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."