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Support the Demoratic Life campaign to keep citizenship on the curriculum

Posted on 10 March 2011 | 12:03pm

The hints that the Government is thinking about removing citizenship from the curriculum are becoming a little louder. It would be yet another mistake by Michael Gove, at a time the government is developing a reputation not just for cuts but for problems with competence. Just as Mr Gove had to backtrack on the full scale of cuts he wanted to make to school sport, so we should campaign vociferously to force a shift of position on citizenship.

Whether we call it citizenship, democracy or politics, there is a need for more education in this area, not less. That’s why I am supporting the Democratic Life campaign to keep citizenship in the National Curriculum.

When my tenure at Jamie Oliver’s Dream School began, most of the students started out by saying they found politics boring. Some may have felt the same at the end of our course. But many of them didn’t, and I think viewers will see that they are not only bright, and in some cases naturally very political, but they also have some very good ideas.

I have always felt that just as we teach our kids from an early age that family life is important, and sport is good for them, and healthy eating is good for them, so we should do more to teach youngsters from primary school onwards – positively – that politics is a fundamental part of their lives.

We should also do more to encourage an interest in world and current affairs. But of course most of the media spends much of its energies giving people reasons to be cynical rather than hopeful about the power of politics to make change for the better. That might be why citizenship education comes in for so much criticism.

But while some schools struggle with the subject, there are many more who embrace citizenship and who are inspiring young people to get into politics and to campaign on issues that are important to them in their communities.

To ensure that this keeps happening, we need to take some political action ourselves. For a start, it’s important that we tell positive stories about young people, about what a difference they can make when they are inspired and informed. Viewers of Dream School will have seen plenty of incidents of the students being loud, difficult and sometimes plain disruptive. But however the final edit comes out, they are far outnumbered by the times these young people, who got next to no GCSEs between them, show a real hunger for learning, including about politics. I hope they, and everyone else, get involved in the Democratic Life campaign and respond to the Government’s National Curriculum review.

Michael Gove has always struck me as someone who has a respect for politics and political life. Why he wants to prevent youngsters from hearing and seeing the reasons why is frankly beyond me. In this era of disengagement from and cynicism about politics, we have to look to the next and future generations, and their education in the positive role politics can play in our lives should start when they’re young.

  • Richard

    Re Dream School. Until some of the little brats, for that is what they are,learn to respect other students’ rights more and shout about their own rights less, they are going nowhere. All forms of respect for others and for authority are dead, neglected by parents many of whom do not care, and encouraged by peers who encourage them into the cess pit.
    The students recognised at the beginning of the second show that their position was hopelesss, yet they could not bring themselves to shut up and listen.
    Many teachers, God bless them, end up feeling like zoo keepers, purely keeping the kids off the streets for six or seven hours a day. Bright young teachers can become cynical and learn how to keep the peace, yet never control some classes. Often, the parents who turn up at parents’ evening are the parents of the well performing children: the others are never seen near the school, unless to threaten violence against a teacher who has crossed the path of “Stinky Willy”, perhaps even calling him “Fat”, when “Loathsome and Obese” would be more accurate, but probably not understood.
    Some of the kids on the show even granted this chance to a ticket out of their parlous position do not seem interested in bettering themselves, preferring “more of the same” zero education that they thrived on for the previous eleven years.
    Your attemps last night were laudable, but the slick tongues still won the day, and their owners will be able to smirk at their antics on their 52″ Wide Screens, whilst they plan their next shoplifting raid.

  • OiPoloi

    Passionate and inspiring stuff, Alastair! The two most important things missing from my school education were the history of how the UK was formed and how it works. And then they let me vote on how the country should be run!

    I had to learn how to drive. I had to learn how to do my job. Some basic education about the institutions that make up the country and how you can get involved can only be a good thing. I think the majority of the adult population could benefit from a few lessons too (including myself).

  • Swansea Jill

    Yes I agree, and it should start in the house. Newspapers and news programmes should be the norm for kids in the household, instead of watching I’m a celebrity get me…fat, thin, off drugs or more famous.

    p.s. Is it me or is Simon Callow actually starting to look like Shakespeare??

  • Olli Issakainen

    The Tory-led government is ambitious, but incompetent.
    There is plenty of comment, but little analysis in newspapers nowadays. In FT, Times, Guardian, Independent, DT, Mail and Express there was average of 6.5% of analysis.
    But explanatory, analytic writing is the most valuable content. It can also help newspapers to fight against internet.
    Analysis helps to keep people interested in great news events. The Economist and the FT specialise in it, and are profitable. Analysis sells!
    There are too little foreign news on newspapers. The amount of foreign news in British newspapers has declined a lot during the past 30 years.
    This reinforces prejudices and discourages understanding.
    Had there, for example, been more news and analyses on the global financial crisis, I guess it would have been more difficult for the Tory-led government to tell that it was all Labour´s fault.
    It has now taken almost a year for the truth to come out with Mervyn King being the latest public figure to admit that banks caused the mess.
    Pupils should be taught about neoliberalism, banks and deficit.
    George Osborne should also show example and tell the real facts about the economy. He has, for example, promised to eliminate the “structural” deficit within this parliament.
    This is the reason for spending cuts and tax rises. But in reality, no one knows how much of the deficit is structural and how much cyclical!
    And no law of economics says that the public finances must be repaired within a specific time period.
    So there appears to be a lot to learn for all of us!

