Citizenship classes 'not British enough'
By Graeme Paton, Education Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:28am GMT 26/01/2007
Children should learn about the British Empire and the European Union in new lessons designed to convey a sense of national identity, the government said today.
(PHOTO: Queen Victoria, Empress of India, may become part of the citizenship curriculum.)
Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said he accepted a major report that warned citizenship classes had not emphasised British identity strongly enough since they became compulsory in 2002.
Speaking at the launch of a major report on citizenship education in schools, Mr Johnson said that white youths living in mixed race communities were feeling just as isolated as black and ethnic minority children.
He said that “as much thought and resources need to be put into providing diversity education to white pupils” to stop teenagers adopting extremist views.
“More can be done to strengthen the curriculum so that pupils are taught more explicitly about why British values of tolerance and respect prevail in society and how our national, regional, religious and ethnic identities have developed over time,” he said.
“I believe that schools can and should play a leading role in creating greater community cohesion. The values our children learn at school will shape the kind of country Britain becomes. We are a nation built from and by people from other countries.”
Sir Keith Ajegbo, a former headteacher and Home Office advisor, made a series of key recommendations as part of a sweeping review of how schools can break down barriers between racial groups.
His report was commissioned amid fears of social divisions and growing extremism in the wake of the London bombings. He said teachers should be given extra training to encourage “critical thinking” on issues such as ethnicity, religion and race – linking them to recent political events.
His report recommends that classes should cover contemporary British history, such as devolution, membership of the EU, the break-up of the Empire and immigration to create a better understanding of national identity.
For the first time, pupils should be able to take an A-level in citizenship, capitalising on its popularity as the fastest growing GCSE subject in the country, he said.
A national “who we think we are?” week should be staged, encouraging schools around the country to launch projects celebrating local cultures, said Sir Keith.
Finally, he recommended that schools should be active in “twinning” with other schools of different ethnic, social, cultural and religious background, with pupils working together on joint projects.
Sir Keith said white, working class pupils were just as much a focus of the new-style classes as those from black or ethnic minority families. “It makes no sense in our report to focus on minority ethnic pupils without trying to address and understand the issues for white pupils,” he said.
“It is these white pupils whose attitudes are overwhelmingly important in creating community cohesion. Nor is there any advantage in creating confidence in minority ethnic pupils if it leaves white pupils feeling disenfranchised and resentful.
“Many indigenous white pupils have negative perceptions of their own identity. White children in areas where the ethnic composition is mixed can often suffer labelling and discrimination.
“They can feel beleaguered and marginalised, finding their own identities under threat as much as minority ethnic children might not have theirs recognised.”