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Samuel Marlow
Citizenship PGCE Assignment 1
How can the introduction of Citizenship address the issue of
underachievement and disengagement among ethnic
minority students?
The central argument of this essay is that the introduction of
Citizenship education to the national curriculum provides schools
and practitioners with a completely fresh opportunity to tackle
constructively the issue of British ethnic minority students’
underachievement and disengagement.
An examination of the
Citizenship programme of study shows that issues of identity,
diversity and social exclusion are addressed in a number of ways,
most explicitly through Part 1(b). At key stage 3 this element of
the programme of study of the key stage 3 programme of study
states that pupils should be taught about ‘the diversity of national,
religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need
for mutual respect and understanding.’1 At key stage 4, students
are to taught about the ‘origins and implications’2 of this diverse
range of identities. Those elements of the key stage 3 and 4
programmes of study that deal with politics, the criminal justice
system and the work of community groups can also be linked to the
issue of ethnic minority citizenship.
This essay details the previous, deeply flawed, approaches
formulated to address this issue, showing how they were seemingly
destined to fail. It analyses the changes that the introduction of
Citizenship will bring, both in terms of curriculum content and new
approaches to teaching and learning. In short, the essay seeks to
illustrate that innovative Citizenship teaching can avoid the
mistakes of the past and become one of the British education
system’s main weapons in combating one of its most persistent and
disturbing shortcomings.
The academic underachievement and disengagement of certain
groups of ethnic minority pupils has been a challenge that the
National Curriculum Citizenship programme of study, taken from
British education system has been facing for at least thirty years.
Arguably it has failed to engage with the issue in any positive or
meaningful way. Students (particularly boys) from a number of
established British ethnic minority groups, most notably students
from African Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Turkish
backgrounds, have consistently failed to fulfil their academic
potential. A range of recent research shows that underachievement
amongst certain ethnic minority groups is as serious an issue today
as it ever has been.
Gillborn and Mirza, having carried out
extensive research on the effects of race, class and gender on
academic achievement, believe the data they have collated clearly
illustrates that ‘there remain significant inequalities of attainment
between ethnic groups.’3
Closely linked to the issue of
underachievement amongst certain ethnic minority groups is
disengagement, a feeling on the part of these students that the
education system fails to address their needs and refuses to engage
with their own values and experiences. It could be conjectured,
although it is a controversial standpoint to adopt, that the majority
of ethnic minority students, even those students from traditionally
high-achieving ethnic minority groups, for example Chinese, Indian
and East African Asian students, may experience some sense of
disengagement as regards their schooling.
Consequently their
experience of education may not be as positive as it could be.
As has been previously stated, the British education system has
failed to deal positively with the issue of ethnic minority educational
underachievement and disengagement, although it has attempted
to address the issue through a number of strategies.
publication of the Swann Report, Education for All, in 1985,
heralded the first attempt to engage with the issue on a nation-wide
basis. The Swann Report is considered by Blair and Cole to have
‘made some of the most wide-ranging suggestions for education in
an ethnically diverse society.’4 Blair and Cole also highlight the
report’s somewhat naive assumption that ‘if children were taught
about each other and each other’s cultures, this would help to
reduce prejudice, especially among white children.’ 5 The Swann
Report’s proposals, when put into practice, resulted in the creation
of a programme of multicultural education. At the time of its
implementation, multicultural education was subject to intense
criticism from both the left and the right. Leftist critics attacked
‘the superficial line’6 taken by multicultural education, pointing to
the inadequacies of an approach in which ‘children learned about
Gillborn D and Mirza H (2000) Educational Inequality: Mapping Race, Class and Gender- A
synthesis of research evidence, taken from
Blair M and Cole C ‘Racism and Education: The Imperial Legacy’ in Cole M (ed.) (2000) Education,
Equality and Human Rights Routledge and Falmer: London, p.69.
Ibid., p.69.
