Stephen Lambert, Director of Education4Democracy.


IN THE aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks on British soil, where the Government acknowledged the pitfalls of its anti-extremist strategy and operational plan, the need to win the hearts and minds to our democratic norms and values, is more important than ever before.

It’s vital that we help all young people to learn about our liberal democracy with its place both in the UK and elsewhere across the world. Every young adult has an entitlement to the opportunities to develop the civic skills, knowledge and confidence to participate effectively in society as an active citizen.

Sadly, the two largest political parties only paid lip-service to education for citizenship or democracy in the run-up to 2017 general election. Of all the manifestos published only the Liberal Democrats actively supported citizenship as a curriculum right. This means for pro- democracy civil society Non Government Organisations (NGOs) more work needs to be done to address this issue.

Although more young people voted in greater numbers than in 2015 – 54% of 18 to 24-year year olds voted in 2017, almost five out of 10 didn’t, especially white working-class and BME youngsters. Of those abstainers quizzed, over half felt that the system doesn’t work for them. They don’t believe they can shape decision-making in their communities, towns or cities. And over seven out of 10 felt they didn’t know enough about voting or what the various parties stood for.

Yet the Government has neglected the obvious route to address the problem. At best, schools, colleges and apprenticeship agencies are required to teach British Values, including democracy and ‘’understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process’’. Yet there’s evidence that it’s not working as well as it should.

Schools have a legal duty to deliver high quality citizenship classes. However, Citizenship as a distinct subject, has been side-lined in many educational establishments. Entries for GCSE citizenship have fallen sharply especially in the north of England. This year AS/A-level citizenship studies has been deleted from the further education curriculum. According to Tom Franklin of the non-partisan Citizenship Foundation, the number of trainee citizenship teachers has dropped from 240 in 2010 to a mere 54 in 2016. Training bursaries have been withdrawn. The growing number of schools which have become academies or free schools are not required to teach citizenship studies. Even the inspection watchdog, Ofsted, no longer takes much of an interest in whether they do, so many schools don’t bother.


Our political parties have said little about education and democracy. The Conservative Party had a section in its manifesto called ‘’Democracy and the Rule of Law’ with a commitment to ‘’champion British values around the globe’’. Labour, in contrast, had a section on ‘Extending Democracy’ pledging an elected second chamber in Parliament and votes for 16 year olds with a commitment to making all schools democratically accountable.

The Lib-Dems in their manifesto, ‘Change Britain’s Future’, went two steps better by promising a fairer voting system via PR, votes at 16, House of Lords reform and weekend voting. They re-affirmed citizenship as a curriculum entitlement in all state-funded schools and colleges.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of major electoral reform in 1918, which extended the right to vote to women aged 30 and over and millions of working class men, our democratic traditions and culture are facing unprecedented threats from religious fundamentalists, far- right and far- left extremists and radicalised terrorists.

All these groupings have a contempt for our democratic way of life, the Rule of Law, parliamentary democracy, equality of worth and opportunity, tolerance and difference. Radical Islamic terrorists want to kill and maim. Those on opposite ends of the political spectrum would like Britain to be transformed into an unaccountable ‘Corporate State’ based on ‘democratic centralism’ or worse a fascist dictatorship.

In 1988 an important report by the Labour Peer Bernard Crick called for the every young person in the UK to learn about citizenship and democracy. 30 years on there’s an urgent need to set up an all- party Commission for Learning for Democracy.

Central government needs to roll out a national programme to raise the profile and quality of citizenship teaching to all students up to the age of 19 and give it the same status as subjects as English, Maths and IT. A-level Citizenship needs to be restored to the post-16 curriculum and all trainees should be required to complete a citizenship certificate course. This works well in North America and Australia , so why not the UK. Above all we need a better strategy involving all key players for this Parliament to finally address the ‘democratic deficit’ before it’s too late.

Stephen Lambert, Director of Education4Democracy the pro-democracy organisation.

About Stephen Lambert: He is a Newcastle City Councillor, and was former Chair of ‘Safe Newcastle’ and Northumbria Police Authority.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


FE Community

Dorothy Lepkowska-Hudson shared a photo. 11 minutes ago

Solvendis added a new event 14 hours

Designated Safeguarding Lead Training

A provider’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) plays a critical role in its approach to safeguarding its learners, training its staff, providing...

  • Monday, 24 February 2020 10:00 AM
  • Leeds, Radisson Blu Hotel

The FE News Channel gives you the latest breaking news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation.

Providing trustworthy and positive news and views since 2003, we publish exclusive peer to peer articles from our feature writers, as well as user content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, webinars, video interviews and news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page

Promoted Content