“We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and to extend radically to young people the best in existing traditions of community involvement and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves.” Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (2000)
It’s hard to dispute the importance of education for citizenship or to disagree with these aims. But which sixth form provider today could confidently claim to be comprehensively fulfilling them with all their students?
1. Crick Post-16
The great step forward in the development of post-16 citizenship education was the second ‘Crick’ report, Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (quoted above) which was commissioned by the Government from a committee chaired by Bernard Crick in 1999 and published in 2000. This led to a blossoming of new materials and approaches supported at the national level by an excellent co-ordination and development unit run by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), and curriculum guidance from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Programmes in the post-16 phase were voluntary and flexible with a strong emphasis on responding to the local context. An AS and full A-level in Citizenship Studies were developed (now soon to be withdrawn) which could be used to accredit students’ achievements and there was talk of Citizenship becoming recognised as a wider key skill. Ministers were supportive and it felt like citizenship education was finding its place at the heart of post-16 education.
The Crick proposals offered a set of concepts, knowledge and skills:
- Participation: becoming involved, for example, as an active member of a community group or organisation
- Engagement: taking participation further, for example, by trying to influence the strategies or policies of the group
- Advocacy: being able to put a case
- Research: being able to find relevant and alternative sources of information
- Evaluation: being able to judge the relative merits of different possibilities
- Empathy: being able to consider an issue from the point of view of others
- Conciliation: being able to resolve disagreements and conflicts
- Leadership: being able to initiate and co-ordinate the agreed activities of others
- Representation: being able to speak or act on behalf of others
- Responsibility: thinking before one acts and accepting the consequences.
- how decisions are made at local, national, European, Commonwealth and international levels and how these decisions may or may not be influenced by citizens
- how public and private services are delivered and what opportunities exist to access and influence them
- how the different communities of national, religious, ethnic or cultural identity which make up the United Kingdom relate to each other
- how equal opportunities and anti-discrimination legislation and codes of practice apply
- how policies on taxation and economic management affect individuals and groups
- the rights and responsibilities which individuals have in employment
- how each particular vocation is affected by public laws, policies and events
- the roles of individuals as family members
- the rights and responsibilities of consumers
- the different approaches to policy of the main political parties and pressure groups
- how people can contribute to the life of voluntary groups and of their local communities
- environmental issues and sustainable development.
- demonstrating an understanding of the rights and responsibilities associated with a particular role
- applying a framework of moral values relevant to a particular situation
- demonstrating an understanding of, and respect for, cultural, gender, religious, ethnic and community diversities both nationally and globally
- combating prejudice and discrimination
- critically appraising information sources (advertising, media, pressure group, political parties)
- managing financial affairs
- assessing risk and uncertainty when making a decision or choice
- initiating, responding to, and managing change
- selecting the appropriate mechanisms or institutions for dealing with particular issues
- identifying the social, resource and environmental consequences of particular courses of action.
All this was linked to the different key roles of the citizen:
- Community member
- Family member
- Lifelong learner
While this is all good stuff, embedding and mapping it to the post-16 curriculum was a big ask. A matrix which did justice to all these aims could potentially involve over 8,000 elements (10 x 12 x 10 x 7). Apart from being unwieldy, this approach also tends to categorise people’s identities and roles too rigidly and the framework could certainly do with streamlining and simplifying.
2. ‘Britishness’, belonging and integration
A few years after the Crick report, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, launched a debate about the concept of ‘Britishness’ and whether a shared British identity and British values should be more vigorously promoted as a uniting force in society. This led to a somewhat inconclusive debate about what constitutes ‘Britishness’ but also established that whatever it is should be based on common values. Speaking in January 2006, Gordon Brown said:
“it is to our benefit to be more explicit about what we stand for and what are our objectives and that we will meet and master all challenges best by finding shared purpose as a country in our enduring British ideals that I would summarise as—in addition to our qualities of creativity, inventiveness, enterprise and our internationalism, our central beliefs are a commitment to—liberty for all, responsibility by all and fairness to all.”
A little later, John Sentanu, the archbishop of York added:
“Our cultural identity and difference must be balanced with a clear understanding of a shared humanity and membership of one world…We need other human beings to help us be human. We are made for interdependence, for complementarity. Our commitment as communities to promote understanding and justice will create harmony longed for by all.”
In 2007, the Education Select Committee concluded that citizenship education has at its heart:
“a commitment to enabling young people to participate fully in a democracy, and ultimately, securing a cohesive and inclusive society. In particular, it has a role to play in developing the skills for effective community relations, in developing shared identities, and safe ways in which to express difference.”
The Department for Education said in written evidence to the select committee that:
“citizenship education is key to building a modern, cohesive British society. Never has it been more important for us to teach our young people about our shared values of fairness, civic responsibility, respect for democracy and respect for ethnic and cultural diversity [it] remains a dynamic subject which responds to issues concerning society and how these come about.”
3. Where we are now.
So where are we today? We no longer have any specific post-16 guidance on citizenship education and there is no post-16 National Curriculum. The post-16 landscape has changed a great deal in 16 years with key skills downgraded while the English and Maths requirement (to GCSE) has become an essential element of students’ programmes of study.
So has citizenship be simplified out of existence? Not quite. Schools and colleges do now have a duty to support, promote and exemplify British values which are defined as: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs” and inspectors take a close interest in how well we prepare young people for life in modern Britain.
The British Values approach is still relatively new and people are coming to understand that the ‘Britishness’ of these values is not exclusive, oppressive or nationalistic. This is a British government aiming to speak for all its citizens in the way the EU or the UN might aim to speak for EU or global citizens. Instead of agonising over the impossible question of ‘what it means to be British’, the government has defined a simple overarching framework of values which each institution can explain and exemplify in its preferred way. We can argue about emphasis and omissions (eg: where is equality? where are human rights?), we can discuss some of Britain’s historic failures to uphold these values and we can warn against interpretations which might stifle debate or promote conformity. But there is nothing objectionable in explaining, advocating, defending and debating these values vigorously and living them in our day to day work.
4. Citizenship education under a new name?
Citizenship is complex and contested with different perspectives on what is most important. At its best, good citizenship education involves applying both knowledge and skill in social settings and through active participation; engaging with ideas, people and challenges. It is still worth recalling the aims and recommendations of ‘Crick post-16’ and building on them. It is certainly possible to continue developing and deepening this work within a British Values framework.
Post-16 citizenship in tough times (May 2014)
Better inspection for all? (November 2014)