Ibid., p.69.
the food, clothes and music of different countries without also
understanding the structural and institutional inequalities which had
been at the core of community campaigns.’7 They were also swift
to point out that multicultural education, in this limited form, was
likely to distance different groups of students from one another and
served, through a dangerously essentialist approach to the issue of
identity, to exoticize non-white student groups.
education did nothing to address the fundamental inequalities
perpetuated by racism thus it could not be seen as a serious
attempt to engage with the problems faced by many ethnic minority
Particularly damning criticism came from sociologist
Maureen Stone, who deemed multicultural education to be
‘‘conceptually unsound… its theoretical and practical implications
have not been worked out and it represents a developing feature of
urban education aimed at ‘watering down’ the curriculum and
‘cooling out’ black city children while at the same time creating for
teachers, both radical and liberal, the illusion that they are doing
something special for a particularly disadvantaged group.’’8
Multicultural education, having been to a degree discredited in both
theory and practice by the end of the 1980s, was replaced, in the
majority of schools, by anti-racist education.
This sought to
address the economic, social and cultural inequalities so obviously
ignored by multicultural education. Although more sophisticated in
its approach to the issue of engaging ethnic minority students than
multicultural education, anti-racist education was far from immune
from criticism. Some saw it as lacking sophistication in its analysis
of the nature and workings of racism, and it was also attacked for
failing to recognise the complex and multiple identities held by
many British students. Another key flaw in anti-racist teaching was
its apparent lack of desire to engage constructively with white
students, particularly white working-class students. The particular
take on anti-racism adopted by some schools did little more than
label white students as racist oppressors, thereby it did little to
create a truly inclusive strategy to address racism and the
underachievement that may be closely linked to it.
Opinion among educational theorists and practitioners appears to be
split as to how effective a tool Citizenship will be in combating
racism and raising levels of ethnic minority achievement and
engagement. Osler and Starkey, in assessing the content and
nature of the Citizenship syllabus, argue that Citizenship ‘provides a
unique opportunity to promote education for racial equality.’ 9
Ibid., p.69.
Stone M (1985) The Education of the Black Child: The Myth of Multiracial Education Fontana:
London, p.100.
Osler A and Starkey H ‘Citizenship, Human Rights and Cultural Diversity’ in Osler A (Ed.) (2000)
Citizenship and Democracy in Schools- Diversity, Identity, Equality Trentham: Stoke-on-Trent, p.5.
However, they also point out that there is very little guidance
provided in the Crick Report for how best to teach antiracism and
raise minority students’ levels of engagement through the teaching
of Citizenship: ‘The Crick Report… made no mention of racism when
it presented the case for education for citizenship in the light of
perceived threats to our democracy.’10 Indeed, Starkey and Osler
go as far as arguing that the Crick report possesses ‘a somewhat
colonial flavour’11 and they note that ‘it precludes the notion of
multiple or hybrid identities and fails to recognise that individuals
may have more than one ‘homeland’ and may identify themselves
as both British and of a particular ethnic grouping.’ 12 Gillborn goes
further in his criticism of Citizenship education, stating that, when
considering how best to change the curriculum in order engage
ethnic minority students, ‘Government sponsored moves on
‘education for citizenship’… do not offer a model of good practice.’ 13
Despite the strong doubts expressed by Osler and Starkey and the
criticism advanced by Gillborn, at both key stage 3 and 4, the
Citizenship syllabus has a strong emphasis on the teaching of
identity and diversity.
Teachers will now be provided with
curriculum space to explore the history of Britain as a multiethnic,
multicultural nation and the role played by each of the UK’s many
communities in shaping the dynamic character of modern Britain.
Scope is also provided for relatively in-depth teaching of issues
connected with racism and its many manifestations, both overt and
hidden, in the modern world, and for tracing the history of British
racism. Teachers must seize the chance to enter into a dialogue
with their students about how best to expose and tackle racism,
drawing, wherever possible, on their students own experiences and
ideas. This should be reinforced with the teaching of historical and
contemporary examples of British anti-racist activism and its key
figures and groups. When teaching students about the issue of
identity, Citizenship teachers must be wary of repeating the
mistakes of the past and move away from rigid, essentialist
conceptions of identity. In order to stand the greatest chance of
engaging students and making the issue meaningful to them,
identity must be taught in a way that acknowledges a key point
made by Stuart Hall: ‘Everywhere, cultural identities are emerging
which are not fixed, but poised, in transition, between different
positions; which draw on different cultural traditions at the same
time; and which are the product of those complicated cross-overs
and cultural mixes which are increasingly common in the globalised
Ibid., p.7.
