Friday, January 26, 2007

Citizen Strain

Today, yet another report is launched exposing just how clueless we really are when it comes to getting on together. Of course you can’t blame us poor jobbing citizens for not being interested in what our neighbours have for dinner with such a weak example coming from the top. We are continually brow-beaten to participate in something called ‘community cohesion’ which no one has ever bothered to define for us so we are at a loss to know how to do it. We know that our local council is striving to achieve it so that’s a step in the right direction, but we are also constantly being told that we are not very good at it and how disappointing this is for Government ministers. It is a little unfair since the most famous anti-social neighbours in the country are the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. No wonder we can’t get it right.

The report, by an army of ex-teachers, proposes that a new ‘element’ be added to the existing compulsory curriculum subject, Citizenship Education. The Labour Party website explains that it would be called,

'Identity and Diversity: Living Together in the UK'.

And its purpose?

‘This will mean that all pupils, as part of compulsory secondary Citizenship Education, would be taught about shared values and life in the UK. This will be informed by an understanding of contemporary issues and relevant historical context which gave rise to them.’

It seems very radical, but history is going to be introduced into secondary education. Finally someone has worked out that it’s quite difficult to understand how wars start if you don’t know who said what to whom or shot their archduke or nicked their best whisky. Launching the 126 page, dryly titled ‘Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review’ – (Ad-4-u must have been having an off day), Education Secretary Alan Johnson explained,

‘I … want schools to play a leading role in creating greater community cohesion. By helping children continue to understand difference, schools can make a difference. Young people need to be engaged in this important debate because the values our children learn at school will shape the kind of country Britain becomes.’

Well that’s cleared that up then, knowing our differences will make a difference. I am sure young people will applaud the clarity of this vision as outlined in the report,

‘In five years, for all schools to be actively engaged in nurturing in pupils the skills to participate in an active and inclusive democracy, appreciating and understanding difference.'

It would probably be churlish to suggest that this doesn’t actually make any sense since the sentiment is so obviously sincere, but it may make the vision more difficult to realise. I suppose that’s a million miles from the minds of any teacher having to implement it as the report also conveniently indicates just how great are the impediments standing in the way of pupils’ chances of receiving this elusive enlightenment.

Since its introduction in 2002, Citizenship Education has persistently been the worst taught subject in British schools and below are just some of the reasons highlighted in the report. My translation skills are a little rusty but I will try my best to interpret,

  • Not all school leaders have bought in fully to the imperative of education for diversity for all schools, and its priority is too low to be effective. (Head Teachers think it’s pants and pretend it’s not there).
  • There is insufficient clarity about the flexibility within the curriculum and how links to education for diversity can be made.(No one has any idea what it is they’re supposed to be teaching).
  • Some teachers lack confidence in engaging with diversity issues and lack the training opportunities to improve in this area.(Teachers are uncomfortable about teaching a subject they know nothing about).
  • Pupils’ voice is not given enough consideration in this area. (The kids all say it’s pants and get told to shut up and get on with it).
  • Links with the community – a rich resource for education for diversity are often tenuous or non-existent. (Local businesses complain all the time that kids from the school steal packets of crisps and scare their customers away).
  • The notion of racial hierarchies has not altogether disappeared and stereotypes still abound in society. (Black on black prejudice is an annoying anomaly which we don’t understand at all and we are very cross that we tell people that not all black people can sing and then find out that they actually can!)
  • There is huge variation in the amount and quality of Citizenship provision in schools, partly attributed to the flexible or ‘light touch’ approach, which schools interpret widely. (schools have been really taking the piss).

I wonder just how easy it will be for schools to reintroduce history after indoctrinating a generation of children that it is boring and irrelevant. Given the inability of Government to clarify what it is they think they are going to achieve by taking the sum total of what we know about the world to date and making some assumptions, based on the times things went horribly wrong, and using them to make some suggestions about behaviours that might be more congenial than others, how, exactly do they propose to present this new curriculum to young people? It’s his story, dude – it rocks? Bill and Ted, there are teaching opportunities in Britain for you. Please do apply.

Cartoon from

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