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9 July, 2013

Crisis? What Economic Crisis? The new National Curriculum sells young people short

Michael Gove's first National Curriculum is intended as a framework to prepare young people for the future. But it avoids introducing one of the most pressing issues they will face: the economy. We think they deserve better.

In a nation where the economy is consistently recorded as the issue of highest concern to citizens and where politics is deemed to be increasingly remote from everyday life, the children of the global economic downturn face an uncertain future.

Yet this reality is completely overlooked in a pared-down citizenship curriculum, which is light on knowledge and featherweight on the skills of democratic participation.

Bizarrely, the only skills mentioned are of personal financial management: often considered outside the scope of citizenship studies, which is intended to induct children into public life..

At a time when a mere 20% of today’s twenty-somethings consider the Welfare State to be a significant achievement (Generations Study, Ipsos MORI 2013), the new curriculum delivers no understanding of our shared economic investments. It prefers to instruct about the system but not the decisions citizens face; the facts of individual financial products not the compromises and triumphs of collaboration.

Citizenship Foundation Chief Executive Andy Thornton said:

'We fully understand Michael Gove's ambition to support the nation's development by creating a workforce capable of prospering in a global knowledge and service-based economy. But, as citizens, people are more than consumers and investors. Society needs active citizens who help to bond communities together, sometimes against the wider excesses of the market place. Education cannot vacate its role in this respect; it can't endorse this kind of privatising curriculum for public life.'  

Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Foundation's founder and President, expanded: 

'To send school students out into a complex society with little or no knowledge as to how it works, and their indispensable role in making it work better, is as irresponsible as letting them drive with no knowledge of the Highway Code. Unless we act to reinforce Citizenship Education for all we will have a full-blown democratic crisis on our hands.'

Most schools have opted out of the National Curriculum, so much effort is needed from government if citizenship is to be a viable subject. 

'This programme of study does a good enough job in outlining the legal and civic elements of citizenship,' said Mr Thornton, 'but given that it is only going to apply to around 30% of schools it needs to set the bar higher - stimulating young people to step up to the challenge of being society-makers.  In our view if it is left in this shape and used as a blueprint it is more likely to lead to a half-hearted delivery by an unconvinced teaching profession, failing to achieve what it sets out to do.'

We shall continue to work with all schools, primary and secondary, to support high quality education for citizenship. This includes supporting hands-on learning about the law, democracy, finance, social action and campaigning. This is already practised with great success and enthusiasm in a large number of academies, state schools and private schools.

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