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Speaking during a lecture at Liverpool's John Moore's University earlier this month, David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools for Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) said that a recent Ofsted report into the teaching of citizenship, "illustrates how participation in citizenship post-16 can provide young people with valuable experiences that are not necessarily linked to examination point scores or school league tables." He added that the findings, "should be read by all who are concerned with leadership and management of post-16 organisations."

The report itself was conducted by Ofsted and published jointly with the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), in order to assess the progress of the post-16 citizenship pilot, which is now into its fourth year. Mr. Bell said that the program of citizenship teaching for post-16 learning, which has been coordinated by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) was important, stating: "There is no logic in young people studying citizenship as a National Curriculum subject up to the age of 16 and then not building on this as they approach the age when they can vote."

More Progress Needed

Mr. Bell acknowledged that some schools had thus far failed to take citizenship teaching seriously, but insisted that, "the progress made to date by the more committed schools suggests that the reasons for introducing citizenship are both worthwhile and can be fulfilled." He added that, "those reasons are given added weight by national and global events of the past few months. While not claiming too much, citizenship can address core skills, attitudes and values that young people need to consider as they come to terms with a changing world."

In defining his concept of the role of citizenship in the secondary and post-16 curriculum, Mr. Bell cited the notion of a "global citizen", as used by the charity Oxfam. "The elements for responsible global citizenship defined by Oxfam," he said, "are knowledge about social justice, peace and conflict, diversity, sustainability and interdependence; skills in thinking, arguing, cooperating and challenging injustice; and values and attitudes, including commitment, respect, empathy, concern for the environment and a belief that people can make a difference."

Praise for FE Example

Mr. Bell praised a number of further education establishments on their use of citizenship in the curriculum. He told the audience how, at Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, citizenship had been incorporated into the tutor programme. Although he acknowledged the drawbacks of this method, with specialists of other disciplines being asked to teach the subject, he talked about the way in which students were able to follow up their teaching with enrichment activities. In one example, Mr. Bell spoke of a student who lobbied staff at the college to install a vending machine selling Fair Trade products, after a discussion about the campaign.

In another example given by Mr. Bell, students at a sixth form college in Oldham, which has witnessed strained community relations in recent years, used their citizenship classes to explore issues of racial diversity and ethnic tensions. At John Cabot City Technology College in Bristol, students were able to take part in a video conference with students in South Africa as part of their citizenship teaching.

Diversity and Personal Development

Bell's speech reflected the diverse fashions in which citizenship can be used in post-16 education in order to enrich the education and personal development of students. In all the examples he cited, the staff involved had been exceptionally committed to using the time allocated to citizenship teaching in interesting and worthwhile ways, and that this method was a benefit to the students under their auspices.

As David Bell says, citizenship can be a crucial way of helping students to understand the cultural, environmental and political issues that affect us all. Nevertheless, it is vital first that a fully coordinated and committed approach to teaching citizenship at secondary level is developed. This will provide an invaluable base for further exploration into these most fundamental of issues at the post-16 level.

Jessica Brammar

Are you for or against teaching citizenship? Tell us in the FE Blog


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