Ibid., p.7.
Ibid., p.7.
Gillborn D (1995) Racism and Antiracism in Real Schools, Open University Press: London, p.136.
world.’14 Figuroa supports this view, arguing that ‘Multiple identity,
for individuals and communities, must be recognised and
If the teaching of issues surrounding identity holds to this principle,
it will be made clear to students how complex identities are in
modern Britain, and how much may link what initially appear to be
disparate groups. The many similarities and connections between
the UK’s various ethnic and cultural communities, as well as their
differences, should be an important topic for study, a point
supported by Gillborn: ‘Work on difference and diversity is
important, but it is not an end in itself.’16 The identity and diversity
elements of the Citizenship syllabus also give teachers, in close
collaboration with their students, a chance to construct a positive
white identity, stripping whiteness of the negative characteristics
given to it by the political far right. As Gillborn points out ‘As antiracist analyses and pedagogies become more sophisticated, it is
increasingly obvious that white students occupy a pivotal role; any
genuine attempt to challenge racism in education must engage with
their perspectives.’17 Gillborn believes that ‘anti-racist teachers and
schools have a crucial role to play in the search for positive
elements of a white ethnicity.’18 The arguments articulated by
Gillborn on the need to include white students in the teaching of
identity and diversity are strongly supported by Osler and Starkey.
They stress the need to create, through the teaching of Citizenship,
‘a new concept and vision of multiculturalism which is itself founded
on human rights and is inclusive of all citizens, including majority
white populations as well as minorities.’19
As well as an emphasis on the teaching of identity and diversity,
creative Citizenship teaching will also address the issue of ethnic
minority underachievement and disengagement by taking note of
the observation, made by the Teacher Training Agency: ‘Successful
schools are sensitive to the identities of their pupils and make
efforts to include in the curriculum their histories, languages,
religions and culture.’20 The implementation of an innovative
Citizenship curriculum will address what Epstein refers to as
Hall S ‘The Question of Cultural Identity’ in Hall S and McGrew T (Eds.) (1992) Modernity and its
Futures, Polity Press/Open University Press: Cambridge, p.142.
Figuroa P ‘Citizenship Education for a Plural Society’ in Osler A (Ed.) (2000) Citizenship and
Democracy in Schools Trentham: Stoke-on-Trent, p.60.
Gillborn, p.136.
Ibid., p.168.
Ibid., p.174.
Osler and Starkey, p.13.
Teacher Training Agency (2000) Raising the Attainment of Minority Ethnic Pupils HMSO: London
, p.34.
‘justified complaints about Ethnocentrism in the curriculum.’21
Such a curriculum will avoid making assumptions about the
‘supposed cultures of black people- that they are static and
unchanging, without any organic relationship to the society within
which they exist.’22 A constructive Citizenship curriculum will give
room for the teaching of ethnic minority narratives of struggle but
will never reduce British ethnic minority experience simply to a
series of reactions against white racism.
Citizenship teachers
seeking guidance on this issue should perhaps look towards
Gillborn’s analysis of the ‘people’s education’ programme at ‘Mary
Seacole’ School. This programme is one that centres on the lives
and achievements of important black figures and whilst teachers
highlight the impact of racism on the lives of these individuals,
Gillborn points out that they ‘do not fall into the trap of reducing all
black life to a response to white racism.’23
Like Epstein and
Gillborn, Sewell sees an inclusive curriculum that fully reflects the
UK’s ethnic and cultural diversity as a key tool in combating ethnic
minority students’ under achievement and disengagement. For
Sewell, the ‘particulars of Black life and culture- art, literature,
political and social perspective- must be presented in the
mainstream curriculum.’24 As has been discussed earlier in the
essay, innovative Citizenship teaching will help place the areas
mentioned by Sewell firmly within the confines of the mainstream
Due to the nature of the themes encompassed within the
Citizenship curriculum, teachers have the opportunity to deploy a
diverse range of resources in the teaching of Citizenship.
