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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David Davis interview: The next Conservative leader will be someone nobody expects

The man David Cameron beat on why we should bet on a surprise candidate and what the PM needs to do after the referendum. 

“I’m tired,” says David Davis when I greet him. The former Conservative leadership candidate is running on three hours’ sleep after a Question Time appearance the night before. He is cheered, however, by the coverage of his exchange with Ed Miliband. “Which country would it be be like?” the former Labour leader asked of a post-EU UK. “The country we’re going to be like is Great Britain,” the pro-Brexit Davis retorted

The 67-year-old Haltemprice and Howden MP is at Hull University to debate constituency neighbour Alan Johnson, the head of the Labour In campaign. “As far as you can tell, it’s near to a dead heat,” Davis said of the referendum. “I think the run of events will favour Brexit but if I had to bet your salary, I wouldn’t bet mine, I’d place it on a very narrow victory for Brexit.”

Most economists differ only on how much harm a Leave vote would do. Does Davis believe withdrawal is justified even if it reduces growth? “Well, I think that’s a hypothetical question based on something that’s not going to happen ... One of the arguments for Brexit is that it will actually improve our longer-run economic position. In the short-run, I think Stuart Rose, the head of Remain, had a point when he said there would be very small challenges. In a few years probably nothing.

“The most immediate thing would likely be wage increases at the bottom end, which is very important. The people in my view who suffer from the immigration issue are those at the bottom of society, the working poor, which is why I bridle when people ‘oh, it’s a racist issue’. It’s not, it’s about people’s lives.”

More than a decade has passed since David Cameron defeated Davis by 68-32 in the 2005 Conservative leadership contest. The referendum has pitted the two men against each other once more. I asked Davis whether he agreed with the prime minister’s former strategist, Steve Hilton, that Cameron would be a Brexiter were he not in No.10.

“I think it might be true, I think it might be. When you are in that position you’re surrounded by lot of people: there’s the political establishment, the Whitehall establishment, the business establishment, most of who, in economic parlance, have a ‘sunk cost’ in the current set-up. If changes they stand to lose things rather than gain things, or that’s how they see it.

“Take big business. Big business typically gets markets on the continent, maybe distribution networks, supply networks. They’re going to think they’re all at risk and they’re not going to see the big opportunities that exist in terms of new markets in Brazil, new markets in China and so on, they’re naturally very small-C Conservative. Whitehall the same but for different reasons. If you’re a fast-track civil servant probably part of your career will be through the Commission or maybe the end of your career. Certainly in the Foreign Office. When I ran the European Union department in the Foreign Office, everybody wanted a job on the continent somewhere. They were all slanted that way. If all your advice comes from people like that, that’s what happens.”

Davis told me that he did not believe a vote to Leave would force Cameron’s resignation. “If it’s Brexit and he is sensible and appoints somebody who is clearly not in his little group but who is well-equipped to run the Brexit negotiations and has basically got a free hand, there’s an argument to say stability at home is an important part of making it work.”

He added: “I think in some senses the narrow Remain is more difficult for him than the narrow Brexit. You may get resentment. It’s hard to make a call about people’s emotional judgements under those circumstances.”

As a former leadership frontrunner, Davis avoids easy predictions about the coming contest. Indeed, he believes the victor will be a candidate few expect. “If it’s in a couple of years that’s quite a long time. The half life of people’s memories in this business ... The truth of the matter is, we almost certainly don’t know who the next Tory leader is. The old story I tell is nobody saw Thatcher coming a year in advance, nobody saw Major coming a year in advance, nobody saw Hague coming a year in advance, nobody saw Cameron coming a year in advance.

“Why should we know two years in advance who it’s going to be? The odds are that it’ll be a Brexiter but it’s not impossible the other way.”

Does Davis, like many of his colleagues, believe that Boris Johnson is having a bad war? “The polls say no, the polls say his standing has gone up. That being said, he’s had few scrapes but then Boris always has scrapes. One of the natures of Boris is that he’s a little bit teflon.”

He added: “One thing about Boris is that he attracts the cameras and he attracts the crowds ... What he says when the crowd gets there almost doesn’t matter.”

Of Johnson’s comparison of the EU to Hitler, he said: “Well, if you read it it’s not quite as stern as the headline. It’s always a hazardous thing to do in politics. I think the point he was trying to make is that there’s a long-running set of serial attempts to try and unify Europe not always by what you might term civilised methods. It would be perfectly possible for a German audience to turn that argument on its head and say isn’t it better whether we do it this way.”

