The Con-Dem book burning

New government quietly deletes online education resource.

At the end of June, a highly regarded website for schools and teachers on the teaching of citizenship was quietly deleted by the new government, the NS has learned. It raises the question of how the government wants schools to teach children about such important topics as identity and diversity.

Two years after the London bombings of 7 July 2005, the then education secretary, Alan Johnson, commissioned a review of how schools teach citizenship. The review was led by Sir Keith Ajegbo, who was honoured after he retired in July 2006 as head teacher of Deptford Green School after 20 years at the helm.

In his report, Ajegbo found that there was much to be done in providing teachers with resources and training to include citizenship and diversity in their lessons. Among his recommendations was the creation of a high-profile national event, "Who Do We Think We Are?". "If we want education for diversity to work for better social cohesion, it has to be highlighted and made a priority," he noted.

The Who Do We Think We Are? scheme was duly launched in April 2008. It was put together by a consortium of partners including the Association for Citizenship Teaching, the Citizenship Foundation, the Historical Association, the Royal Geographical Society and the citizenship consultant Paula Kitching. It was also supported by key stakeholders, including the Schools Linking Network.

It was by no means a major drain on the Budget: the site was granted just £118,000 in its first year by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (which the new government rebranded the Department for Education in May with a funky new logo that has cost £9,000 so far). But after covering set-up costs in the first two years, the funding needed to keep the Who Do We Think We Are? scheme going was set to be even more meagre this year.

Vanished in "a matter of days"

At any rate, the project was a huge success, by any measure. Five hundred schools got involved in the first year; double that number did so last year. Those participating collapsed their timetables for between half a day and five days to run cross-curricular activities linked to the Who Do We Think We Are? themes of identity, diversity and citizenship.

In its first four months, the website had 24,000 unique visitors -- teachers mostly -- making use of a range of resources to help them bring citizenship and diversity into their teaching. One hundred and fifty-three primary and secondary schools undertook "school linking" activities in four local authority pilot areas: Barking and Dagenham, Bradford, Bristol and Cheshire, to foster closer links between schools. Fifty organisations from the education, arts and culture sectors -- for example, specialist subject associations, faith-based organisations and education charities -- became associates of the project, contributing learning resources to the online database and supporting its consultation and evaluation processes.

Carol Dixon, a heritage education consultant, was one of the project leaders who got the scheme off the ground in the first year. "I think it's a huge shame that they simply shut it down," she told the NS this week. "We know that, with the site closed, there are going to be an awful lot of teachers and schools that just won't have access to those resources."

Kitching worked on the project team as a freelance education consultant up until its closure. "The funding had already been radically reduced," she told us, "because much of the set-up work had been done. It really wasn't a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but in a matter of days the whole site had simply disappeared. I suspect it's just one of many things that disappeared in the same week the government got rid of the QCDA [Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency]."

"There were some brilliant projects run in schools," says Millicent Scott, development manager at the Association for Citizenship Teaching. "The funding was pulled with 30 days' notice, which I think is very disappointing news for schools. We'll be hosting some of the former resources, but we're not allowed to call it Who Do We Think We Are? any more, so it might not be easy for schools to find what we have been able to save."

All agreed that the scheme was proving hugely popular with schools and their teachers, despite the modest funding. "I think because it had that cross-curricular focus, with both the Historical Association and the Royal Geographical Society behind it, it helped lots of teachers find a route into the subject of citizenship and diversity without in any way undermining their own subjects," Dixon says.

Teaching with teeth

"Unlike some other projects like PREVENT [Preventing Violent Extremism], this was an education project with teeth," she adds, "because it was cross-curricular, touching on all these different things, like collectivism, identity, colonialism, patriotism: all these topics.

"Who Do We Think We Are? was truly valuable in a pedagogic way. It helped teachers teach about Britishness and identity, which I think is so important for young people -- how they interact with each other, in the workplace when they are older, and with society in general."

Kitching told us that the scheme was so successful in its first year that it was then that the Association for Citizenship Teaching and the Citizenship Foundation were brought in, taking the organisational stakeholder membership from three to five.

Dixon also says: "If the government looked at educational outcomes, learning outcomes, they could not see this as anything other than a success. The hits on the website, the 1,000 schools registered and the number of young people getting involved in the Who Do We Think We Are? Week were further proof of that."

We gave the Department for Education a week to comment on why the website was deleted despite its paltry maintenance costs, and why news of the end of funding for the scheme was not made public, other than a small notice on the defunct website. We are still waiting to hear back.

"It wouldn't take a lot to bring it back if the will was there," said Kitching. But according to the Association for Citizenship Teaching website, "The Department for Education has announced that it will not be taking forward further new plans for citizenship education at present."

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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