teachers take full advantage of this opportunity, they will be able to
make learning as engaging and inclusive as possible. In doing so
they will take a positive step forward in addressing the issue of
ethnic minority under achievement and disengagement.
teaching Citizenship, every effort should be made to avoid following
schemes of work heavily based around pre-produced learning
materials. Instead, teachers should look toward fiction, film and the
music. The work of writers such as Sam Selvon, Hanif Kureishi and
Linton Kwesi Johnson, whose books reflect the complex nature of
multiethnic Britain and whose writing may resonate powerfully for
many students, has an important part to play in the teaching of
Citizenship. Feature films and documentaries can also be invaluable
resources, as can music by groups such as Asian Dub Foundation,
Epstein D (1993) Changing Classroom Cultures: Anti-racism, Politics and Schools Trentham: Stoke
on Trent, p.78.
Ibid., p.78.
Gillborn, p.149.
Sewell T (1997) Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black boys survive modern schooling
Trentham: Stoke on Trent, p.193.
Charged and Fun-da-Mental, who are both politically informed and
politically committed.
The general ethos of constructive Citizenship teaching should also
enhance the educational experience of ethnic minority students.
More than any other subject, Citizenship seeks to encourage
students to participate fully in the life of their schools and to take an
active role in decision-making processes. By ensuring that students
are given the means to do this, schools can combat disengagement
on the part of those students who feel most distant from school. A
key tool in ensuring meaningful participation on the part of these
students is a representative and inclusive school council that
involves all students and can genuinely implement change.
According to Figuroa ‘the hidden curriculum, the ethos, equitable
relations between the members of the school community, and
democratic practices and structures, such as a school council’ 25, are
as important to a successful Citizenship programme as the subject’s
academic content. Another key feature of innovative Citizenship
teaching, and one that will arguably play a significant part in
tackling ethnic minority under achievement and disengagement, is
the value it places on involving community groups in delivering
elements of the curriculum. By involving community groups in
teaching, the base of expertise and experience students are
exposed to will be significantly broadened.
The effective
involvement of community groups would also help to address, albeit
in a limited way, the fact that the teaching profession is dominated
by practitioners from white, middle-class backgrounds, a reason
cited by a number of theorists for the development of tensions
between some ethnic minority students and their teachers.
Finally, the introduction of Citizenship will arguably give major new
impetus to cross-curricular initiatives aimed at confronting the issue
of ethnic minority student under achievement and disengagement.
There are many ways in which themes initially raised through the
teaching of Citizenship can be picked up by other subjects. For
example, when students are studying ethnic diversity and inequality
in Britain as a Citizenship topic, they could also pursue these issues
in French, perhaps through an analysis of Matthieu Kassovitz’s
seminal 1995 film La Haine and an exploration of French hip-hop
History could pursue in greater depth the origins of
multiethnic Britain, picking up themes that are raised by
Citizenship. Music could devote curriculum time to the study of
figures such as Black British composer Samuel Taylor-Coleridge,
jazz visionary John Coltrane and Tropicalia legend Gilberto Gil,
discussing not just their work but also the cultural and social
political contexts within which they operated.
Figuroa, p.61.
In conclusion, the arguments articulated in this essay demonstrate
that Citizenship does present a real chance for schools and teachers
to get to grips with a long-standing problem. Ethnic minority
underachievement and disengagement are caused by a complex set
of factors. The content of the school curriculum as well as the
students’ general educational experiences are undoubtedly two
important contributory factors, and, when considering these factors,
a change like the introduction of Citizenship can be significant. If
Citizenship teaching strives to be as inclusive, engaging and
innovative as possible, building on the recommendations detailed in
this essay and in a range of other documentation, its impact on the
issue of ethnic minority underachievement and disengagement can
possibly be a lasting and positive one.
Up to this point, this essay has been written without any reference
to, or reflections upon, my own initial teaching experiences. As part
of my PGCE course, I have completed teaching placements at two
large inner-London comprehensives.
