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Citizenship Education

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 14 February 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their evaluation of current policies on citizenship education.

My Lords, Ofsted reported in 2010 that citizenship education is improving. Our reforms are designed to build on this by giving greater autonomy to schools. The national curriculum review is aiming to prescribe a core of essential knowledge, enabling schools to teach a wider curriculum that meets their pupils’ needs. Our recent publication Positive for Youth will help to ensure that young people have opportunities to realise their potential, including through becoming active and responsible citizens, as will the development of the national citizen service.

I thank the Minister for his reply and particularly for reporting that citizenship education in schools is apparently improving. Does he not agree, that at a time when the world is so turbulent and our own societies are under such strain, it is more important than ever that our young people should have a solid grounding in the responsibilities and rights of citizenship within a democratic framework? Further to the Prime Minister’s Answer to a Question in the other place on 11 December, what assurance can the Minister give that this can actually be achieved when there is such widespread suspicion that, as a result of changes to the curriculum, citizenship is going to be marginalised and downgraded?

I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord about the importance of citizenship. Although the expert panel that reported to us in December suggests that citizenship should form part of the basic curriculum rather than the national curriculum, the first sentence in its report emphasises the importance of citizenship and I very much share that view. The issue—and this is true of a number of subjects that are subject to the national curriculum review—is the extent to which we need to be prescriptive around programmes of study. We will reflect upon what the expert panel has said and take other representations into account, and then bring forward our proposals in due course in the light of that.

My Lords, given that the Secretary of State for Education has said that citizenship courses are pregnant with powerful knowledge, is there any possible excuse for not insisting that every child has the right to study this subject, especially since we are trying to get more of them to use their vote?

I agree with my noble friend that we should want every child to be able to study citizenship. One aspect is the importance of knowing about voting, as my noble friend says, but there are many other benefits of learning about citizenship as well. The issue is not its importance as a subject but how it is best delivered in the curriculum.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a severe overlap between personal, social and health education, and citizenship? Where exactly do we stand in relation to the delivery of PSHE and citizenship? How will they both be inspected so that evaluations can be made?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there is an overlap between the two, particularly at primary level. On where we have got to with our review, I know that she is keen for us to get to the sticking point. However, because of our need to take into account the report from the expert panel, the timescale for responding has moved back a little and we need to dovetail the PSHE review with the overall national curriculum review. We will bring that forward in due course.

My Lords, what steps are being taken to increase citizenship education in young offender institutions and other places where children are held in custody?

On the specific details of what is happening in institutions—I recognise the noble Lord’s concern about that, and I agree with him on the importance of this in prisons and young offenders institutions—if I may, I will follow this up with my colleagues to see if I can help him with some more specific information about those programmes.

My Lords, is the underlying problem here not the general lack of discussion of citizenship as an idea in this country? Citizenship as a concept is absent from our standard textbooks on the constitution. This is very different from the republics of the United States and France. Is this not a serious matter?

My Lords, your Lordships’ House is a good example of an institution where we frequently discuss questions such as the meaning of citizenship and its importance. I know that many Members of this House take part in the Lords outreach programme and explore exactly these issues with children; so far about 30,000 pupils have been seen by Members of your Lordships’ House as part of that programme. We need to explore these issues. The thought at the back of the noble Lord’s mind is probably the distinction between us being subjects and citizens, and I would be happy to explore that with him on another occasion.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a connection between the first two Questions that have come before the House today? Some of the issues that were addressed by the first Question relate to second and third-generation children. Would it be possible to include in citizenship education the rights of children in this country and, more particularly, the ways in which they can get help if they are subject to exploitation or abuse?

I agree with the noble Lord that there is a link between the two Questions: they are linked fundamentally by our values as a society and the values that we want our children to have. Part of that can be explored through the teaching of citizenship, part of it is done through civil society generally and part of it through families. Part of the answer to the question—and to the last part of the question about inspection asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which I failed to answer—is that the requirement to look into the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of a child through the Ofsted framework provides an opportunity to explore these issues.

My Lords, has the Minister undertaken any evaluation of the citizenship ceremonies that take place when people qualify for UK citizenship, which were quite rightly introduced by the previous Administration, and what has been the outcome of that evaluation?

I will need to follow up on evaluation with my noble friend. I agree with him that those ceremonies should be able to play an important part in addressing some of these questions. I am not sure what the precise evaluation is but I will ask and write to him.