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Primary Education News
News The new citizenship curriculum: how to prepare for the changes
There's still a year until the updated citizenship curriculum comes into effect. So, what challenges do teachers face planning for a year in limbo?
Citizenship narrowly avoided the chop recently, but it's lived to fight another day in a radically different form.
Dissatisfaction still rages about many of the changes. Nevertheless, teachers will soon have to get to grips with the new curriculum.
In an unusual step, government 'disapplied' the existing curriculum, meaning teachers do not have to follow it for the coming academic year. Schools are not expected to receive details of the changes until several weeks into the new term and few will implement them until September 2014.
The Association for Citizenship Teaching (Act) recommends teachers continue with the old curriculum for this year, and introduce the new one for the 2014/15 academic year.
"The current curriculum is far and away better than the new one, so we are encouraging teachers to stick with the existing curriculum this year," says Chris Waller, professional officer at Act.
"When the new materials arrive in school, teachers need to look at them and think about the implications for their existing teaching, but they shouldn't rush to change."
One of the most controversial new elements is the introduction of personal finance, an area that many feel belongs in PSHE. While it offers an opportunity for cross-curricular work, it could entail additional training for teachers.
"I can see issues around finance as an area where we might work with other departments," says Helen Blachford, head of citizenship and PSHE at Priory School in Southsea, Portsmouth. "We might end up using some of the skills of the maths department." There are also concerns over the lack of a wider economic context to personal finance, she adds.
Will Bickford Smith, a Teach First graduate who teaches citizenship at Hatch End High School, an academy in Harrow, west London, agrees: "We're just coming out of the biggest economic crash for 100 years and, alongside the political and legal frameworks, it is important pupils understand the economic framework… I would still hope to teach about the economy, one way or another."
A second major area of concern is the lack of progression from key stages 3 to 4. For example, human rights has been removed from the key stage 3 curriculum.
"Key stage 4 seems to start by looking at international citizenship, whereas there is none of that from what I can see at key stage 3 – there's nothing to build on," says Blachford.
As a result, teachers may have to write new resources to fill the gaps, as well as the extra resources required for the curriculum itself. Teachers will also need to be more creative when initiating discussions on controversial topics as many reference points for debate have been stripped out of the new curriculum, Waller adds.
For some schools, going off piste to join the dots may be the best solution, particularly in academies, where exam board requirements rather than the national curriculum mark the teaching parameters.
Will Bickford Smith is already looking at ways to break out of the narrow confines of the new curriculum: "The national curriculum is the bare bones, but that doesn't mean you are not allowed to teach other concepts," he says.
"Teaching human rights is important, and if that doesn't end up on the final curriculum then so be it. But as a citizenship teacher I would certainly teach human rights in some form."
The new curriculum's emphasis on knowledge poses a further problem: how will pupils now learn the skills that were a key part of the old curriculum?
For Blachford, the answer lies in working with other departments. For example, critical thinking skills could be delivered alongside speaking and listening in English, she says.
"It is how we can make the subject as exciting as possible and skills development will be at the heart of that. It is is going to be a cross-curricular approach, certainly at key stage 3," Blachford adds.
Schools will also have to look at how to incorporate the new emphasis on community volunteering, which is replacing the previous focus on active citizenship. This shift risks losing active citizenship – one of the more valuable aspects of the subject – altogether, says Robert Ford, deputy head of Crickhowell High in Powys and a former assistant head Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, where he worked closely with the British Council on global citizenship work.
"The changes are prescriptive in teaching what the structures are, but not perhaps in teaching students how to be active citizens," he says. Schools will have to do this via alternative routes.
As well as the content, Waller says citizenship teachers will also have to get used to a new vocabulary. Just one element of the changes is the requirement that pupils are taught the importance of 'precious liberty'. "It's a difficult phrase which is difficult to decipher," he says. "The new curriculum contains similar sorts of unclear language which needs to be expressed in layman's terms."
Lack of attainment targets will also make it harder for teachers to distinguish good quality teaching and learning, he adds.
But the advantage of delaying introduction of the new curriculum is that it gives teachers time to prepare, Waller says. "Teachers should feel confident about what they're doing at the moment, become informed about the changes that are going to take place, and don't panic."
Act is aiming to put together briefings for teachers on the new curriculum, probably in the spring term. The latest information will be on its website, teachingcitizenship.org.uk. Local groups are also expected to start running twilight training sessions as the implementation date approaches.