British values: democracy and respect must also apply to the way curriculum is built

Chris Husbands

Denis Healey tells the story. On the eve of South Yemen’s independence, its last British governor hosted a party attended by Healey, who was then minister for defence. Over drinks, as the flag was about to be lowered, the governor looked at Healey and said, “You know, Minister, I believe that in the long view of history, the British Empire will be remembered only for two things.” What, Healey wondered, were these great gifts to the world? And the governor replied, “the game of association football. And the expression ‘eff off’.”

Stories like this are a reminder, perhaps, that ‘British values’ are more complex and problematic than they appear when grabbed by politicians in a crisis. On Monday afternoon, following the OFSTED report into Birmingham schools, the Secretary of State for Education argued that all schools should be required to teach the fundamental British values of “democracy, mutual respect and tolerance”.

Just fourteen hours later, by Tuesday morning, when the Prime Minister added his voice, the list had become a little longer: “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”. And this is what happens: lists become longer, pet topics are added, enthusiasms are produced. In her autobiography, Mrs Thatcher famously recalled her horror that her desire in 1988 for a simple core curriculum became, by 1994, such a complex national curriculum that it needed an inquiry led by Lord Dearing to tame it.

The relationship between the school curriculum and civic understanding – which is what is at issue here – has been fraught from the very beginnings of the National Curriculum. A subject-based curriculum has many strengths, but there are aspects which fall through the cracks. The 1988 National Curriculum addressed this through a series of ‘cross-curricular themes’ (though they were taken more seriously by curriculum developers than they ever were in schools). What is everyone’s responsibility is no-one’s real responsibility. In 1989, the then Speaker of the House of Commons, Bernard Weatherill, established a Speaker’s Commission on Citizenship. In 1993, OFSTED took a different tack, seeking to define social, moral and spiritual understanding, but covering much of the same ground. In 1997 the new Labour Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, asked his fomer university politics tutor, Bernard Crick – a lifelong advocate of political education – to report on the case for education for citizenship. The current Prime Minister and Michael Gove would do well to re-read Crick’s report.

Crick set out three aims for education for citizenship, including social and moral responsibility, requiring morally responsible behaviour both in and beyond the classroom, both towards those in authority and towards each other, community involvement, including learning through community involvement and service to the community, and political literacy, including pupils learning about and how to make themselves effective in public life through knowledge, skills and values.

Crick argued that whilst these were cross-curricular concerns, the knowledge base for citizenship required a dedicated allocation of curricular time, and Citizenship was introduced as a statutory element of the curriculum in 2002. It was abolished by the Coalition in 2010 under the banner of offering schools curriculum freedom.

In his own Newsnight interview on 9 June, the Chief Inspector of Schools, pushed by Jeremy Paxman, said that on the curriculum he personally leaned towards curriculum prescription. It is almost certain that we will now have a new round of consultation, which will throw up many of the definitional challenges involved in translating ‘British values’ into curriculum guidance, in which the list of elements of British values will grow and shrink over time and end up not a million miles away from the Crick Report.

In the most recent edition of the Curriculum Journal, my IOE colleague Michael Young, himself a key advocate of the importance of knowledge-led curricula, offers some astringent and prescient arguments on what a curriculum can, and cannot do: it can educate young people, but cannot, ultimately, reach beyond the school. The evidence of the past is quite clear. Politicians frequently overstate what the curriculum can do. They push definitions too far; they burden curricula with too many expectations.

Teachers and schools need guidance, but the guidance needs to be generic and to support professional judgement. If “democracy, mutual respect and tolerance” are the (British) values we want children to be taught, then they apply equally to the processes by which curricula are constructed. If that’s not the case, then schools and teachers are just as likely to draw on at least one of the long-lasting influences of Empire cited by the last governor of South Yemen.

 

A right is not a right unless you know about it: why we must defend citizenship education

Hugh Starkey

Despite rumours of its untimely demise, citizenship education in England is alive and kicking. Following a rather lukewarm endorsement in the report of the expert panel in December 2011, last month’s new national curriculum Framework document for consultation retains citizenship as a subject at key stages 3 and 4 but with a very much reduced programme of study.

Democratic Life, the coordinating group for organisations associated with citizenship education, including the Association for Citizenship TeachingCitizenship Foundation and Amnesty International, considers this as something of a moral victory. But is it?

In England’s current national curriculum Citizenship is a statutory subject with a brief but carefully constructed Programme of Study for each of the four key stages. At Key Stage 3 the key concepts are: Democracy and Justice; Rights and Responsibilities; Identities and Diversity: living together in the UK, and the new programme of study contains the vestiges of these themes. “Pupils should be taught about … how the political system of the United Kingdom has developed as a democracy”. The justice system includes “the role of the police, and how courts and tribunals work”. An overarching aim is developing understanding of “the rights and responsibilities of [UK] citizens”. At Key stage 4 pupils should be taught about: “diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding”.

