From education to employment

Report from Inspection Bodies on Pilot of Citizenship Programme

The new subject of “citizenship” was the brainchild of former Secretary for Education and Employment David Blunkett. Its introduction was controversial and it has been the focus for criticism, although the media have never found it quite as consistently fascinating as the former cabinet minister’s love life.

Post-16 citizenship modules are designed to build on the programme being phased simultaneously into the National Curriculum at pre-16 key stages. One of its key aims is to engage young people who are approaching, or have reached, voting age. Voter turnouts at UK elections are woefully low, and the government hopes that citizenship education will encourage active participation in democracy, promote the values of tolerance and diversity, and create a new generation of informed and socially responsible citizens.

A Pilot Scheme

The first pilot programme was launched in 2001, on the recommendation of an advisory group led by Blunkett’s former university tutor, Professor Sir Bernard Crick. At post-16 it is administered and funded by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA), and an initial report was made by the NFER at the end of the first year. The government commissioned the (Ofsted) and the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) to produce their first report into the 2004/5 pilot programme.

Before its introduction, the notion of teaching citizenship was received with scepticism from all sides. It was seen as a classic example of a minister meddling from on high, an irrelevant waste of time for those studying specific vocational courses, and a headache for people charged with implementing it. But as the report reveals, institutions, teachers and learners have actually enjoyed overwhelmingly positive experiences of citizenship.

Smooth Delivery

All the FE colleges and work-based learning providers visited by the inspection team were found to deliver citizenship to at least a satisfactory level. Indeed, well-established links with businesses and the local community meant that elements of the programme involving community action were often better developed than at school sixth forms and sixth form colleges.

Citizenship in FE generally focuses on local or current affairs, and teaching sessions are supplemented by debates and guest lectures from MPs, local politicians, business leaders and other community figures. Students are often encouraged to research topics and present their findings using video and photography as well as oral presentations and written reports, and learning is frequently backed up with field trips to London and even destinations in Europe. For some learners on E2E programmes visited by the inspection team, these visits were the first opportunity to travel beyond their hometown or local area.

Positive Experiences

Citizenship enables learners to become better informed. They study a wide range of citizenship contexts, both local and global, and are taught to analyse sources of information and detect bias. They also develop interactive communication skills, gain the ability to understand and reconcile different viewpoints to reach a consensus, and learn how to contribute positively to decision-making.

Almost all citizenship programmes deal with topics like government, the law, the EU, the media, and the work of NGOs. Learners are also encouraged to think about national events and local issues that concern them. At Fareport Training, a Hampshire work based learning provider, inspectors witnessed learners debating the legalisation of cannabis, gun control, and 24 hour licensing for pubs and clubs. Other subjects the inspection team saw covered included domestic violence, global warming, and fair trade.

Out and About

At Hind Leys Community College in Leicestershire, an investigation into youth crime was followed up with a visit to Glen Parva young offender’s institution. Learners later visited Stockholm, where they toured a young offender’s institution and met social services, gaining an understanding of alternative approaches taken in different countries. Another learning provider set up a debate between young learners and local pensioners, allowing two sections of the community often isolated from each other to come together and exchange views.

Citizenship encourages learners to take positive action in the community, and the report refers to many instances of this happening. At City of Bristol College, students produced plans to redesign the local shopping centre with the needs of young people in mind. They discussed and debated their plans, reached a consensus, and were then given the opportunity to present their recommendations to the council responsible for redeveloping the centre.

A Lasting Legacy?

The ALI/Ofsted report concludes that learning provision is generally good and that students” experiences of citizenship have been overwhelmingly constructive. There are several recommendations for changes that need to be made before the programme is fully rolled out; in particular, more specialist teaching staff need to be trained to enable citizenship to fulfil its maximum potential.

Despite this though, there is no disguising the positive tone of the report, and the future of citizenship as a permanent feature of the post-16 curriculum seems assured. So who knows? When memories of a tawdry and rather boring sex scandal have faded away, David Blunkett’s lasting legacy may well turn out to be a highly successful addition to our education system that brings great benefits to the wider community.

Joe Paget

How much of a citizen do you feel? Tell us about the importance of citizenship in the FE Blog

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