David Bell: Education for democratic citizenship

Full text of the speech made by the chief inspector of schools, David Bell, for the Roscoe lecture series in Liverpool

I am delighted to be here to deliver the Roscoe lecture on citizenship. I note that Magnus Magnusson, standing in this place in 2000, paid tribute to William Roscoe as humanitarian, philanthropist, scholar and botanist - Liverpool's First Citizen par excellence, and remembered most of all for his opposition to one of Liverpool's greatest sources of wealth, the slave trade. Magnusson describes Roscoe as a "world citizen". My question for today is how we equip our children to emulate Roscoe in knowing about the world, caring about it, and using their skills to bring about change.

Today we have published two new reports on citizenship on the Ofsted website. The first is a short report on the citizenship teacher training courses that we inspected last year. These courses continue to be at the sharp end of citizenship development, producing new teachers with a fascinating range of backgrounds and a commitment to the development of citizenship as a national curriculum subject. These new teachers, alongside those already in service who have chosen to undertake the pilot professional development courses in citizenship sponsored by the DfES, are providing much needed expertise in an area of the curriculum that is sometimes misunderstood and undervalued by headteachers and senior managers in schools.

The great majority of these newly qualified citizenship teachers are finding suitable posts in schools and because of their expertise and commitment, many are quickly gaining promotion. So, the question that occurs to me is, if these specialists have so much to offer to this emerging and exciting subject, why are there not more advertisements from schools wishing to recruit these specialists? It also surprises me that there are as few as 241 places on citizenship teacher training courses being made available for this academic year.

The second report, published jointly with the Adult Learning Inspectorate, is on the fourth year of the post-16 citizenship pilot, which had been managed by the Learning and Skills Development Agency. The development of citizenship education at post-16 is important, as there is no logic in young people studying citizenship as a national curriculum subject to the age of 16, and not building upon this as they approach the age of voting.

Our report comments on successful approaches to citizenship in a wide range of settings, including school sixth-forms, further education colleges, youth centres and training providers. It demonstrates the achievement of young people in aspects of citizenship from local to global. Perhaps most importantly of all, it illustrates the value of participation in citizenship post-16 in providing young people with experiences of value which are not necessarily linked to examination point scores or school league tables. This is a refreshing report which should be read by all who are concerned with leadership and management of post-16 organisations.

Last month I published alongside my annual report a subject report on the development of citizenship in schools. The report celebrates the success of some schools in implementing the citizenship curriculum. It praises those schools where there have been substantial developments in the subject, and which now go a long way towards fulfilling national curriculum requirements.

In the report we are critical of schools which have not taken citizenship seriously, either through reluctance or lack of capacity to make appropriate provision in the curriculum. Citizenship is marginalised in the curriculum in one fifth of schools. It is less well established in the curriculum than other subjects, and less well taught and some critics have seized on this as a reason for wanting to step back from supporting it. Yet, the progress made to date by the more committed schools suggests that the reasons for introducing citizenship are both worthwhile and can be fulfilled, given the time and resources. Indeed, 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.

The main problems standing in the way of implementation of citizenship continue to be: the lack of commitment on the part of many school leaders; an insufficient amount of initial and in-service training provision to ensure that every school can call upon teachers with subject expertise; and its uncertain place in the curriculum.

One of the difficulties associated with the place of citizenship in the curriculum has been the assumption in many secondary schools that its natural home is as part of the Personal Social and Health Education programme where it is taught alongside issues such as sex and relationship education, personal finance and healthy eating. This is often due to a misunderstanding or misreading of the national curriculum, or because it is within these programmes that space for teaching new material can most easily be found. Yet while many schools have made a link between citizenship and personal education, they have not exploited the obvious links between citizenship and the humanities. Yet humanities subjects provide opportunities to develop the curriculum in a way that is economical of time and makes sense to pupils. I offer two examples, and these will also take me on to my theme for the day, global citizenship.

