In early 2012, the coalition will decide on whether Citizenship Education will be made non-statutory within the national curriculum. For those who don’t know, Citizenship was designed to counter political apathy among young people and engage those at GCSE level on political systems and more importantly, how young people play their part in a modern day democracy.
Citizenship itself was introduced as a cross-party theme back in 1990 between Labour and the Conservatives and after the Crick Report and another decade of deliberation, it was finally introduced into secondary schools in 2002. Since then, half a million young people have achieved a GCSE or A level qualification in the subject, over 100,000 active citizenship projects have been established as a direct result of the subjects effectiveness and in the last two years, it has been the fastest growing GCSE subject with 55.2% achieving an A*-C.
It was a long time coming – politicians and educators alike had been lobbying for citizenship to be a fundamental part of education for 100 years and it seems from the facts listed above which were released by Democratic Life, an organisation lobbying to save Citizenship Education, there is now a growing trend among young people to take what they’ve learnt out of the classroom and into the real world.
“In most of the schools visited, there was evidence of students being involved in learning through participation and responsible action in a wide range of relevant contexts. These included aspects of day-to-day school life, such as raising funds for charity or to support international links, often enhancing students’ understanding of the citizenship dimension.” Citizenship Establish? Ofsted, 2006/09
For years, consecutive British governments had agonised and at times pleaded with young people to engage with political systems in this way and become, in their words, “active citizens.” Surely then the time has come to establish a new dialogue between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in an attempt to sustain this active youth movement and try to combat political apathy for good.
This newfound engagement also seems rather timely when we look at recent developments in the political landscape. Whether it’s organised demonstrations aimed at cuts to their education systems, global occupations of financial institutions or the move towards more democratic freedoms, young people are uniting under shared values and at times, risking their lives to be heard. This appetite has been fuelled in no small part by the emergence of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These digital platforms, which have democratised the Internet for a new generation, have allowed opinion to flourish in even the most repressive of states.
I was shocked, then, when I heard Coalition plans that come February 2012, Citizenship education might be made non-statutory with the risk of the subject being scrapped altogether. As part of the National Curriculum Review, the Department of Education is looking to replace Citizenship with the National Citizen Service (NCS), a voluntary programme designed for 16-year-olds during their summer term holidays.
Current Citizenship education reaches some 65,000 young people a year and teaches them about social justice, human rights, localised politics , the rights and responsibilities of the individual, and how to campaign. The NCS plans to reach some 30,000 young people in 2012 and, “supports the Government’s vision for building a Big Society”, which at no point mentions political literacy being at the heart of any changes made to the current curriculum. Instead we can expect, “exciting outdoor activities like mountaineering, canoeing and abseiling.”
I am all in favor of getting our young people active but at the expense of political education, surely this sort of thing would be better suited for say, Physical Education or indeed the activity camps like PGL that run throughout the summer up and down the country?
It’s made worse when we look at how many young people actually attended the NCS pilot earlier on in the year. Out of a possible 11,500 placements, only 8,500 young people choose to attend, which is a shortfall of just over a quarter. I do not know the exact reasons behind this but I can imagine taking up an extra-curricula activity during your holidays isn’t what every 16-year-old wants to do nor do many parents want to send their children away to some youth camp modeled on the ‘hugely’ successful Big Society concept.
Regardless of your thoughts on current Citizenship education and I am fully aware that Ofsted, the schools regulator, had a few things to say regarding its teachings, it still remains the only subject attempting to break through the yawn barrier of party politics and teach young people how to be informed citizens. As someone who runs political workshops in secondary schools across London, I’m afraid to say that we do not have classrooms full of ‘active citizens’ but what we do have is an eagerness to look past party politics, which for many young people is the root cause of political apathy and see a new political involvement which centers on the exciting and innovative ways young people interact with each other.
Citizenship education provides at the very least the framework for teachers to politicse young people in the hope that they go on and realise just how significant they can be in influencing decision makers at every levels. My fear is that without it, those young people who do not get their topical digest at home or between friends might manifest their political frustrations through disruptive means or disengage from the political arena all together.
To save Citizenship education, Click Here and upload a picture of yourself or an image reflecting your political frustrations on Hands up who’s Bored Picture Petition…