This may feel like a diluted version. But in practice, the national curriculum may have relatively little influence on what happens in schools. The most recent Ofsted report,  Citizenship established? Citizenship in schools 2006/9 noted that more than 10% of schools visited “had done little or nothing to implement citizenship, a National Curriculum requirement that has now been in place for seven years” (p5). Clearly the schools felt that they had other priorities and that the national curriculum would not be the only factor determining their arrangements.

The NFER’s longitudinal study of citizenship education in schools found in 2009 that less than half of schools had a dedicated time slot and less than half had specialist teachers. In other words, whatever curriculum advice schools get, only a minority are able to commit to best practice for citizenship education even when it is a statutory obligation.

However, the national curriculum has great symbolic importance. It is the public and explicit statement of the knowledge, skills and dispositions that are deemed essential to transmit as embodying a cultural heritage as well as preparing for the future. It may, in practice, have relatively little impact on the priorities of schools. It gives expression to the essential elements of knowledge, skills and understandings that the current generation wishes to see transmitted to the next. It provides an opportunity for political leadership in standard-setting.

One of the first actions of the Conservative-led Coalition Government on 11 May 2010 was to sign a formal Recommendation supporting the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education. The ministers of education collectively agreed to recommend to their governments that: “Member states should include education for democratic citizenship and human rights education in the curricula for formal education at pre-primary, primary and secondary school level”. This commitment is barely visible in the new programme of study, suggesting that an opportunity to emphasise the importance of democracy and human rights for our diverse society has been missed.

The new proposed programme of study for citizenship alludes, rather quaintly, to “the precious liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the United Kingdom”. These liberties or freedoms are guaranteed by the UK’s commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. But these “precious liberties” are at risk if citizens do not know that they are entitlements in international law and that people everywhere struggle for them. A right is not a right unless you know about it.

The debate on citizenship education in multicultural societies comes to IOE on Monday 11 March 2013 with the visit of Professor James A. Banks, Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies and Director Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Seattle. Invited by the International Centre for Education and Democratic Citizenship (ICEDC), he will launch his monumental SAGE Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education in presence of a distinguished panel of contributors to this four volume work. This will be followed by an open public lecture in the series sponsored by the Faculty of Children and Learning on the subject: Diversity and Citizenship Education in Global Times.

The National Curriculum: what’s the point of it all?

 Michael J Reiss and John White

After Michael Gove’s announcement last week that English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) have been abandoned and that GCSEs will carry on, some might assume that the debate about the school curriculum has, temporarily at least, gone away. This is not the case. On the same day that the Secretary of State announced his “climb down”, the DFE published its draft National Curriculum.

There is much one could say about these documents. Here, though, we focus on just one issue – the dismal lack of attention paid to the aims of the National Curriculum. In the 221 page document on the draft programmes of study for KS1-3 (PDF), each subject has its own specific aims but here is all that is said about the overarching aims of the National Curriculum:

3.1 The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

3.2 The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons.

“The best that has been thought and said” is a phrase from Matthew Arnold’s 1869 book Culture and Anarchy and Arnold would have recognised much that is in the new draft curriculum. The division into a litany of separate subjects – most of which were familiar to Arnold – shows how subjects remain the starting point for curriculum development, with the overarching aims tagged on as an afterthought.

But there is another way. After all, why should one start with subjects? Isn’t it not only more logical but also more sensible to start with the aims of schooling and from them derive a curriculum?

This is the approach the two of us have taken with our new book An Aims-based Curriculum – The Significance of Human Flourishing for Schools, published this week. We begin with overarching aims that will equip each learner to lead a personally fulfilling life and help others do so too. From these, we derive more specific aims covering the personal qualities, skills and understanding needed for a life of personal, civic and vocational well-being. The second half of the book, on political realities of implementation, takes this process of deriving aims further. Some of its detailed aims, but by no means all, overlap with conventional curriculum objectives. We also look at the role of the state in curriculum decisions, as well as the implications of the book’s central argument that aims should be the starting point for student choice, school ethos, assessment, inspection and teacher education.

Some might think that there is no need to bother with such considerations. Teachers can just get on and teach their subjects. In our view this is a deeply mistaken view. Thankfully, many 5-16 year-olds enjoy their schooling and learn well. But many don’t – not least because much of what they are presented with seems pointless; it doesn’t connect with them as they trudge from one subject class to another. We argue that by starting with aims, schools can have a curriculum that will inspire learning and provide a stronger basis for future life than is typically provided by a subject-based curriculum.

An Aims-based Curriculum – The Significance of Human Flourishing for Schools, is published by IOE Press on 15 February 2013. If you would like an invitation to a seminar at the IOE on 30 April at which the book’s argument will be debated, please e-mail abc@ioe.ac.uk.