Michael Portillo believes that military discipline and good citizenship go hand in hand. But Carol Nahra finds that teacher trainers are not so sure
No political party wants to be seen to be ignoring the issue of citizenship education. Last week John Major backed Michael Portillo's call for cadet corps to operate in schools. Shadow education and employment secretary David Blunkett countered by pointing to his plans for a millennium volunteer corps which, together with school curricula, would help prepare youth to be good citizens, he said.
But teacher trainers argue that the difficulty of defining citizenship, and lack of time, mean that little is being done to help their students address the topic. They also argue that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the Teacher Training Agency should work together more.
Ken Fogelman, director of Leicester University's centre for citizenship studies in education, says his centre defines citizenship as a way of embracing all aspects of values education and moral, social, and cultural development.
But SCAA chief executive Nick Tate, who this week was appointed to head the new combined qualifications agency Quanca, has argued that the promotion of British values should be a key concept of citizenship education. Academics are reluctant to go down this path. "I'm not convinced that schools in this country should be trying to put across a sense of British or English identity," said Graham Haydon, who runs an MA in values in education at the Institute of Education, London.
Others see the link with religious education as problematic. "The attraction of citizenship in values education is an attraction of secularity - that you can have an all-embracing values education that is called citizenship and that gets you away from talking about religion. And I don't buy that," said Andy Hudson, a postgraduate certificate in education course leader for secondary school teachers at the Institute of Education.
Teacher trainers also argue that requirements for hours spent in specific subject areas and in school have left no room for cross-curricular themes. "We have little time to do anything other than introduce citizenship and let people know that this does exist," said Keith Morrison senior lecturer of Durham University's primary teacher PGCE course.
Lack of time has emerged as a key issue in the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community. SCAA created the forum last year to develop consensus around a moral framework for schools. Dr Tate has promoted it as the groundwork for the possible introduction of citizenship into the curriculum when the moratorium on change is lifted in 2000.
Madeleine Arnot, professor of education at Cambridge, served on the initial teacher training subgroup of the forum. She said that members of the group argued vigorously for clearer links between curriculum reform and teacher training reform. "We were very keen that SCAA and TTA started talking about this issue together to see what could be done," she said.
Forum participants see little evidence of the two agencies working together. "We've got this awkward division between SCAA and the TTA. SCAA can only make recommendations to the TTA, and meanwhile the TTA goes on its own agenda," said Mr Haydon.
The TTA agenda seems unlikely to address cross-curricular themes in the near future. Its focus on effective subject preparation in the statutory subjects has led to the development of the first national curriculum in initial teacher training. The first phase is expected to be launched in mid-February.
But Anthea Millett, chief executive of the TTA, said that the agency believed that teachers have a role to play in encouraging pupils' "spiritual awareness and moral insight, and their civic responsibility". She added: "We are committed to working jointly with SCAA and others, as and when appropriate, and have welcomed their participation in the development of the national curriculum for initial teacher training, which will soon be released for consultation."
A TTA spokesperson said: "If the secretary for education and employment accepts the advice we're sending her on the outcome of the forum, the next step will be piloting sample material on citizenship. There isn't any question of doing anything of a statutory nature until the moratorium is lifted."
But there are few models for effective training in citizenship education. "You need to train teachers in intellectual reasoning skills to deal with a topic like citizenship. You want them to deal with the contemporary controversies around it, not just have a code or a set of values," said Dr Arnot.
CONCEPT MAKES TRAINEES UNCOMFORTABLE
Trainee teachers are confused and ambivalent about the concept of citizenship, according to a Cambridge University survey.
Last year less than 10 per cent of a sample of 375 secondary student teachers in England and Wales said they felt comfortable teaching aspects of education for citizenship. Many felt citizenship to be a value-laden and inappropriate concept to impose on multicultural classrooms. "All the connotations to citizenship we have in society are very middle class - I'll be a good citizen and play cricket, that type of thing - it has no relevance to most people," wrote one male student.
Madeleine Arnot, who led the survey with Gabrielle Ivinson, said it showed trainee teachers had a high level of awareness of the complexity of citizenship studies: "They realise how pluralistic our society is, and the range of issues they would have to face in school. They were also well aware of the dangers of imposing your own values on children." If students lack a clear definition of what is meant by citizenship education, so do its promoters. "It has a very ambiguous status in this whole debate," added Dr Arnot.