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8 July, 2013

'Dry bones' citizenship curriculum needs investment and a more humane school environment to bring it to life

After a wait of three years and a disparaging critique in the Curriculum Review, the subject of citizenship has been reformulated for the new National Curriculum. But it needs much attention to revive its status.

The new content for the curriculum, like that of many other subjects, has been pared down to the bare bones of knowledge needed to induct our next generation into their role as effective citizens.

Knowing how society works is only part of what makes an effective citizen. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, knows the subject needs to be brought to life, just as bare bones need muscle, flesh and spirit to become human. Teachers need to supply the relevant extras to bring this curriculum to life.
But, for citizenship, the flesh and spirit is weak right now as top-down change has sapped much of it from the workforce.

That workforce now needs support and endorsement. Passionate classroom teachers across the country are crying out for it, and they need it now more than ever.

Citizenship as a subject, although it goes by many names, is vital to the revival of our nation: our economic, political, democratic and civil society needs individuals to recognise their place in the big scheme of things; to appreciate the big ideas that have shaped the past in order to apply their energy to shape our future in a fast-changing world. 

Citizenship education is also vulnerable for understandable systematic reasons. Being the last subject into the curriculum, it is not yet sufficiently established to keep priority among the many changes happening in schools. The subject is being taught through fewer explicit lessons and so is it's deliver is watered down.

Fewer teachers are joining the profession to develop the specialist skills to do it justice. Further, the growing emphasis on academic learning is often seen to be in tension with 'learning for life', a facet of education which is currently on the back-burner, as many schools reposition themselves for the academic emphasis.

Accordingly it is in danger of being the subject taught badly by teachers enlisted into one or two lessons per week. This all adds up to a situation where its low priority, low-emphasis delivery will diminish its value and achieve the very opposite of what the Secretary of State intended by leaving it in the curriculum.

It is now time for action to put the flesh and spirit into citizenship and to bring the dry bone curriculum alive. That is why we are calling for urgent attention and reinvestment from government and school leaders.


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