Firstly, we have a problem with geography in many schools. In many primary schools it is the worst taught subject and in secondary schools its popularity as a GCSE has been diminishing. The teaching is sometimes dull and fails to maintain current relevance, not sufficiently drawing on the issues most likely to capture the imagination and interest of young people such as globalisation and sustainable development. My view is that a partnership between geography and citizenship, where appropriate, will energise the former and give substance to the latter.

Consider what is recommended for schools in the non-statutory guidelines for citizenship in primary schools, and the statutory requirements for citizenship in secondary schools.

In primary schools, for example, pupils are expected to research and debate topical issues, including the ways in which resources are allocated, and know that choices affect individuals, communities and the sustainability of the environment. The secondary curriculum requires that pupils know about the world as a global community and the role of international organisations. By the end of their secondary education they should understand the challenges of global interdependence and responsibility, sustainable development and Agenda 21. This should go beyond text book knowledge and understanding. Pupils should be examining the issues of the day and evaluating, for instance, the way in which the media portrays them. They might be investigating specific issues and arguing a case for participating in activities that take their knowledge forward into action that is of benefit to themselves and others.

So my question is a simple one. Why are there not more geography departments which teach sustained and progressive units of work with citizenship objectives, making a substantial contribution to the citizenship curriculum overall? I suggest to you that citizenship can be a breath of fresh air, making geography relevant, exciting, and most important of all, empowering pupils so that they know how they can make a difference.

Secondly, we have criticised history departments for insufficiently addressing the issues of Britain's diversity, its position in the world, and how this is explained by its past, not the least the legacy of Empire and decolonialism. In most history curriculum little time is spent on these issues, but the citizenship curriculum for secondary schools requires that pupils know about the "origins and implications of diversity". It seems to me sensible that historians should find time to link the past with the present in a way that specifically addresses the citizenship curriculum. And in looking at the past through the eyes of historians, pupils also learn about issues such as human rights, a key feature of the citizenship curriculum, and some would say, at the heart of what citizenship is about.

History provides many lessons about the abuse of human rights, but how many history teachers challenge pupils to reflect on what they have learned about humankind's abusive actions in the past; and what is being done today to ensure against such abuses happening again? Thus, history, too, could make a greater contribution to pupils' understanding of Britain, the world and interdependence.

So what should schools be aiming for when developing their young people as global citizens? A useful model is provided by Oxfam. They define a global citizen as one who "knows how the world works, is outraged by injustice and who is both willing and enabled to take action to meet this global challenge". The three elements for responsible global citizenship defined by Oxfam are knowledge - about social justice, peace and conflict, diversity, sustainability, 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.

Whatever approach is taken, pupils in secondary schools are unlikely to be motivated unless this knowledge is taught and learned and these skills developed in contexts that are compelling, relevant and challenging. For this reason the citizenship curriculum needs an element of flexibility. The best resources for lessons on global issues will often be this morning's news rather than a textbook. Enquiry and research into global issues should deal with principles but be informed by issues of moment and real examples.

Let me give you one or two examples of how schools and colleges have successfully addressed these issues through the curriculum. I have already mentioned our report on the post-16 citizenship pilot, and this produced a wide range of activities associated with national and global issues.

At Long Road sixth-form college an attempt was being made to introduce citizenship through the tutor programme, which can be problematic as not all tutors are citizenship specialists, but does address the key question of entitlement - ensuring all students have a chance to study citizenship issues. On top of this students engaged in various enrichment activities. Too often we hear discussions about fair trade, but with no action as a consequence. In this case, however, research undertaken by the students led to genuine action. One of the students led a sustained campaign to promote fair trade products. A tangible effect of this was to press the management and canteen staff for a vending machine selling fair trade products. A website was set up to promote the campaign. A spin off was a whole day event, raising money for Aids victims in Malawi, which coincided with Nelson Mandela's speech urging an end to poverty. In this work the group involved had the support of the Student Union, which helped them to petition, gaining 1000 signatures overall.

