Education: Citizenship — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 14 January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 3:15, 14 January 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they propose to enhance the amount and quality of citizenship education in order to increase the democratic participation and engagement of young citizens.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, citizenship is a compulsory subject in maintained secondary schools. The new programme of study ensures that teaching is directed towards how our country is governed rather than the more issues-based content that dominated the former programme of study. This will help prepare pupils to play a full and active part in society. We will continue to promote resources for schools, such as the democratic engagement resource, Rock Enrol!

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he not agree that engaging in today’s hyper-complex, democratically challenged society, particularly for less able pupils, requires an absolute minimum of knowledge and the will to engage? What does he think of the effect, by contrast, of 56% of our schools—all free schools and academies—not even having to teach citizenship; of the rest not being Ofsted-inspected, vis-à-vis citizenship education; and of the number of specialist teachers teaching citizenship for examinations and pupils taking it being in freefall?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

All academies and free schools are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and we trust academies to teach citizenship and prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain. I am sure that my noble friend will be delighted to hear that under this Government the number of pupils taking the full course of GSCE citizenship has more than doubled.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

Does the Minister agree that it is first important to define what we mean by “democracy”? Is he aware of programmes that begin in primary schools, such as UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools? I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF. These programmes encourage pupils to be aware of others’ and their own rights and responsibilities. Is he also aware that school councils, which are fundamental to this, are considered important and vital in encouraging citizenship?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Baroness is quite right that these programmes are excellent. We have established a group of citizenship experts to help advise schools on such programmes. They produce a comprehensive resource digest, which is online, to link them to organisations such as the Citizenship Foundation, Parliament, the UN and Debate Mate.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the young people highlighted by the I Will campaign, who have so ably demonstrated the impact that young people can have in transforming their own communities?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. Active citizenship is an essential part of the citizenship national curriculum and all students should have the opportunity of participating in volunteering.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

Does the Minister welcome the initiative of the organisation Bite the Ballot, of which I am proud to be the honorary president, in enthusing young people—not us, but the young themselves? On 5 February it has its national voters’ registration day, when it hopes to register a quarter of a million young people, so that they are able to vote in the coming general election.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with my noble friend’s sentiment. This Government have funded five organisations to test new approaches to improve registration levels and democratic engagement, including funding UK Youth in this regard.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, on democratic participation, do we not in this House have a big advantage over young people coming on to the register? During our lifetimes, we have been able to participate in general elections on average once every three years and 10 months, whereas the upcoming generation, thanks to legislation by this Government, will be able to take part in a general election only once every five years. A simple decision that could be made to increase the possibility of democratic participation by young people would be to scrap these wretched five year fixed-term Parliaments.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I entirely agree that the noble Lord will have participated in more elections than young people.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to improve the quality of financial education in schools?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, for the first time, the national curriculum is making financial literacy a statutory part of citizenship education. Pupils learn the importance of budgeting, the sound management of money, credit and debt, and gain an understanding of different financial services and products. The curriculum in maths has been strengthened to enable pupils to make financial decisions and understand percentages. Moreover, we are promoting materials produced by the financial education charity PFEG, and by HMRC.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, at a time when we are seriously concerned about the radicalisation of young people in schools, and when we know that children are very concerned about what they are seeing on television, what work is being done with the Home Office to ensure that these issues are clearly covered in citizenship education in schools?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I can assure the noble Baroness that we have an active programme of co-operation with the Home Office to ensure that these matters are covered and that young people are not subject to radicalisation.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that education for democracy should not merely be about the mechanics of the political and governmental system, but should permeate the curriculum extensively? For example, the study of literature should assist young people to discern whether language is being used with integrity and should illuminate the nature of responsible choice. Does the Minister also agree that good teachers understand this very well, but that teachers in all schools need the professional autonomy, encouragement and practical scope to use that understanding in their own way?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I entirely agree with the noble Lord. The knowledge of citizenship is part of the core cultural capital that all students need in order to progress. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made a very good exposition about the difference between social mobility and relative social mobility in a debate last week. Under this Government, the number of pupils who are receiving this core cultural education has gone up by more than 60%, and I am delighted by the noble Lord’s support for the autonomy that we provide under the academies programme.