BHA argues for importance of Citizenship Education as subject appears under threat

20 December, 2011

Yesterday saw the publication of a report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review and summary of the call for evidence that took place earlier this year. One of the main conclusions is that Citizenship Education may be relegated to the looser ‘basic curriculum’ with no compulsory programmes of study or attainment targets. The British Humanist Association (BHA), in its response to the review, argued that ‘Citizenship Education should be maintained within the National Curriculum. The subject has an important role imparting knowledge and understanding of human rights, civic responsibilities, democracy and the rule of law. It is essential to enable all children from a range of backgrounds to participate fully in a free and open society.’

In addition to Citizenship Education, the BHA argued that Religious Education (RE) and Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education – including Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) – should become part of the National Curriculum. The BHA also emphasised the importance of teaching the scientific method and the value of science, and that evolution should be added to the primary curriculum.

The two new reports found that:

  • On RE, 41% of those who responded to question 22 (which provided space for comments about curriculum subjects) also argued that RE should be added to the National Curriculum, however the expert panel argued that ‘religious education in maintained schools should, as now, follow locally agreed guidelines.’
  • On PSHE and SRE, 32% of those who responded to question 22 similarly argued that PSHE should be added. This was supported by the expert panel, who while noting that PSHE is out of their remit, argued that ‘continuity in provision for personal and social education is important throughout the stages of schooling… [PSHE’s importance concerns] the fundamental educational interaction between subject knowledge and individual development.’
  • On evolution, there is as yet no mention on whether it will be added to the primary curriculum.
  • On science, the summary report states that ‘The key issues emerging from [the] evidence included: … the importance of teaching ideas about science (principles and concepts of scientific enquiry) as well as ideas of science (substantive course content across the disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics)’.
  • On Citizenship Education, the summary report found that 56% of those who responded to question 15a believe that the subject should continue to be part of the National Curriculum, with 35% believing it shouldn’t. The report notes that this is less support than shown for other subjects, and the expert panel concludes that ‘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. We therefore recommend that it be reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum.’

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are disappointed that there is not the support we had hoped for on RE or evolution, but we are particularly concerned about Citizenship Education, which we now perceive to be under serious threat of heading in the wrong direction.

‘Citizenship Education is vitally important for ensuring that young people are equipped with the knowledge to enable them to take their place in society as mature, responsible adults. We would have particular concerns that, if Citizenship Education is relegated to the basic curriculum, ‘faith’ schools will be able to put their own slant on the teaching of equalities and human rights. We will continue to argue for the importance of Citizenship Education this as the Curriculum Review progresses.’


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Religious Education, Sex and Relationships Education and countering creationism.

Read the BHA’s response to the National Curriculum Review Call for Evidence.

Read the Department for Education’s Summary report of the call for evidence, the report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum Review, and the written ministerial statement on the review.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.