A second example, on Britain's diversity, comes from a part of the country that has experienced racial tension and unrest in recent years. At Oldham sixth-form college, in the context of the Salaam Society, students were able to debate controversial issues which needed to be addressed to help them reflect on local, national and international issues. The programme allows students to explore their own identity as citizens, to assess their relationships to the various communities in Oldham and provides an opportunity to reflect on their own future contribution to the town of Oldham and that of their interest groups at local, national and international level.

Turning now to some of the positive work being done in schools, I would like to mention the work of John Cabot CTC at Bristol, for two reasons. One is that the college found no problem in finding time for citizenship. Here the bulk of citizenship curriculum is overlaid with ICT, and provides the context for the development of ICT capability. Secondly, the college has extended the citizenship curriculum into its international work. Not only have teachers and students established constructive links by visiting a partner school in South Africa - students also use video conferencing with the school to present themselves to each other and share ideas.

So far I have kept to issues surrounding the development of citizenship education and the curriculum. I would now like to turn to two broader issues: sustainable development as a whole school initiative; and in the context of the European Year of Citizenship, the concept of the democratic school.

I note David Alton's concerns, expressed in the foreword to Citizenship in the New Millenium about the dangers of "turning citizenship into yet another subject to be evaluated and assessed by everyone from headteachers to Ofsted", and that it could be "another academic subject, overloading the national curriculum".

I would say to David that we know from past experience what has happened to cross curricular initiatives: if citizenship is to work it needs core provision taught by specialists and a national curriculum model, which emphasises inquiry and communication, participation and responsible action as well as knowledge and understanding but at the same time guarantees that a tangible and challenging citizenship programme exists. But yes, he is right, citizenship should be more than a subject.

Sustainable development, a government initiative in its own right, is both a part of the citizenship curriculum, and, like citizenship, can permeate the work of a school. Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, argues as follows: "To make schools living exemplars of sustainable development touches every aspect of the way a school is run, from energy and waste management to the feel and quality of the learning environment, from the way school grounds are used to the way in which children get to school, from what happens in the school kitchen (if they have one) to the use of the school as an extended community. As to ethos, at the heart of sustainable development lies the concept of interdependence. The best of our schools today already live and breathe that ethos, but it is still the exception rather than the rule."

This concept of interdependence encompasses inter-twined economic, environmental and social principles. These include, among others, social responsibility, ethical trade, global awareness, participation, diversity, quality of life, human rights and inclusion. Education for sustainable development is not a new idea. It has strong roots in environmental and development education and good practice can be found in schools that have thought about and made links to personal, social, economic and citizenship issues. The revision of the national curriculum in 2000, however, raised the profile of the subject and schools are now asked to promote pupils' commitment to sustainable development. This is defined in the National Curriculum as enabling pupils to "...develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way that we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future".

Further support came with the launch of the Sustainable Development Action Plan, by the then secretary of state, Charles Clarke two years ago. At that time, he stressed the need "to ensure that people engaged in learning are given the opportunities and inspiration to think about and really appreciate their role as world citizen".

How can, and how do, some schools engage pupils in fulfilling this role?

A good example is to be found at Meare Village primary school, near Glastonbury in Somerset. The school's link with Mundini primary school in Kenya has provided many rich opportunities for pupils to learning about a contrasting locality. They have also explored sustainability, diversity, healthy living and interdependence. This has made pupils more aware of their responsibility as 'world' citizens in ensuring their own lifestyles become more sustainable.

