Citizenship should be redefined to promote a more positive form of it and should not be linked with opposing extremism, according to peers

The state of citizenship education in schools is “parlous” and being degraded by a Government that should improve it as part of it ‘levelling up’ of education agenda, peers have warned.

A follow-up report published by the House of Lords’ Liaison Committee on progress made three years ago (in the wake of the Government’s new White Paper on Education) accuses ministers of “damaging democracy for generations to come” by neglecting to teach citizenship to school children.”

Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, chair of the Lords Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement said today: “We were promised a cross-department minister, we didn’t get one. We were told that Ofsted should treat citizenship education as a core part of the curriculum, the evidence shows they don’t.

“The Government had a chance to put things right in its Schools White Paper. It appears that they have missed the opportunity to do so. There is just one mention of citizenship in the Schools White Paper, and it is mentioned in the context of volunteering. We urge the Government to think again. Otherwise, they risk damaging democracy for generations to come.”

The original report by the Lords charted some 10 years of teaching citizenship in schools which appears to mainly concentrate on the Prevent strategy of tackling anti-terrorism but does not teach the importance of voting, democratic rights and responsibilities. The Government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent was introduced in 2003, but it was only when it was revised in 2011 that extremism was defined as opposing these values.

During this period the number of teachers halved and the concept of citizenship narrowed. The 2018 report said some schools reduced it to putting up Union flags in the classroom and a portrait of the Queen.

The report states that citizenship was defined by the Government as adhering to “fundamental British values – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

Peers in 2018 challenged this assessment saying that citizenship should be redefined as “shared British values” promoting positive citizenship and should not be linked with opposing extremism. These values should be defined as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person”.

“The promotion of shared British values should be separated from counter-extremism policy,” the 2018 report said. “The Government should not place guidance on teaching shared values of British Citizenship on the ‘Educate against Hate’ website. Guidance to teachers should make clear that the primary objective of promoting shared values of British citizenship is to encourage positive citizenship rather than solely aiming to counter-extremism.”

The new report makes 21 recommendations including asking the Government to implement the 78 changes recommendations made in 2018. The 2022 recommendations include appointing a minister in Michael Gove’s levelling up department to coordinate the promotion of citizenship across government. It calls for a statutory right to citizenship education in all primary and secondary schools, and it wants more teachers trained in teaching citizenship, a proper curriculum devised to teach citizenship, and bursaries for teachers to train to teach citizenship. The report is also critical of the ‘citizenship test’ which people have to take before they can become a UK citizen. It said that the ‘Life in the UK’ test needed a complete revision and noted that Ofsted ignores citizenship as a curriculum subject, concentrating instead on improving standards in English and maths and the governorship of schools.

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