Starting young to become good citizens

HAVE the schoolkids of today got what it takes to become model citizens of the future?New lessons are underway this term at Suffolk schools, to teach citizenship - and help children understand the rights and responsibilities they have as members of society.

By Tracey Sparling

HAVE the schoolkids of today got what it takes to become model citizens of the future?

New lessons are underway this term at Suffolk schools, to teach citizenship - and help children understand the rights and responsibilities they have as members of society.

In Local Democracy Week Tracey Sparling asks why children need to be taught, to grow up wanting to make a difference.

ALMOST every other country in Europe teaches it, and today Suffolk youngsters are getting their first lessons in it.

Citizenship is a quality that can be taught, according to education leaders who are trying to make sure the youth of today grow into an adulthood marked by decency and responsibility.

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The common complaint about 'the youth of today' having no respect for their elders, could be set to be a thing of the past, because the new Citizenship Studies lessons work on the basis that everyone harbours the potential to transform into someone their community would be proud of.

Youngsters might point to Geri Halliwell's emergence from lairy Spice Girl to sleek UN ambassador, or say David Beckham's has gained a respected position for his family values as well as on the pitch.

Such modern-day heroes are role models for the community, and that's not a bad starting point, as long as pupils focus on the values they epitomise, according to Carol Garrett.

As Suffolk County Council's citizenship coordinator, she has been preparing for the launch of the lessons for the past three years.

Suffolk teachers have been on trips to Latvia, Vancouver, France and are due to visit Ghana in a bid to discover how different cultures instil a sense of citizenship.

Mrs Garrett said they will teach three things; social and moral responsibility which schools always taught, knowledge of ways to make a difference like joining Greenpeace or the importance of the ballot box, and community involvement.

One project has already seen children at Chalkstone Middle School in Haverhill looking into why people complained about pupils' behaviour loitering outside the school gates. The result was a survey of fellow pupils, and a litter problem was resolved by working with the council to get a bin installed. Now a £3,000 grant has been won to improve the area.

Claydon High School has also embarked on a litter project.

Carol said: "Practical involvement is the important bit. It's about taking things further than the classroom and encouraging young people to do something to help in the locality.

"Pupils will look at issues, including bullying, and how asylum seekers have rights as citizens of the area, and what responsibilities come with such rights.

"They are being encouraged to think philosophically, and gain a clearer understanding of what role in society, and rekindle a sense of social responsibility which has perhaps been lost in today's more diverse world.

"Success depends on how schools tackle it. There is evidence to show that when young people feel more involved their behaviour improves and standards go up."

But she admitted it would be difficult to assess how much pupils had learned.

"You can test pupils to see if they know how to contact their MP for example, but the way to measure how much they participate in the community will be by the pupil producing a portfolio. They might have taken part in a Duke of Edinburgh award for example. For the GCSE, which will be sat for the first time in 2004, 40 per cent of the grade will be based on practical experience and community involvement."

Not all schools will put pupils in for the exam that year, but it has become a compulsory element of the national curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds since last month.

Some schools will teach it by organising special events - like one school which held a day for Year Nine students on the Criminal Justice System - and others will run weekly lessons, or introduce it as a new element across the existing range of lessons. It is also being taught in some primary schools.


Typical Citizenship lesson topics include:

Should being British mean the same to everyone?

What do you do if a friend is being bullied at school?

What's the point in voting?

Should you buy fashionable trainers if they are made by a company using child labour?

The EU should have a single language if it is function properly

Your friends have been going to the pub to drink, should you join in?

At Needham Market Middle School, personal and social development and new citizenship lessons combined, have seen pupils making a difference in the community, and questioning in the classroom.

The school has also entered the High Sheriff's Award as a result of its efforts.

From bullying, and anti-social behaviour, to adopting telephone boxes in the town, a range of topics are being covered.

Coordinator Peter Gunter said role models including Roy Keane and Dvaid Beckham could be looked at in future.

He said: "The pupils seem to be really enjoying it and we are working hard at it. This will be something which will develop and grow.

"We are encouraging them to ask questions and think about issues because a lot of what they see is heavily influenced by the media and they need to make up their own minds.

"For example, they said Ian Huntley was a criminal at first until I said we haven't heard all the facts yet, and what about the women hitting the van he was in –are they criminals? Then it wasn't all so black and white.

"We could look at how Roy Keane has portrayed himself, and David Beckham. We also invite visitors in like our local police officers and theatre groups."

Anna Bjornson, ten, said: "We looked at what things upset us and why, and saw a show called Clare's Clothes by a visiting theatre group. The lessons are about things which affect us personally."

Alex Gerrard, aged ten, said: "We put on our own show to the whole class, about bullying, which was good."

Pia Walton said, ten, said: "I go to an after school club called Cool Kids Who care from 3.30pm and 4.30pm. I have enjoyed learning about crime prevention and we also did recycling."

Matthew Reason, 11, said: "We had a play about stopping burglars because we had been talking about distraction burglaries."

Andrew Dorling, aged ten, said: "I've enjoyed all of it."

Year Eight pupil Lindsey Rumbell, 12, said: "I really want to be a police officer when I'm older, so I have really enjoyed the lessons.

"We have learned all sorts of things, like who puts things right after a crime, and that 95pc of crimes are done by men. I think Ian Huntley is the worst criminal, and the sniper in America."

Sam Petersen, 12, said he had enjoyed the lessons, and said: "We have looked at what breaks the law, as well."

What the experts say:

"Many young people want to make a difference and create a just world.

"Since racism is a major barrier to citizenship participation, anti-racism needs to be a central aspect of citizenship in schools," said Professor Audrey Osler, director of the Centre for Citizenship Studies in Education.

"Research is beginning to show that active participation in more democratic school communities releases energy that has the potential to transform both individual learning and the whole school ethos, and is associated with higher attainment and lower exclusion," said Derry Hannam of the Phoenix Education Trust who studied the impact of student participation.

"Research with young people, teachers and headteachers reveals that schools and community organisations have untapped potential to positively influence the preparation of young people for participation in their communities.

"Schools that model democratic practices are most effective in promoting students' civic knowledge and engagement," said David Kerr national research co-ordinator for the International Citizenship Education study. The survey studied more than 80,000 14-year-olds in 28 countries.

"Citizenship offers all schools the opportunity to celebrate their communities. This exciting strategy enriches the curriculum and empowers pupils as active citizens," said Sara Davies, citizenship co-ordinator at a school in Billingham.

"It is difficult to conceive of pupils as active citizens if their experience of learning in citizenship education has been predominantly passive." - the Crick Report, 1998.

"We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally – for people to think of themselves as active citizens…with the critical capacities to weigh evidenced before speaking and acting…and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves."

"I have gained self-pride and confidence. My eyes have been opened to a world I knew nothing about," said Jill Archbold, winner of the Motorola Youth Parliament competition in 2001.

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