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1 July, 2013

Social subjects need better support and trained teachers, Inquiry hears

On Friday, the Youth Select Committee heard the first oral evidence in its inquiry into education for life skills. Citizenship and PSHE need better support and trained teachers, it was told.

The Youth Select Committee is chaired by 18 year-old Natsha Browne, Member of Youth Parliament for Solihull, and is comprised entirely of 15-18 year-olds. This year, it is running an inquiry into how schools support the learning of 'life skills' such as personal finance, political understanding and cultural awareness.

Giving evidence on behalf of Democratic Life, Liz Moorse told the Committee that all subjects contribute to the learning of life skills, and that citizenship is no exception.

In fact, she said, citizenship is the only National Curriculum subject that teaches about the law, politics, democracy and the economy, giving young people the skills to make a positive contribution to society.

But these skills are being undermined by a lack of support, she said. Cutting funding for trainee citizenship teachers is a big mistake: good citizenship education can only be taught by trained, knowledgable subject teachers, she told the Committee, just as good maths and English can only be taught by trained, knowledgable subject teachers.

And it gives the wrong message, she told them. The Department for Education should be making a sustained effort to raise the profile of citizenship and PSHE (personal, social and health education), she said, so that everyone - including parents, employers and university admissions tutors - understands how the subjects contribute to young people's learning.

These sentiments were echoed by Harry Walker of the Family Planning Association, who said that issues such as sex and relationships should be taught in line with government policy, as part of a statutory PSHE curriculum and by trained professionals. Currently, he said, a lot of groups are taking their own agendas into schools and, in many cases, spreading dangerous misinformation. 

The National Curriculum itself must be treasured, said Liz Moorse, as it marks a crucial national baseline of entitlement and expectation for all pupils. However, over 60 per cent of schools are now Free Schools or Academies and can opt out of the National Curriculum. It is worrying, she said, that Labour would extend this freedom even further.

She told the Inquiry:

'The National Curriculum must be treasured and valued. Its central purpose is to prepare young people for life and work'.

Liz Moorse is a trustee of the Citizenship Foundation. 

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