The project involved joint planning with the Kenyan partner school with the teachers from Kenya visiting Meare. Initially, the focus of this collaborative work was on waste. Pupils in Meare had preconceptions about waste and like many of us took it for granted that waste in this country is dealt with effectively and efficiently and is not seen to be an issue. Pupils visited a landfill site and provided information to the Kenyan school about recycling in the United Kingdom. In exchange, they discovered how pupils in Kenya recycled materials. The realisation that Kenyans are better at reusing their waste and the implications that we need to consider in this country has created a desire to improve matters in their own backyard. Subsequent studies about the use and misuse of water as well as comparisons about food and transport have had a profound impact on the lives of these pupils and the character of the school. Pupils are now at the centre of the participatory process and have come up with detailed action plans for healthy eating, water, energy and resource use, the development of community and global links as well as travel. Their ideas are now incorporated into the school action plan and they are seeing practical outcomes for their efforts.

As you can see, this is truly a holistic approach to citizenship and education for sustainable development. Such small actions, duplicated across the country, can make a difference to people's daily lives. The emphasis is on the development of positive attitudes and values so that pupils want to make a contribution to a sustainable future. In these schools pupils are given real responsibilities, both individually and collectively, in looking after and improving their school and their learning environment. It is not just about learning in the classroom but about the positive actions outside. Such work can have long-term benefits.

A recent study by the Centre for Research Education and Training in Energy (CREATE) identified that when children were taught about energy saving at school, this had a greater effect on energy saving in the home than energy saving programmes targeting households. This was not because children were the only ones wasting energy in the home but because their informed concern and willingness to take action influenced other members of the household.

There is a Chinese proverb with which you may well be familiar that puts it this way: "If you are thinking one year ahead, sow seed. If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people."

European Year of Citizenship

I would now like to narrow the focus to Europe, and particularly to acknowledge the potential of the European Year of Citizenship for education in England. The angst over Europe is not confined to England, as we see by the rejection of a European constitution in France and the Netherlands and the recent debate over admission of Turkey, and lower level turbulence, often focused on what the press would call "interference from Brussels bureaucrats".

The National Curriculum requires that secondary school pupils study the role of the European Union, and I imagine that for many teachers planning their lessons, this appears Alpine in its degree of challenge to get pupils interested and engaged. Well, we have seen effective lessons where pupils research and debate the European issues of the day, the most obvious example being the benefits or otherwise of entering the Eurozone. The post-16 citizenship programme I referred to before ran a conference "EU..RU?" earlier this year and the video making competition produced some excellent and imaginative responses in which young people exercised European issues.

So, yes, there are European issues that pupils should debate, indeed must debate if they are to be informed citizens in an area particularly susceptible to prejudice.

Another feature of the European Year of citizenship has been the research and discussion at European level about Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC) in schools, and this goes well beyond the content of the national curriculum. In 2001, the Council of Europe commissioned research into Education for Democratic Citizenship, and the main, perhaps unsurprising, finding was that policies were plentiful, but practice ineffective. As part of the work for the European Year of Citizenship, an attempt has been made to raise the general standard, with a focus on quality assurance.

In this European context, the definition of EDC is very broad. It is about human rights, responsibilities, participation, social justice, strong civil society, and it is against violence, xenophobia, racism nationalism and intolerance. In the European model, this is something that should permeate the school through leadership and policy, ethos, relationships, teaching methods and student participation. Additionally, it involves a body of knowledge, understanding and skills, to be developed by individual countries according to their circumstances and needs.

So how do we in England measure up in our Education for Democratic Citizenship?

Well, despite the caveats I have offered on the implementation of national curriculum citizenship, it does give us a core of teaching and learning which is often absent in the school curriculum of our European neighbours. But I suggest that we are doing less well on the broader aims of Education for Democratic Citizenship.

On this subject I would like to cite the work of Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey, who published Changing Citizenship - Democracy and Inclusion in Education earlier this year. By the way, Dr Starkey, of the London Institute of Education, ran one of the four very distinctive pilot citizenship in-service training courses that we recently inspected. In their book, they refer to the work of John Dewey, Democracy and Education, published in 1916, which refers to "rows of ugly desks" and "the dependency of one mind on another". Osler and Starkey continue: "Dewey stressed the need for an education based on shared dialogue and shared values in which young people (and their teachers) are encouraged to look out to the world beyond their school and their national borders."

