All pupils in England must be taught about their legal rights and duties, how the law works, how it is enforced, and how they can obtain appropriate help and advice.
Essentially, this is the kind of knowledge everyone should have since ignorance of the law is no excuse in court.
Material developed by the Law in Education Project (1984-87, precursor to the Citizenship Foundation) broke new ground in approaches to teaching and learning about the law, previously thought by many to be too hard for average and less academic pupils.
Its success rested on:
- the relevance of the material to the lives of young people,
- the interest generated by study of real cases,
- and an enquiry-based approach which generated lively debate about a
whole range of social justice issues.
Rights and responsibilities
The preface to the National Curriculum (England) states that one of the principle purposes of education in general is:
“to help young people become ‘responsible and caring citizens capable of contributing to the development of a just society”.
It should also equip young people to:
“make informed judgements and independent decisions and to understand their responsibilities and rights”.
The Citizenship Foundation has found that young people do want to know about their rights.
If presented in the right way, teaching about rights naturally raises awareness of the responsibilities that go with them. This kind of approach is best described as ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’, because it builds on the experiences and needs of young people themselves.
No amount of legal or civic knowledge is of much use if it is not used with a sense of social responsibility and moral awareness.
For example, while learning about the law, students should be constantly asked to consider:
- why the law is involved in a particular area,
- what is its purpose,
- in whose interests the law has been passed,
- and most importantly, whether it is fair.
Law-related education and political literacy
Students must not be left to think uncritically about the law, as if it is set in stone or always just. It is in the nature of legislation in a democracy that it is constantly under critical review, not only by Parliament, but also by interest groups, the press and the public.
In this way, students can be helped to develop a view of Parliament which is not negative but is constructively critical, and they will come to see the law as dynamic and relevant to many aspects of their lives.