Written evidence submitted by Don Rowe

Formerly director of Curriculum Resources at the Citizenship Foundation and leader of the DfES National CPD Training Programme in Citizenship Education 2003-5. Now a writer on teaching Values and Moral Education. 


1. Summary of the arguments

1.1              Education for Citizenship is a vital element of the purpose of education in this country[1] and indeed, in any pluralist, democratic state. It was finally introduced as an entitlement for all pupils in 2000 but it remains poorly taught in too many schools, minimally supported by government agencies and by diminishingly low levels of specialist teacher training.


1.2              Citizenship education can be effectively ignored by schools who do not wish to give it the support it needs to be taught well. It is not properly inspected as a National Curriculum subject should be and academies are not required to teach it at all.  This is unacceptable, short-sighted and undermines government’s own policy statements on its importance. Citizenship education is key to the state’s counter radicalisation strategy but recent policies have reduced its effectiveness.


1.3       Even when schools include it in their curriculum programmes, it may well be taught by non-specialist teachers and Ofsted has regularly commented on the poor standards of citizenship teaching by generalist form tutors when they are required to include it in PSHEE programmes. Such non-specialists should not have to teach a subject of this complex and demanding nature. We should have specialist teachers fulfilling this role.


1.4       Citizenship Education needs to be politically neutral, which is why it is unlawful for teachers to promote partisan views in class. In recent years, there has been an observable trend for government departments and political parties to develop partisan teaching materials which breach the spirit of the Education Act 1996 which requires teaching of citizenship education to be balanced and non-partisan. Specific examples can be offered where the Ministry of Defence has twice produced material of this kind which citizenship experts have regarded as misleading, politically biased, and in breach of the DfE’s own guidelines for both history and citizenship.


1.5       There has been an established doctrine that the government does not directly produce or recommend learning resources but this has been breached in recent years by the kind of documents referred to above. This is a worrying trend. Citizenship Education was introduced with all-party support and is very important to the health of our democratic life, not to mention a key tool in the struggle against extremist ideologies. If governments of any political persuasion take advantage of their position to produce and promote partisan learning resources in support of their own programmes or policies, then a very serious constitutional safeguard will have been eroded.



2.               The Role of Citizenship Education in a democracy

2.1              It surprises many international advocates of civic or citizenship education, that in England, this subject has only been compulsory since 2000. ‘Good citizenship’ has long been accepted as an important strand of education but, for many years in this country, no systematic attempts were made to teach about the nature of democratic societies or promote the values and skills which a healthy pluralist democracy requires. Since its introduction, the importance of citizenship education in maintaining our democratic lifestyle and countering radical extremism has been reiterated by Prime Ministers and by successive Secretaries of State[2]. In particular, schools play a central role in introducing young people of all faiths to life in the public sphere where they need to develop the skills and attitudes to debate controversial issues and reach acceptable compromises based on the rights of all citizens to freedom of conscience and belief. These are core values which underpin public life – so called ‘British Values’. But these do not develop by accident; they need to be skilfully nurtured and reinforced at every level of school life, beginning with the primary school.

2.2              When Citizenship Education was introduced, Professor Sir Bernard Crick who led the committee which produced the recommendations[3], was at very great pains to ensure that there was an all-party consensus on the value of ensuring that all pupils are taught citizenship education in a fair and balanced way and to an acceptable standard. This paper argues that recent developments are placing this consensus at risk.

2.3               Firstly, citizenship education is not given the importance it should have by many schools. For whatever reason, the fact remains that since its inception, Ofsted has repeatedly pointed to unacceptably low standards of teaching in many schools, especially where non-specialist form tutors are asked to teach the subject as part of the ‘pastoral curriculum’.  Form tutors should not be required to teach such a challenging and politically sensitive subject as citizenship education. 

2.4              Secondly, because academies are allowed to opt out of the National Curriculum, citizenship education is in practice, not being taught in many schools. Like RE, citizenship should be compulsory in all schools, whether maintained or academies. A key part of the curriculum is the ’rights and responsibilities of citizenship’. Young people have an entitlement to be taught about these rights and responsibilities and many schools are denying them this entitlement. The state has a moral and political duty to teach its citizens about their rights and duties. It is seriously failing in its duty to do that at the present time.

2.5              Thirdly, with the rise of faith schools, education for life in a pluralist democracy has become critically important [4]. Schools should be inspected not only on the extent to which they protect students from radicalisation, but any school in receipt of state funding should be inspected on the proactive steps  it takes to teach democracy. I would argue that the positive transmission of democratic attitudes and values through the curriculum and through the life and ethos of our schools is the best defence against radicalisation and the single most effective way of reaching all young people in the country.

