The centrality of Citizenship Education and PSHE in encouraging greater social cohesion, greater resilience and aspiration among young people and a thoughtful national narrative about culture, identity and what a nation should be, cannot be over emphasised. In my 35 years in the education profession, this is the single most self-evident fact I have learned. It is my view that many of the social, personal and health problems faced by young people and indeed entire communities today are the consequence of our neglect of these two areas of the curriculum over many decades. It is also my clear view that the present epidemic of on-line exploitation of children and young people be it sexual or radicalising, could have been ameliorated - and could yet be - if the central importance of Citizenship and PSHE had not been lost/written out of the educational agenda after 2010.Citizenship and PSHE – Iike-minded colleagues and I refer to these collectively as the Curriculum for Life (C4L) – should be at the core of the curriculum at every key stage and into FE and HE also - albeit via different, stage-appropriate delivery models. It is pleasing to see progress being made in this respect with Relationships and Sex Education/PSHE, and a similar if not speedier rethink is now needed for Citizenship Education.
The educational landscape in England is now, thanks the Tory 'marketisation' of education, a highly complex system comprising among others, local authority maintained schools, academies old and new, free schools, studio schools, UTC's, faith schools of varying levels of orthodoxy and supplementary schools such as Sunday schools and madrassas. To require that Citizenship Education be made compulsory in all these would require an act of political will not seen since the 'comprehensivisation' programme of the early 1960's. This is precisely why I believe it should be undertaken. The message would be crystal clear – we need to completely re-think what schools are for in this country, how we measure their performance, how we train our teachers and what we value most as educational outcomes for our children and young people.
The combination of a greater focus on Citizenship as an academic subject and also Citizenship as an active process in the school and community should be enough to begin to shift attitudes and values 'on the ground' at local , regional and national level. This assumes that the above mentioned recommendations have been implemented and that there is a clear and consistent message from government at both national and local level, that 'what you think and what you do matter to us all'. The learning taking place in schools can and should be cascaded out into the local communities in which they are located. There should be such a level of communication, collaboration and coordination between school and community that the distinction between the two effectively disappears.
This is particularly important when we consider the challenge to radicalising narratives implicit in the values of some groups in our communities. For example, equality of treatment before the law in terms of gender, race and sexual identity in particular presents an existential threat to the values held by some religious fundamentalists as well as those on the far right.
For the sake of our children, young people and their parents, I urge the Labour Education Team to place these proposals front and centre of the messaging to voters in the next General Election