The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century Follow-Up Report

Monday 17th April 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Liaison Committee The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century Follow-up Report.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, it has been nearly six years since the Select Committee was first constituted to look into issues of citizenship and civic engagement, and I was asked to take the chair. We published our initial report, and the Government gave their response in June 2018. As a committee, we were very disappointed with what the Government had to say and in particular when we had a follow-up meeting with Ofsted which seemed to have very little grasp of the issues and a lack of understanding of what the report had said. We were able to return to the fray using the new Liaison Committee procedures which enable follow-up inquiries to take place. Our follow-up report was published about a year ago and the Government response—which we are debating this afternoon—came out shortly thereafter, towards the end of May. This report will enable us to put the pink ribbon around the file after nearly six years.

It is important, therefore, that I place on record my thanks to all members of the committee who have kept the faith, in particular those who are speaking today, namely the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and a bevy of Baronesses—if hope that is still a word that I can use—my noble friends Lady Eaton and Lady Redfern, the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Yardley and Lady Barker, and not overlooking the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, who joined in for the second round, which we also enjoyed. I need also to record my thanks to our clerk, Lucy Molloy, who has been a tower of strength. Members of the committee and of the House will probably not be aware that Lucy will be moving on, leaving Parliament and going to pastures new in May. I am sure that she will be sadly missed. Equally, and probably more importantly, Lucy has also recently got engaged. I am sure that I speak for the committee and indeed the whole House when I say that we wish her every happiness in her future career and future life.

What has our committee achieved in these six years? I think that the candid and truthful answer is not a lot, certainly not enough. I fear that we have not been able to convince the Government—we certainly have not been able to convince Ofsted—that citizenship represents a discrete policy area, moreover, a policy area that carries with it significant implications for the future social cohesion of our country. Let me repeat the truism that our world is undergoing an unprecedentedly rapid rate of change from which our society is not immune. In particular, the impact of globalisation has meant that many areas of the UK have lost the economic activities that underpinned our communities, which has led to a degree of disillusionment with our society. At the same time, rapid population growth means that 28%—more than one-quarter—of the children born in this country last year were born to mothers who were not themselves born here.

Against this background, it must be more important than ever that young people learn what it means to be a British citizen, the rights and responsibilities that go with it and, last but not least, the various ways that individuals can make their voices heard. You do not learn this by osmosis; it has to be taught, and taught well, not just theoretically but with practical explanations and examples.

There are two leading actors in this play: the Government and Ofsted. I turn first to the Government. To redress the increasing neglect of this subject, they need to give sustained, consistent support to citizenship education. In particular, that means a stable policy framework. Too often, our committee found evidence of what we called “initiativeitis”—individual, unconnected policy ideas set in train by a particular Minister, many of which were not tracked or followed up to assess relative success or failure. Therefore, a key recommendation of our first report was the need to create this stable framework to give consistent support to this subject. To date, I am afraid, I do not think that our committee is clear that this has been achieved or accepted by the Government.

The Inter-Ministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities, which had citizenship as one of its core purposes, met rarely and, after 2019, never met again. By the time of our follow-up report, another set of responsibilities had been established and now, a year later, these have all been swept away as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. When she comes to reply, can the Minister explain to the committee how this Bill can provide reassurance about the future provision of citizenship education?

In particular, I draw the Minister’s attention to the paragraph on page 6 of the government response to recommendations 1 to 6 of our follow-up report, which states:

“We are reflecting on the best practical ways to deliver citizenship and civic engagement policy across Government. We will share an update on this work with the committee in due course”.

I am not sure that the committee has yet to receive that promised update. Do we have a date by which we can expect its delivery?

The second major cause of concern about the Government’s commitment is the downgrading of the role of specific training of teachers in this subject. It is generally recognised that the number of teachers in this area has halved in the past few years. The Government no longer give the numbers in training, and citizenship education bursaries are no longer available.

The second major player is Ofsted. To cut to the chase, our follow-up report made a number of recommendations at paragraphs 72 to 77 about Ofsted’s work. It is no exaggeration to say that Ofsted rejected the lot. It persistently mixes up citizenship education with PSHE—personal, social, health and economic education. In truth, they are completely different. As has been made clear in a very telling way by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I am glad to see is here now, PSHE is about “me” and how I am developing as a person, and a very important issue that is, but citizenship education is about “we”—how our society works, how we all benefit from it and how we must contribute to it—and therefore has a completely different focus. Ofsted’s disregard for citizenship education is further evidenced by the fact that it does not undertake any deep dives in this subject, as it does with other policy areas.

