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

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The post-Brexit power vacuum is hindering the battle against climate change

Brexit turmoil should not distract from the enormity of the task ahead.

“The UK will not step back from that international leadership [on clean energy]”, the Secretary for climate change, Amber Rudd, told a sea of suits at Wednesday's summit on Business and the environment.

The setting inside London’s ancient Guidlhall helped load her claims with a sense of continuity. But can such rhetoric be believed? Not only have recent events thrown the UK's future ability to lead on climate change into doubt, but a closer look at policy suggests that this government has rarely been leading to start with.

Rudd’s speech came just 24 hours before she laid the order of approval for the UK’s fifth Carbon Budget. This budget will set our 2028-2032 emissions target at a 57 per cent reduction on 1990 levels – in line with the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change. And comes amidst a party-wide attempt to reassure green business that Britain is open as normal: "I think investors now should feel they have a very clear path ahead," Andrea Leadsom has insisted.

In some respects, those wanting to make the case for an independent UK, could not have wished for a better example than the home-grown carbon budget. The budget is the legal consequence of the UK’s ground-breaking domestic 2008 Climate Change Act, which aims to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. And the new 57 per cent interim target also appears to put the UK ahead of European efforts on the matter - exceeding the EU goal of a 40 per cent emissions reduction.

The announcement will thus allow David Cameron to argue that he has fulfilled his husky-loving promise to provide leadership on the environment. He may even make it the basis for an early ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, ahead of the European bloc as a whole.

Yet looked at more closely, the carbon budget throws the UK’s claims to climate leadership into serious doubt.

In the short term, its delayed, last moment, release is a dispiriting example of Westminster’s new power-vacuum. Business leaders, such as those at yesterday’s conference, are crying out for “consistent, coherent and predictable national policies” on climate change and emissions reductions. Yet today’s carbon budget can only go so far to maintaining the pretence of stability.

Earlier this week, Amber Rudd responded to a parliamentary question into how Brexit will effect the UK’s climate ambitions with a link to none other than the Prime Minister’s resignation speech. And while concrete progress on policy will have to wait for party-political power struggles politics to run their course, historic Tory hostility to green policy makes progressive change far from certain.

Supporters of Brexiteer Boris Johnson may have played down his opposition to action on climate change in recent days, quipping that he would sooner be “kebabbed with a steak knife over the dining room table” by his environmentalist father. But the recent appointment of UKIP’s Mark Reckless, from a party notorious for its climate scepticism, as the new chairman of the Welsh committee on climate change has sent shock waves through the environmental community and will do little to help allay investor fears.

More concerning still is the 47 per cent shortfall between emission targets and present reality. A progress report released today is damning evidence of the Conservative's long-term neglect of the underlying issues.

Such censure builds upon the findings of a recent study from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. Far from leading Europe’s major nations on issues of energy and climate change, their research finds the UK to be distinctly middle of the pack. “Of the ‘Big Five’ economies with comparable levels of population size, GDP, ect., Britain ranks third, behind France and Spain but ahead of Italy and Germany”, write authors Matt Finch and Dr Jonathan Marshall.

A significant number of incentives for government action – such as fines for not meeting interim targets on energy efficiency – would also be nullified in the instance of Brexit. And it cannot even be claimed that our long-term ambition is greater than Europe’s: the UK’s target is an 80 per cent cut between 1990-2050, and the EU’s is 80-95 per cent.

News that the manufacturing giant Siemens is suspending new investment into its UK-based offshore wind operations could thus be set to prove symptomatic of a wider trend. And ministers must act fast to turn promises into policy.

Even  Michael Gove - the man who once wanted to take climate change off the curriculum – now describes as one of the world’s greatest challenges. While according  to the new shadow secretary for energy and climate change, Barry Gardiner: “The government can no longer wait until December to publish its Carbon Plan. It must do so now.”  

Included in such a plan should be clarification of the UK’s relationship to European emissions trading, the development of a Carbon Capture & Storage strategy, and urgent action on heating and transport efficiency. The 5th Carbon Budget is an important step towards this process but Brexit turmoil should not distract from the enormity of the task ahead. Nor from the damning fragility of Cameron’s environmental legacy to date.

 

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.