These placements have
provided me with both positive and negative experiences as regards
the application of the principles set out in my essay. The schools in
which I taught were both socially and ethnically mixed, and
underachievement and disengagement on the part of some ethnic
minority students was a real and pressing concern. A core of staff
at both my placement schools viewed Citizenship education as an
important tool when engaging with this issue. As a result of this
kind of thinking, I have seen some innovative and inspiring
Citizenship teaching.
One of my two placement schools had produced a unit of work on
racist attacks that was underpinned by a number of the principles
expounded in this essay. This unit did not reduce those members of
ethnic minority communities who had experienced racist attacks to
the status of mere passive victims. Instead, this unit of work
provided space for students to investigate and analyse the
interlocking social, cultural, political and economic factors that lay
behind these attacks, and behind the exercise of racism more
broadly. The teacher who delivered this unit of work sought to
develop students’ knowledge of those community organisations that
actively challenge racism, illustrating for students the importance of
grass roots organisation and mobilisation in tackling racism. A
debate, driven by the students but carefully and sensitively
managed by the teacher, took place on whether the use of physical
force could ever be justified when confronting racists and racism.
I was greatly encouraged by the fact that a wide range of resources
were used by both my placement schools in the teaching of
citizenship. As a trainee teacher, I was urged by the schools to
think as broadly as possible as regards the use of teaching
resources. I was therefore able, as part of a unit of work on crime
and punishment, to show a group students La Haine. I used the
film to illustrate the fact that many young people, particularly those
from an ethnic minority background are criminalized by police
forces and driven towards crime by an almost total lack of
opportunity and hope. The film also served to show students how
youth in the Paris housing projects face the same challenges as
young people, such as themselves, growing up in inner London.
The rawness and immediacy of the film proved hugely engaging for
the students and helped to communicate to them a range of key
issues around crime and punishment.
Overall, my teaching experience, albeit extremely limited, has
provided me with a largely positive impression of how Citizenship
can be used to tackle underachievement and disengagement on the
part of some ethnic minority students.
I have witnessed the
curriculum space now given to issues of identity and diversity being
used incredibly productively by some teachers. However, I have
also observed teachers who consider these issues to be of little
import. The lessons that these teachers delivered on these issues
did little to engage or enthuse students, and thus stripped the
issues of any potential to truly engage and challenge students. I
have also witnessed, and experienced first-hand, resistance on the
part of white students to the in-depth and multi-layered teaching of
issues that they perceive to only be of relevance or interest to
ethnic minority students. These are only two of many challenges
that teachers face in making citizenship education a tool for
combating ethnic minority underachievement and, more broadly, in
using it to combat racism and generate an atmosphere in which all
students feel encouraged to work together to challenge injustice.
After my own initial teaching experience, in which I witnessed the
kind of teaching advocated in this essay and in which I was able
myself to act upon the principles I have expounded, I feel that
these challenges can be overcome, bringing tangible benefits to
both staff and students.
Mehmet Ali, A (2001) No Delight: Turkish Speaking Communities
and Education Fatal: London
Bhatti G (1999) Asian Children at Home and at School: An
ethnographic study Routledge: London.
Cole M (Ed.) (2000) Education, Equality and Human Rights
Routledge: London.
Gillborn D (1995) Racism and Antiracism in Real Schools
University Press: London.
Gillborn D and Mirza H (2000) Educational Inequality: Mapping
Race, Class and Gender, taken from
Mac an Ghalill M (1988) Young, Gifted and Black
Press: Milton Keynes.
Open University
Majors R (Ed.) (2001) Educating Our Black Children: New directions
and radical approaches Routledge: London.
Osler A (Ed.) (2000) Citizenship and Democracy in Real Schools:
Diversity, Identity, Equality Trentham Books: Stoke on Trent.
Sewell T (1997) Black Masculinities and Schooling: How Black boys
survive modern schooling Trentham Books: Stoke on Trent.
Stone M (1985) The Education of the Black Child: The Myth of
Multiracial Education Fontana: London.
Teacher Training Agency (2000) Raising the Attainment of Minority
Ethnic Pupils HMSO: London
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