Davis rejected the view that George Osborne’s leadership hopes were over (“it’s never all over”) but added: “Under modern turbulent conditions, with pressure for austerity and so on, the simple truth is being a chancellor is quite a chancy business ... The kindest thing for Dave to do to George would be to move him on and give him a bit of time away from the dangerous front.”

He suggested that it was wrong to assume the leadership contest would be viewed through the prism of the EU. “In two years’ time this may all be wholly irrelevant - and probably will be. We’ll be on to some other big subject. It’’ll be terrorism or foreign wars or a world financial crash, which I think is on the cards.”

One of those spoken of as a dark horse candidate is Dominic Raab, the pro-Brexit justice minister and Davis’s former chief of staff. “You know what, if I want to kill somebody’s chances the thing I would do is talk them up right now, so forgive me if I pass on that question,” Davis diplomatically replied. “The reason people come out at the last minute in these battles is that if you come out early you acquire enemies and rivals. Talking someone up today is not a friendly thing to do.” But Davis went on to note: “They’re a few out there: you’ve got Priti [Patel], you’ve got Andrea [Leadsom]”.

Since resigning as shadow home secretary in 2008 in order to fight a by-election over the issue of 42-day detention, Davis has earned renown as one of parliament’s most redoubtable defenders of civil liberties. He was also, as he proudly reminded me, one of just two Tory MPs to originally vote against tax credit cuts (a record of rebellion that also includes tuition fees, capital gains tax, child benefit cuts, House of Lords reform, boundary changes and Syria).

Davis warned that that any attempt to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights would be defeated by himself and “a dozen” other Conservatives (a group known as the “Runnymede Tories” after the meadow where Magna Carta was sealed).

“They’ve promised to consult on it [a British Bill of Rights], rather than bring it back. The reason they did that is because it’s incredibly difficult. They’ve got a conundrum: if they make it non-compliant with the ECHR, it won’t last and some of us will vote against it.

“If they make it compliant with the ECHR it is in essence a rebranding exercise, it’s not really a change. I’d go along with that ... But the idea of a significant change is very difficult to pull off. Dominic Raab, who is working on this, is a very clever man. I would say that, wouldn’t I? But I think even his brain will be tested by finding the eye of the needle to go through.”

Davis is hopeful of winning a case before the European Court of Justice challenging the legality of the bulk retention of communications data. “It’s a court case, court cases have a random element to them. But I think we’ve got a very strong case. It was quite funny theatre when the ECJ met in Luxembourg, an individual vs. 15 governments, very symbolic. But I didn’t think any of the governments made good arguments. I’m lucky I had a very good QC. Our argument was pretty simple: if you have bulk data collected universally you’ve absolutely got to have an incredibly independent and tough authority confirming this. I would be surprised if the ECJ doesn’t find in my favour and that will have big implications for the IP [Investigatory Powers] bill.”

Davis launched the legal challenge in collaboration with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson. He has also campaigned alongside Jeremy Corbyn, last year travelling to Washington D.C. with him to campaign successfully for the release of Shaker Aamer, the final Briton to be held in Guantanamo Bay.

“I like Jeremy,” Davis told me, “but the long and the short of it is that not having been on the frontbench at all shows. I’m not even sure that Jeremy wanted to win the thing. He’s never been at the Despatch Box. He’s up against a PM who’s pretty good at it and who’s been there for quite a long time. He’s playing out of his division at the moment. Now, he may get better. But he’s also got an incredibly schismatic party behind him, nearly all of his own MPs didn’t vote for him. We had a situation a bit like that with Iain Duncan Smith. Because we’re a party given to regicide he didn’t survive it. Because the Labour Party’s not so given to regicide and because he’d be re-elected under the system he can survive it.”

At the close of our conversation, I returned to the subject of the EU, asking Davis what Cameron needed to do to pacify his opponents in the event of a narrow Remain vote.

“He probably needs to open the government up a bit, bring in more people. He can’t take a vengeful attitude, it’s got to be a heal and mend process and that may involve bringing in some of the Brexiters into the system and perhaps recognising that, if it’s a very narrow outcome, half of the population are worried about our status. If I was his policy adviser I’d say it’s time to go back and have another go at reform.”

Davis believes that the UK should demand a “permanent opt-out” from EU laws “both because occasionally we’ll use it but also because it will make the [European] Commission more sensitive to the interests of individual member states. That’s the fundamental constitutional issue that I would go for.”

He ended with some rare praise for the man who denied him the crown.

“The thing about David Cameron, one of the great virtues of his premiership, is that he faces up to problems and deals with them. Sometimes he gets teased for doing too many U-turns - but that does at least indicate that he’s listening.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.