All too often, the subject of citizenship is seen as a ‘doss’ module, ridiculed by teachers and students alike. It has a reputation of being pointless and more of a chore than a chance to learn about society.
Although I disagree with Alistair Campbell on many issues, I can’t fault his insistence that “we need more citizenship education, not less”. My vision is to see every school not simply teaching citizenship but, crucially, demonstrating it.
Having spent a career as a teacher and headteacher, I know our young people are bursting with ideas, passion and enthusiasm. Democracies need active, informed and responsible citizens – citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves, their communities and to contribute to the political process. The very essence of democracy depends upon a citizenry which is aware of its political responsibilities and concerned about the welfare of others and active in the community. These capacities do not develop unaided, and they must be nurtured in school.
Parents, teachers and students have often asked me: what are the benefits of citizenship? I always reply with three basic points. Firstly, self-confidence – citizenship develops students’ confidence and allows them to understand and face challenges. Secondly, positive contributions: citizenship teaches students about their rights and responsibilities, preparing them for the journey into adult life. Thirdly, it gives youngsters a voice – not only in the life of their schools, but also in their communities and society at large.
During a recent citizenship education debate, I mentioned a fantastic organisation called Bite the Ballot. It’s a cross-party youth campaign supported by colleagues across the spectrum. Their objective is simple: they want to drastically increase the number of young people registered to vote in advance of the next general election. Importantly, they allow young people to understand democracy in all its forms, giving them a voice on the issues which affect them. They strive to show young people that they can engage and that they make a difference.
During the citizenship debate, I asked the Government why this level of interaction and engagement isn’t being replicated in schools across the country. It seems obvious to me that young people have both the drive and capacity to help shape this country and its politics. Groups like Bite the Ballot have longed recognised this fact. Though I was pleased to hear the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform’s announcement, we must continue to encourage all those groups working towards getting as many as possible on the electoral register.
The Government deserves praise for extending the citizenship programme in the National Curriculum, but we must remember that as half of schools can choose not to teach it, it’s by no means ‘national’. The Liberal Democrats are now the only party which believes that a truly national curriculum should be, as it says on the label, one that applies to all. Only this will ensure that all young people have access to an enriching citizenship education. Only this will create the active and educated citizenry we all aim for.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.