The National Curriculum Review: The Importance of Annex 3

Written by Laura McInerney, Policy Development Partner

Nothing surprised me more in the National Curriculum Review than the following two sentences:

“Citizenship is of enormous importance in a contemporary and future-oriented education. However, we are not persuaded that study of the issues and topics included in citizenship education constitutes a distinct ‘subject’ as such”

Actually, that’s not true. I was not at all surprised that the group found Citizenship a difficult topic to grasp. The English education system did not include modern politics as a compulsory element until 2002 and as a nation we are always sceptical of ‘new’ subjects. 

But what did surprise me is that the authors who wrote of being 'not persuaded’ about Citizenship’s distinctiveness were also the authors of Annex 3 (p.65) – a table showing the curriculum followed in ‘high-performing’ countries. A table that the authors claim has been taken seriously in their decisions in the National Curriculum Review.

Annex 3 shows only a handful of subjects are studied in every country to the age of 16.  A first and second language, Maths, Science and PE are all required - in some places until 18.  The only other subject with such ubiquity?  ‘Civics’ or ‘Social studies’. It is mentioned in every single country as being compulsory to 16 – sometimes even 18.

What more could the experts need before being persuaded of a subject’s distinction than it being included as an essential element in the curriculum of every high-performing country? Maybe the experts lack of persuasion was because they didn't know what the subject entailed? If so, it's a very short google hop to the Singapore GCE O-Level Exam Specification for Humanities (with compulsory Citizenship section), or the New Zealand Social Studies standards, or the District of Massachusetts’ standards for History and Social Science.

How odd then to find the expert panel recommending Citizenship becomes non-prescribed ‘basic’ curriculum while provision for ‘Geography’ and ‘History’ should become a statutory 'foundation' to 16.  No reason at all is given for this move. It’s not based on Annex 3 – which even to my surprise shows several top countries barely teach these subjects – nor can it be premised on  Section 2.9 when it is noted geography was only introduced in response to the ‘rise of the merchant and manufacturing middle classes’ (p.14). It’s not even that I object to statutory provision of these subjects – I quite like it - but before a government accepts the recommendation of downgrading Citizenship they must at least seek an explanation of this bewildering logic leap otherwise it smacks of EBacc post-rationalisation.

Now, I fully expect to hear that because I am a Citizenship teacher I am protecting my own back. But having already taught 6 subjects, I can honestly say one subject falling by the wayside doesn’t bother me. If the Curriculum Review had done what Cameron said in PMQs – and focused only on Maths, English and Science before sending all other subjects to the wall – I would understand. If the review could point at other countries – and show the dismissal of social studies is a replication of high-achieving states – I would understand.  What I cannot get past is that the evidence for the importance of civics, social studies, integrated humanities – whatever you want to call it! – is staring the Expert Panel in the face and there is absolutely no explanation about why they have ignored it.

If every other country thinks learning about the government and its laws is a crucial piece of knowledge how can England think otherwise?

Furthermore, I don’t even think the Curriculum Review should save Citizenship. When looking at Annex 3 it's clear the best way for achieving a broad base of knowledge as the Review aims for is an integration of hmanities subjects under a ‘civics’ umbrella and make that subject statutory up to 16. Doing so would completely subsume Citizenship but it would ensure all students learn the basics about our past, our neighbours and our present society.  

With great naivety, I hope this is what the Expert Panel meant when they say Citizenship is not a ‘distinct’ subject; instead it should be part of a statutory and specified social studies curriculum running across a child’s schooling. Such compulsion is against my preferred principle of not prescribing subjects after 14, but that compulsion to 16 is what most others do – Annex 3 clearly shows this - and if we are truly learning from other countries we have to take the bits we don’t instinctively like as well as the bits we do.

What cannot be forgiven is if politics and law goes by the wayside in place of a non-justified creep towards History and Geography. Kings, queens, mountains and rivers are important. So are electoral systems, discrimination laws, and international aid.  And if you don’t believe me then read Annex 3 because the evidence is pretty clear.

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