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Schools: Citizenship Education

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the teaching of citizenship education in schools.

My Lords, citizenship education is considered as part of Ofsted school inspections. In addition, Ofsted plans to undertake a review of personal development in schools in England. The review, which will include consideration of citizenship education, will involve analysis of inspection evidence, and culminate in the publication of a national report on personal development later this year. This will be similar to reviews that Ofsted has published for other subjects.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The report The Ties that Bind, from the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, made a number of recommendations on citizens’ education. Recommendation 16 said:

“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency.”

In their response to that recommendation, the Government simply indicated what is in the subject and what schools may do, but said absolutely nothing about what the Government would do, so I very much hope there will be not only a report but some action after that report.

The Government share the noble and right reverend Lord’s aspiration, and the aspiration of the committee to which he refers. We want our children to leave school with the knowledge, skills and values that prepare them to be active citizens, and good citizenship education obviously can help to achieve that. We look forward to the report and acting on it when we receive it.

My Lords, will the Minister accept one of the specific recommendations of The Ties that Bind and reinstate bursaries for citizenship teachers for the 2023-24 academic year? Will she further consider keeping these bursaries in place until there are sufficient numbers to ensure that there is at least one trained specialist in every secondary school?

The noble Baroness will be aware that we are continuing to focus our bursaries on English baccalaureate subjects, particularly those experiencing teacher shortages, to secure as many applicants as possible in areas where schools will devote most of the teaching time. Citizenship trainee teachers are eligible for a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan to support them.

My Lords, if we wish our young people to emerge from school with skills for life, citizenship education is surely essential. Following on from the previous question, what progress are the Government making in recruiting citizenship teachers, who are in very short supply?

The noble Baroness will know that, currently, the data does not allow us to identify that specifically in relation to initial teacher training. We have got the data on the number of citizenship teachers, which has been broadly stable over the last five years. I point out to the House that the number of children doing citizenship as a GCSE last summer was up by 10%.

My Lords, the Government’s schools White Paper does not address citizenship directly. Can my noble friend the Minister say exactly how the Government are intending to address this?

I thank my noble friend for her question. She is right that the schools White Paper focused very much on our literacy and numeracy ambitions: that by 2030 90% of primary school children will reach the required standard in reading, writing and maths, and the average GCSE grade will rise from 4.5 to 5 in English and maths. Those subjects are absolutely critical for children being able to engage in citizenship in all its different forms. Our focus on a broad and balanced curriculum will also support that.

I wonder whether the Minister, who, with the Minister of State, has a sympathetic ear on this subject, can tell me why the department is supporting Ofsted in its belief that personal development and active citizenship and citizen education are one and the same, when they clearly are not?

The understanding is that citizenship education is an important part of schools’ accountability for their pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education. I do not think there is a suggestion that it is equivalent to personal development, but it is a critical part of personal development.

Slavery has become one of the really important issues which is discussed generally. I am hoping that the Government might encourage schools to cover slavery. If they do, would they please include modern slavery, which is rife, and not just the slavery of the past?

The noble and learned Baroness makes a really important point. I think she will also recognise that schools will have different ways of teaching their pupils and getting them to understand important issues such as slavery and, sadly, modern slavery.

My Lords, there was a suggestion a few years ago in your Lordships’ House that all young people, as they left school, should go through a citizenship ceremony similar to that which those who take up British citizenship go through. This idea had a very favourable reception but seems to have disappeared. Is it something that my noble friend can put back on the agenda?

I am not aware that that is being considered. However, the Government’s commitment to the National Citizen Service, which works with tens of thousands of children and hundreds of educational settings across the country to provide not just opportunities for children and young people but a recognition of their contribution to society, remains unstinting.

PSHE is not currently a compulsory subject in education. As the Minister rightly said, PSHE is a part of citizenship. Does the Minister agree that it would be extremely helpful to have citizenship, including PSHE, as a compulsory subject in schools? Surely that is as important as any other compulsory subject in education so that all children are prepared for adult life in this country.

My Lords, I am not sure that I completely followed the noble Baroness’s question. RSHE is already a requirement in secondary school. If I may, I will come back to the noble Baroness and clarify.

The schools White Paper mentions citizenship once, there is no bursary, the Government do not collect the data on initial teacher training in citizenship, and Ofsted does not consider it in the same way as other curriculum subjects. Can the Minister understand why noble Lords are concerned that the Government are not giving citizenship the focus that it needs?

I understand that the context of the society in which we currently live, and of some of the issues around the world, make citizenship and that really strong grounding in our values as a nation incredibly important. On the noble Baroness’s specific points, evidence of citizenship education is considered at every inspection; whereas, if it were part of a national curriculum subject inspection, it would not be inspected in quite the same way. I point the House to the reforms that we have made to professional qualifications for teachers, particularly in relation to leadership, where there is a renewed emphasis on building a strong school ethos, leading in terms of behaviour and culture, and building character.

My Lords, citizenship education is vital to the development of skills and understanding to nurture pupils to play a responsible role in society, and for their own betterment in real situations. Citizenship became a statutory national curriculum subject in England in 2002; 20 years on, how have the Government improved the national curriculum to deal with an evolving society?

I thank my noble friend for his question. The curriculum content in relation to citizenship covers democracy, politics, Parliament and voting, as well as human rights, justice, media literacy, the law and the economy. Increasingly, the curriculum has a wider focus on environmental issues and the responsibility of all of us, as citizens, to care for the environment.