assess it all you like the unexpected happens, that`s life.

        In the instance above the paintbrush was the culprit, the Local Authority the scapegoat but it was the bump between two humans that was the cause. It could very well have been a child with a pencil in his hand on a desk that the injured child fell on with similar results.

        Most H&S is not a welcome development in my opinion it seeks to apportion blame elsewhere when common sense should have prevailed. Of course there are parts that are welcome, guards on machinery etc., but we must take into account that things around us, ordinary things, can be dangerous if we slip or fall etc., and use common sense.

        The HSE may well not come around with a list but damn sure they`ll be there after the event laying down what should have been done and apportioning blame, without using a common sense rule.

          29/11/2010 at 1:00 pm

          I’m a self-employed person with lots of self-employed friends, too, and you’re complaining about nonsense. If you’re a sole trader you’re responsible for reasonable precautions for your own safety. If you’re working on someone else’s site you’re either dealing with their individual regs or making sure that your own risk assessments deal with the situations you’ll be working in.

          And you can write a risk assessment saying that you’ll take your hard hat off when there’s nothing overhead because you’re concerned about vision and mobility if you want, and have that argument with the site manager.

          Again, though, you seem to be confusing legislation and litigation. If people implement overbroad policies on their site, it’s generally because of the fear of litigation. And fear of litigation is generally out of step with the actual risks of litigation, because every case gets shouted about in the press with an “IT’S ELF N SAFETY GORN MAAAADDD!!!” sticker on the front. Because that sells papers to people who want to feel indignant, which seems to be most anyone.

          • Carl.H
            29/11/2010 at 7:57 pm

            “Counsel for the family told the court that other schools banned painting on the floor and Thomas’s teachers breached health and safety rules by not performing a risk assessment.

            The council argued that no such accident had occurred before or since and that the dangers of using paintbrushes were too remote to predict.

            After the accident, the school shortened the handles of paintbrushes and capped the ends with foam. Lady Dorrian said the activity should have been done at desks rather than on the floor.”

            If teachers have to carry out risk assessments on every single little thing as HSE expects we`ll all be tied up in costly paperwork forever.

            How long do you take doing risk assessments McDuff and your Health and Safety Policy ?

            And the hard hat episode was to Health and Safety Officials not site management, there was no arguing or any chance of it after there having been a fire onsite, H&S were all over it. All it did was increased costs.

  17. 29/04/2011 at 10:00 pm

    I realise it’s been a while since this thread was last active, but I just wanted to say ‘here here’ SW London (I think we have probably worked together!)

    It is indeed astonishing how little some commenters seemed to know about citizenship education and its value. What a waste it will be to lose it. My only hope is that the inspirational teachers I’ve met over the years who know how to make citizenship learning active, engaging and empowering will keep doing so regardless because they know how powerful it can be.

    As I reflect on my recent adoption of a portfolio career, I wonder how young people who haven’t had a sound citizenship education will get by in careers, which I think are going to be increasingly diverse and demanding for future generations and for which citizenship skills are a sound preparation for.

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