An open letter to Justine Greening: ‘post-Brexit, our pupils need citizenship lessons’

Thirty-seven headteachers, academics and educationists have written an open letter to the new education secretary, calling for a renewed commitment to citizenship lessons in post-Brexit Britain.

They are also asking Justine Greening to give increased emphasis to RE and to personal, social and health education (PSHE). And they stress the dangers of schools shutting down conversations about what it means to be British.

The letter, dated Wednesday 27 July, argues that these subjects are being squeezed out of the curriculum by the demands of core academic subjects.

It states: “The referendum has raised deep questions about identity and belonging for many young people, for which an increasingly narrow academic curriculum has left them ill-equipped.

“In addition to acquiring knowledge, young people need to successfully develop conflict-resolution, decision-making skills, self-regulation, self-respect, negotiation and respect for those with different beliefs and values.”

‘Renewed conversation’

The letter notes that RE and citizenship often allow space for pupils to express their concerns, and for those concerns to be addressed.

“We call on government to enable teachers to continue the good work of asking challenging questions, acknowledging the discomforting nature of some of the answers, and promoting a vision of our young people as global and European citizens,” it states.

“Now is the time to commit to a renewed conversation about our shared national values, ensuring that young people’s voices are heard.”

In particular, it continues: “We are aware of the dangers of some schools misinterpreting the need to promote fundamental British values in ways which close down, rather than open up, meaningful discussions.”

‘Times of unprecedented change’

It also notes that the children’s commissioner, as well as the majority of teachers, pupils and parents are in favour of compulsory PSHE lessons. It argues that the government should make the subject mandatory.

The letter is the result of a discussion, held at Liverpool Hope University’s faculty of education immediately after the 23 June referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union. Its signatories include representatives of RE and citizenship education, as well as education academics from Liverpool Hope and elsewhere.

David Lundie, senior lecturer in education at Liverpool Hope, organised the discussion. “It is vital that, in times of unprecedented change like this, that we pay special attention to the impact that Brexit is already having, and will have, on young people,” he said.

“This letter calls for the government to help put a joined-up plan in place, when it comes to meaningfully communicating and engaging young people with an understanding of what is going on around them.”

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