In a previous post I drew attention to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. On Monday, the House debated the report. There was a clear message from all parts of the House, namely that citizenship education is important to a healthy polity, that the delivery of it is now, as committee put it, in a parlous state, and that the Government’s response to the report was, in the word most used in the debate, complacent. The response was lengthy, but simply restated the current position, without any indication of a willingness to depart from it and to acknowledge the dire state of teaching citizenship.
In my speech, I argued that the case for citizenship education was compelling and that if schools were to teach it effectively, three conditions had to be met: the subject had to be taught by trained citizenship teachers, it had to be taught as a discrete subject, and schools had to have incentives to take it seriously. On the first condition, I was able to draw on the data provided in an answer to a written question I had tabled in May on the number of trained citizenship teachers (covered in an earlier post). As that data revealed, eight out of every ten teachers teaching citizenship lack relevant post-A level qualifications for teaching the subject. As I said in respect of the third condition ‘There may be a moral imperative to teach it, but moral imperatives do nothing to enrich the school budget or help the school’s place in the league tables. Schools need something more concrete to ensure that they take citizenship seriously and teach it effectively. If citizenship education fed into performance in the league tables, schools would very quickly take it seriously.’
The minister’s response to the debate was similar to the Government’s written response, in that it offered nothing beyond repeating what was already happening and failed completely to acknowledge the scale of the problem. If you read his speech, you will see that he failed to address any of the questions I had put to him, saying that he would write. Towards the end of his speech, I was so exasperated that I intervened to ask him what the Government was doing, as a consequence of the report, that was different to what it did before. This clearly met with favour from those taking part in the debate, with the exception of the person to whom the question was directed. It left him floundering somewhat, saying that there would be a committee to draw things together. He also said that nothing would happen overnight or by the end of the year. There was no indication of any timescale or indeed that anything of note would happen. This is clearly something to which we shall need to return.