  • Penoneguin

    As a school governor. I find that Mr Gove is great at new ideas and changes but very sketchy on the detail if there is any detail at all.(and they always say the devil is in the detail) It seems to me everything is done in a rush and charge with no planning or idea how this will work. In fact this governments seems to be doing this with the economy, health, jobs, local government everything. Let us rush at it push it through and let the people who implement this do it we sit back and say this is what you wanted! No actually we want effective leadership which I am sorry I see none

  • Alf

    Why on earth is citizenship necessary ? Whether you’re a believer or not, Christian teachings are perfectly adequate. There are plenty of better things to do with time saved.

  • ambrosian

    I totally support this campaign. But it is greatly against the interests of the ruling class, the media and (dare I say it) spin doctors to have an electorate that is better educated about politics, the language of politics and the empirical evidence on which public policy should be based.
    How would the Tories then be able to persuade so many people that the Labour Government was in possession of a credit card which they had ‘maxed out’?
    How would they and the Tory press have persuaded people that half the country was paying inheritance tax when only 6% of estates did so?
    Meaningful democracy is impossible when so many people’s views are based on myths and untruths. That’s why we need political or citizenship education in schools but we shouldn’t be surprised if politicians resist the idea, particularly those on the right who seek to protect the status quo and current inequalities of power and wealth.
    One of Brown’s admirable decisions was to allow the Youth Parliament to use the Commons chamber during the summer recess. Significantly, many Tory MPs were outraged by this. But the standard of debate in the Youth Parliament is very high and a BBC that took its public service remit more seriously would show some of these debates on its main channels (eg BBC2) rather than just the Parliament Channel.

  • Chris lancashire

    Until we find time in the school curriculum to turn out kids that can adequately read, write and add up then politics or citizenship should take a back seat. Gove would be quite right to get rid of it.
    You advocate this but it was New Labour that disastrously dropped foreign languages from the core curriculum so a vast majority of students can’t converse with our European partners. But then, languages aren’t sexy or “now” are they?

    And finally, your awful lesson on politics on Dream School was sufficient advert for not according any priority to the subject. By contrast, the much reviled Starkey’s excellent history lesson was a great advert for that subject.

  • Skristmanns

    so agree with this viewpoint, since taking Modern Studies over 20 years ago I’ve always felt an understanding of issues around citizenship should be a compulsory part of the curiculum. My 11 year-old sons primary school in a relatively deprived area has a positive attitude in this area and some students recently wrote to a housing developer building in the area asking if they would provide and erect a flag-pole in the playground to display the schools recently acheived Eco-flag. Similary, as a focus for the season of Lent, they wrote to the local secondary asking if a few 5th and 6th year pupils would come and speak to them about their upcoming trip to Uganda so the kids in primary became motivated to help with the fund-raising effort. Education aroound the issues of citizenship and encouraging everyone to participate is fundamental if communities are to survibe and society prosper.

  • MMMarmite

    I watched the long versions of your dream school lessons on the web, Alastair, ( and once you get rid of channel 4’s hyperactive editing they were excellent lessons. I would have loved to have a citizenship lesson like that.

    Unfortunately PSHE lessons, which morphed into citizenship just as I was leaving school, were taught by teachers who were passionate about their own subject- science, music, or whatever – but didn’t care much about citizenship and didn’t inspire us to care. I don’t blame them, they had enough work to do as it was. If schools can teach it well then that would be great, but when I was there it was a doss lesson and a waste of time.

    I googled to see if its the same everywhere, and found that “1800 specialist PGCE citizenship teachers have been trained since 2001/2. At this rate, it
    could take another two decades for each of the 3360 maintained secondary schools to have one trained citizenship teacher.” Regarding non-specialist teachers “In 2008… 50% of citizenship teachers had not had training in the subject.” (

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Alan Gurbutt

    Citizenship should begin in the home, cross over into school and then into adulthood. I supplement the curriculum for my kids with sites such as this while I wait for the govt to decide – lateral thinking 🙂 !!

  • Mariarisely

    Surely Citizenship is more important than Religious Studies, as it is about the whole of society and not just those with religious beliefs. If we’re going to get rid of anything from our curriculum, perhaps it should be RE…..

  • Teresa

    Alastair I told my 13 year old son and my 16 year old daughter that citizenship may go, and they were shocked and concerned, the first thing they said was they thought this would make racism even worse at the school, as it would mean no more teaching students about different cultures and religions, and to have compassion and empathy with people no matter what their nationality or religion. When the children come home from school and talk about the views of some of the children, which really does shock me sometimes, I always think that with citizenship being taught it may help some children see things differently, especially if politics and religion are never spoken about at home, and maybe they can become more open minded and tolerant which really can make a difference. I really agree with you Alastair there is a need for more education in this area not less.

  • Daniel

    I’m sorry Mr Campbell, but here you have it wrong.

    Although there are many areas of Mr Gove’s education policy that is completely out of touch with the education system, this is not one of them. I’ 17 years old, and am part of a school year that has been taught Citizenship since my first year of secondary school.

    The concept is a nice one. But the subject itself is completely inadequate. Teachers do not want to teach it, and although they try to hide it, it comes out 100% in lessons.

    The subject lacks structure and focus – and because of this teachers lack the desire to teach it, and so students see it as pointless. As I’m sure you have found, teaching a subject you specialise in to students can be a struggle; teaching one you do not even want to teach is next to impossible.