The only other area that I wish to deal with before I finish is the Life in the UK Test, which is a mirage that never gets any closer. Since 2013, we have been promised that it will be updated, and it has not yet happened.

To conclude, of course our committee understands the need for our education system to focus on practical skills. However, unless we all learn about our joint stake in our society and our responsibility for it, we risk the emergence of an increasingly atomised, unconnected and disgruntled population.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, as a starting point, and on behalf of all those involved, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for his diligence and determination in making sure that the findings of both the original and follow-up report are not rotting somewhere on a shelf, having died a death all that time ago. This is far too serious a subject to allow that to happen, and here we have a stalwart Member who has made sure that it has not happened in that way.

In a 21st-century country, a successful democratic nation will be one whose citizens feel secure, engaged and fulfilled, where everyone feels that they belong and can make a contribution. Those are not my words but were some of the opening comments in the first committee report from the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. I am sure that they are words that we all agree with. The report tried to identify barriers that prevent people contributing and feeling part of our society, and we also looked at actions that can be taken to remove those barriers. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, it was very disappointing that the Government appeared to take little action from the recommendations, although the pressures of events such as the Covid-19 pandemic have understandably received time-consuming focus.

There were many valuable suggestions in the original report which could have, and still can have, great value for the citizen experience. The follow-up report that we are discussing today focuses on three areas, which my noble friend Lord Hodgson has covered eloquently already. These three strands could be, and should be, supportive strands for the Government’s ambitions for levelling up.

Cross-government co-ordination is critical if policies on citizenship are to be in any way successful. The committee felt strongly that a Minister with responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement should be appointed in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or the Cabinet Office. That Minister should have membership of the domestic and economic levelling-up committee. Unfortunately, that committee no longer exists. However, there are two committees entitled “Domestic and Economic Affairs”. One has the remit to consider matters relating to the economy and to Home Office matters. The second committee may consider matters relating to citizenship and civic engagement, and its remit is to consider matters relating to the union of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for DLUHC is a member of both.

Dr Mycock, reader at the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at Huddersfield University, told the committee that government departments have sought to better integrate citizenship and civic engagement into policy-making, but the overall picture is one where work across government still lacks coherence, co-ordination and connectivity.

The government White Paper on levelling up refers to civic institutions frequently throughout. Cross-government co-ordination and long-term planning are cited as critical aspects of the levelling-up strategy. I ask my noble friend the Minister what progress has been made in those recommendations and how those objectives have been fulfilled with the Cabinet committees. The Government’s response to the committee stated that they were reflecting on best practice for ways to deliver citizenship and civil engagement across government, and that their thinking would be shared with the committee. Like my noble friend Lord Hodgson, I have not become aware of any update. I ask my noble friend the Minister to tell us how well these reflections are proceeding.

The committee’s 2018 report found that the education system has a pivotal role in developing active citizens. Witnesses to the committee stated that citizenship education could lead to greater social cohesion, greater resilience and aspiration among young people. The committee made nine recommendations regarding the delivery, funding and assessment of citizenship education but, disappointingly, both the Government and Ofsted broadly rejected them.

As a result of the impact of Covid-19, the Government have made a commitment that they would not make any changes to the national curriculum for the remainder of this Parliament. In the education White Paper Opportunity for All, the Government said:

“We will build on our high-quality citizenship education by supporting the National Youth Guarantee, promoting volunteering and expanding access to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cadet Schemes”.

Interestingly, that was the only reference to citizenship in the White Paper. The national youth guarantee appears to deal with volunteering aspects of civic engagement, but could my noble friend the Minister give the Committee information to illustrate how well that is working out in practice? Also, could she please inform us how the core knowledge in citizenship education, such as how government works and how laws are made and upheld, is being delivered?

The national youth guarantee is designed so that young people in the most deprived areas have access to many new activities, social action projects and the National Citizen Service. Some £387 million has been allocated for the national youth guarantee. What proportion of funding is going to citizenship-related activities?

As we have heard, of major concern to the committee is the role of Ofsted in the citizenship agenda. It was alarming to find a general lack of knowledge and understanding about citizenship by inspectors, and to note the lack of seriousness that inspectors appeared to give the subject.