2.6              A crucially important element in the teaching of good quality citizenship education is an adequate supply of properly trained and committed teachers. When citizenship education was introduced there was what some regarded as a half-hearted attempt to produce a good-sized cohort of trained citizenship teachers, (though it never was large enough to produce one specialist trained citizenship teacher per secondary school, when attrition rates were factored in[5]). Since then even this meagre supply of specialists has dwindled significantly. It is not good practice, or fair on non-specialists, to ask them to take lessons involving highly sensitive and controversial issues requiring a good depth of knowledge and understanding.


3.              The unacceptability of direct promotion by governments of partisan materials into the Citizenship Curriculum

3.1              For Citizenship Education to achieve its aim of encouraging young people to develop a commitment to the common good, and to have a healthy and informed respect for other people’s ideas and values, Citizenship Education needs to be a protected space where teachers can offer students a balance of views, develop their critical faculties and nurture the ability to think for themselves. Where something is controversial in the public sphere, it should also be treated as controversial in the citizenship curriculum. Parents are entitled under the European Convention of Human Rights not to have schools undermine their private values and beliefs, where these are not anti-democratic or criminal.[6] So citizenship teachers need to be confident, skilled and well trained. Further, citizenship resources need to present issues in an appropriately balanced way.

3.2              In 2008, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), for its own reasons, produced a booklet aimed at the Citizenship Curriculum. It offered, in effect, an apology for the military’s intervention in the Gulf War which many educationists regarded as misleading and biased.[7]  The NUT complained to the Secretary of State, Mr Ed Balls, about the booklet. Mr Balls replied invoking a doctrine which has been in place in this country for a very long time. He said, "I am sure you are aware my department does not promote or endorse specific resources or methods of teaching for use in schools but I appreciate you drawing this to my attention." Mr Balls added that he had instructed his officials "to take this matter up" with the MoD. 

3.3              Notwithstanding this, in 2014, the MoD produced another booklet entitled ‘The British Armed Forces’[8].  This time, in breach of the above convention, it was jointly promoted by ministers from the MoD and the DfE.[9]  In the words of the joint press release, ‘The new initiative aims to inform and educate [my emphasis] both schoolchildren and teachers about the work of the British armed forces. The resource, hosted from its own website, covers students from the ages of 5 to 16 and is designed to be used as part of teaching in English, history and citizenship lessons.”  The press release is specifically described as from ‘Ministry of Defence, Anna Soubry MP, Department for Education; Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street’.


3.4              That this initiative had the backing of Downing Street is clear from the tone of the Prime Minister's opening remarks about the military's 'incredibly proud history' (p1) and the claim that our Armed Forces are the 'finest and the bravest in the world'. There are multiple grounds on which to criticise this booklet as an educational tool – they are too numerous to list here. In places the text appears to be openly disingenuous. In a section on the Cadets, for example, the booklet dismisses the idea that school cadet forces are at least partly about recruitment. This is directly contradicted by the government's own documentation. Hand in hand with this, a large number of inflated claims pepper the publication. For example, on page 8 military personnel are described as 'twice the citizens' that others are and that to improve their ethos schools should employ ex-soldiers because they know about self-discipline and self-respect. (The army is not noted for the way it encourages self-discipline.) Further, Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence, claims that ‘throughout our society, the military ethos is a golden thread that can be an example of what is best about our nation and helps it improve everything it touches. This is a purely personal opinion presented as fact.


3.5              A number of controversial issues are touched on in the booklet which are not handled in a politically balanced way. For example, on the use of nuclear weapons, the booklet tells students that ‘some argue the West’s nuclear weapons have saved millions of lives and billions of pounds by preventing major war from the 1960s to the 1980s’.  This is true – some do argue this, but some do not and the booklet does not inform students about alternative viewpoints on this issue. 


3.6              Many of the so-called learning tasks attached to this booklet are, in my judgement which is based on over forty years of writing teaching materials, entirely inappropriate for use in school classrooms. Some of them appear to me to have been lifted from a cadet curriculum and do not seem to have been processed by any teaching professional[10]. For example, a question on section 3, The Work of the Armed Forces today' asks students to: ‘ […] Devise a plan for how to go to war. Include how you will get there, what equipment and people you will need.’  Apart from the controversial nature of such a question, nothing in the booklet prepares students to answer questions of this kind. No teachers, apart from one or two ex-military personnel who have been part of the ‘troops to teachers’ programme, were involved in the writing or development of this resource, and no schools took part in any trialling or evaluation prior to publication to ensure its quality or fitness for purpose.


3.7              Patriotism itself is a controversial issue in schools. There are weak forms of patriotism, which include encouraging students to take an interest in society and the welfare of its citizens, which are entirely appropriate and are, indeed, an important component of education for democracy. But government-sponsored, uncritical messages about national and international policy are controversial. Uncritical patriotism, according to Michael Hand, a respected educational philosopher,[11] has no place in the citizenship curriculum of an open, democratic country.


