Citizenship tests for newcomers may miss the mark but Citizenship Education for all is vital

Monday 5th December 2011

Tony Breslin Speaking

Last week, on Tuesday 29th September, I had a letter published in The Times – a response to a thoughtful column from Libby Purves, published the previous day, in which she criticised the questions, style and focus in the tests sat by newcomers (and sometimes not-so-newcomers) to the UK who are seeking British Citizenship. The Times’ pay-wall means that I can’t reproduce the letter in full here but I picked up on the nugget towards the close of her article asking whether every school student should pass a (rather better) test before getting the vote.

We may all share different views on testing but the point Purves makes does open up the irony: why continue to expect ‘newcomers’ to formally qualify as ‘citizens’ at a time when the position of Citizenship in the National Curriculum appears to be under threat and when access to adult education (other than for those seeking citizenship) in this area is almost non-existant, in spite of the recommendations of NIACE and others, in a landmark report on lifelong learning, a couple of years ago? Shouldn’t we all understand (or at least have the chance to explore in educational settings) what, as I put it in the letter, “…our key values are, how our society works and what politics is about?” Now, that would lay the foundations for a genuinely “Big” (and better) society!

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