They continue: "Today, the UN Convention on the rights of the Child, confirms children's rights as citizens...and, in its Article 29, makes explicit the right to an outward looking education. Despite the convention...the entitlement of all children to an education where their views are taken into consideration.. is not yet realised."

And, they say, had Dewey visited classrooms today "he would be disappointed at how little has changed".

When I spoke at the Hansard Society in February this year, I put it this way, and you must excuse me for repeating it: "The introduction of citizenship challenges some assumptions about the status quo because it is intended to empower pupils. The trick is to harness that power in a democratic school where the pupils recognise their ownership and the opportunities presented to them. For some schools, this is a long journey. They need to go back to their aims and values to ask what their education is about. An important part of any answer should be citizenship."

The Education for Democratic Citizenship principles and indicators take this forward into every aspect of school life. For example, let me offer you some extracts from the indicators for leadership and management:

· the school has pro-active, inclusive and collaborative leadership; and establishes conditions for dialogue, participation respect for persons and ideas

· the headteacher treats all staff members as partners. He or she locates him or herself as a leader who is an integral part of the school community rather than maintaining a hierarchical distance from it

· the school leadership seeks dialogue, debate and negotiation in the case of dilemmas, different viewpoints and conflicts. He/ she promotes teaching and learning practices that support EDC principles.

I am sure that many of our schools already mirror EDC principles, and that our inspectors, working under the new Section 5 arrangements, will report on the good practice that they find and seek to establish the links between EDC principles and greater school effectiveness.

Ofsted is also playing its part through the new inspection Framework for schools and the Every Child Matters agenda. In every school, inspectors will evaluate the extent to which pupils make a contribution, and this will be reported on. For example, the role of the school council will be scrutinised to elicit whether pupils voices are heard and acted upon and inspectors will explore whether pupils are being helped and encouraged to make a contribution to their school and local communities.

Finally, on the subject of quality assurance, let me say a few words about how the inspection of citizenship can support these developments. Since its introduction in 2002, citizenship has appeared in every Ofsted report on a secondary school. Under the new arrangements, starting last month, we will not be reporting specifically on any subject. Instead, we will be carrying out an additional programme of subject and survey work to provide sufficient evidence to identify trends and on the basis of which we can continue to provide advice to government.

Citizenship will be inspected in this way and any school may find itself part of our sample. But, in the spirit of Education for Democratic Citizenship and the European model, the emphasis of quality assurance now falls on the individual school. In citizenship, as in our main School inspection programme, evaluation begins with the school itself, and inspection will test out how far the school has got it right.

So in conclusion ladies and gentlemen, we know that a number of schools and colleges across the country are making good, and sometimes excellent, provision for citizenship. But, as yet, not enough and we still have some way to go to persuade all headteachers and governors that this is something worth doing, and doing well.

A final reflection. I am immensely proud of this country and all that it stands for and has achieved. But in that peculiarly, and perhaps uniquely, British way it is an understated and quiet pride that doesn't need to be shouted from the rooftops. And maybe that's why we're just a bit nervous about the teaching of citizenship. We know what it means to be British, don't we? And, anyway, our position in the world is secure.

The opening of borders, ease of transport, the willingness of people to migrate and take their chances elsewhere, the free flow of capital and jobs, the easy access to information and the breaking down of knowledge barriers all combine to make this both a more interesting country and world. The old certainties no longer apply and thus it is more, not less, important that young people have a sense of both national and international identity. In other words, they learn first to be British citizens and then citizens of the world.

William Roscoe provides the perfect role model. He was a man who understood that citizenship was not merely about fine words and lofty ideals. Rather, it had practical application, firstly in local life and then internationally as he acted to deal with slavery. The specifics might be different today, but the case for active citizenship is more pressing than it has ever been. And what better place to begin to make that case than in our schools and colleges as they teach today's students and tomorrow's citizens.

Thank you.

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