3.8              It is perfectly legitimate, even desirable, that the role of the armed forces, and their accountability, be included in the citizenship curriculum. But where there are legitimate controversial issues concerning the military, they should be acknowledged as controversial in the classroom. If not, then students will be misled, deceived and manipulated.


3.9              It is of considerable concern that the convention elaborated by Ed Balls to the NUT in 2008 has been breached by the present government for its own purposes and teachers have been directly encouraged by the DfE to teach in a way which breaches the guidelines of both citizenship and history. It is of concern to me that there is no longer an arms-length curriculum body providing any kind of brake on governments who might wish to undermine the neutrality of the citizenship curriculumIn the case of the British Armed Forces booklet, according to the branding agency which produced it, the initial impetus for the booklet came from Downing Street[12]. Not only were ministers in both departments thoroughly enthusiastic about the qualities of the booklet, at least one senior DfE official is acknowledged for his involvement.  It is possible that officials may have had personal or professional misgivings but, if they did, they were evidently unable to persuade ministers of the educational pitfalls inherent in the publication. When I queried the breach of the arms-length doctrine, I was disingenuously told that the DfE was merely bringing the existence of the booklet to teachers’ attention and that the Department trusted teachers to exercise their own judgement in whether to use it. The department denied breaching any legal guidelines and strictly speaking this is true because currently the legislation only requires teachers to be balanced in their approaches. Arguably, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.


3.9              Is it not time to enshrine the neutrality of the citizenship curriculum in additional legislation which would prevent the direct political compromising and undermining of Citizenship Education either by government departments or by political parties?  (The Conservative Party also has form – it promoted a so-called educational booklet for schools about citizenship in the run-up to the recent General Election[13].)  I believe these are indications of a slippery slope tending in a very unfortunate direction and action by an all-party Parliamentary watchdog seems to be the best way of preventing this from becoming routinely acceptable.


3.10              There are acceptable and ethical ways for the Army to recruit - direct propagandising to captive school audiences, whether primary or secondary, is not one of them. This practice should be curbed by law given the lack of other safeguards.  The Ministry of Defence undertakes many thousands of school visits every year.  Many are to take part in careers fairs where the ground rules are clear - but many others are classroom sessions. These are often at the instigation of teachers in furtherance of pupils civic knowledge. However, to the military, such activities have two declared outcomes: to ensure the continued support of the population; and recruitment of the young men and women that are key to future sustainment and success.[14] There is a mismatch here and it seems to me to be important that legally enforceable guidelines should be developed setting out what approaches may and may not be used in classrooms led by military personnel.


January 2016


[1] Schools following the National Curriculum must provide students with the ‘essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens’. National Curriculum Framework Document, 2014, p 6.

[2] E.g. Blair, T. (2006) ‘Our nation’s future: multiculturalism and integration’. Speech given at 10 Downing Street, 8th December 2006. Available at: http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page10563.asp (accessed 1st September 2010). And In her New Year message, Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, stated the development of active citizens as one of their priorities for 2016.

[3] Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools: Final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship, 1998.

[4] See for example, the outcome of the conference of European Education ministers following the terror attack in Paris in Jan 2015: ‘Education at the heart of Europe’s answer to tackle radicalisation’ http://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/news_events/education_tackle_radicalisatio.htm. Accessed 20th Jan. 2016.

[5] Based on a calculation by Jeremy Hayward, lecturer in Citizenship Education, Institute of Education, London.

[6] See, e.g. ‘Dealing with the British National Party and other radical groups: guidance for schools’  by Billy Crombie and Don Rowe. Published by the Citizenship Foundation and downloadable from http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/lib_res_pdf/1338.pdf.

[7]Iraq: teachers told to rewrite history. MoD accused of sending propaganda to schoolsby Richard Garner , education editor, Independent, Friday 14 March 2008

[8] To download a copy go to http://www.armedforceslearningresources.co.uk/

[9] To access a copy go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/armed-forces-learning

[10] The fact that no teachers were consulted was confirmed by a Parliamentary written statement to the House 13th October 2014. See http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2014-10-13/210168/

[11] Patriotism in Schools by Michael Hand. Article published in Impact no 19, the Journal of the  Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2048-416X.2011.00001.x/epdf

[12] See the press release of the branding agency which produced the booklet as a direct commission of the Prime Minister and proudly boasting of how the whole booklet was turned out in a month.  This is accessible at http://www.brandandsoul.co.uk/education-and-nonprofit/the-british-armed-forces.php.

[13] http://politicalscrapbook.net/2013/12/tory-propaganda-booklet-for-school-children/. I haven’t been able to see a complete original copy but the reviewer describes it as containing ‘pages and pages of blatantly party political material’.

[14] Youth Engagement Review, Ministry of Defence 2011