The committee came to the conclusion that Ofsted is misinterpreting the Government’s policy and assessment criteria for citizenship. Ofsted does not use quality of education when assessing citizenship education. Citizenship should not be conflated with PSHE. We heard the excellent and simple explanation that “PHSE is about me, and citizenship is about us”. In the Ofsted handbook and framework, it is clear that the framework is to look at the quality of education based on the national curriculum which clearly includes citizenship. This implies that the same rigour is not being applied to citizenship as to other curriculum subjects. The committee heard that, in many schools, citizenship is regarded as a low-status subject and in many cases is not taught at all. The Government should outline what steps they will take to ensure that citizenship education is not sidelined. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain why the Government support Ofsted’s practice of assessing citizenship with the incorrect metric.

Life in the United Kingdom has received much criticism over time. It has been described as inadequate for its intended purpose and simply a tick-box exercise. In reply to a Written Question in December 2022, it was stated that the Government intended to review the handbook in the first half of 2023. I was going to say that, surprisingly, nothing seems to have happened, but I can note that this morning I received an email, as I am sure other noble Lords did, inviting us to a briefing on the update to the Life in the UK policy. I am hoping it will be helpful to all of us. Can the Minister inform us of the progress being made on it?

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased to be able to speak at this stage of the consideration of our report. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his leadership. I think he said in his opening remarks that this is the bit where we tie the pink ribbon around the report, giving the impression that it is our last go at it, but I give the Minister a friendly warning that I do not think for a minute that the noble Lord will give up, and I am sure he will find another way of getting back—as he should do, because this is an important issue. It is a very good report, and hardly any of the recommendations have been accepted, and that is a problem. That is not Parliament doing well, and it is not the Government taking the right decisions.

I want to spend most of my time of the education part of the recommendations, but I shall briefly talk about the first area of cross-government co-ordination and strategy. This is a debate about whether it is better to have a Minister responsible for citizenship and civic engagement or an interministerial group. We have had these debates about a range of issues. My experience, personally and from observing Governments, is that interministerial groups do not have a record for delivering radical change. They are rarely successful. I am hard put to think of a major initiative that has achieved a great deal that has been brought about by an interministerial group. There are changes in the structure of government, Ministers change, and usually the only Minister thinking about it is the chair, and not the other Ministers who have been told to go along to represent their department. It is better to have a Minister who is charged with and accountable for this area. The Government know that—because, if we look down the list of Ministers in this Government, we find that there are Ministers responsible for net zero, veterans, artificial intelligence, building safety, social mobility and well-being, and we all know the circumstances that have brought those ministerial posts about. Those subjects are important; people worry about them. We want to do them better, and the Government’s response has been to put a Minister in charge. That was the right decision, and they should do that with citizenship, because citizenship is as important as those other areas.

I want to talk mainly about citizenship education. There is a huge dilemma in the Government having mixed up PSHE and citizenship education. They are not the same, but there is a bit of history to this. I am not critical of this but, when the Minister’s predecessors in the coalition Government came to power, they really pushed resilience, perseverance, personal fulfilment and doing your best. I agree with all that, I think it is great, but it overtook citizenship and pushed it out. No one during that time was advocating for citizenship—but we and the Government should be able to do more than one thing at once. Over that period, the two things got conflated, because no one was flying the banner for citizenship.

I am in favour of teaching pupils about keeping healthy, keeping themselves safe, online safety, good relationships, being resilient, being a volunteer and all of that, but it is not citizenship. That is not what citizenship is in the national curriculum. It says in our national curriculum that citizenship is about acquiring

“a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government”.

It teaches

“skills to think critically and debate political questions”.

It is totally different, and the two have been confused. Of course, one can contribute to the other, but at the moment everything is secondary to a heading of PSHE. No one is flying the flag, and it gets left out. There is a problem to be solved.

James Weinberg—I hope I have pronounced his name correctly—in our report said that

“those in the top quintile for household income are five times more likely to participate in political activities than those in the lowest”.

This is a bigger gap than in any other area of our activities in school. If we had that gap in teaching literacy, numeracy or science, in getting kids to university, in running, skipping, painting, drawing or doing sculpture—in whatever—we would be worried, and we would have a strategy to overcome it. It would be top of our agenda. However, we do not seem to know about it in this case; it is not talked about, and we do not do anything about it.

There is no one in this building who does not believe that democracy is important, has to be preserved, cherished and that we have to work hard to keep it going because there are threats to it. But when we look at what we are doing in schools, we can see that we are not giving our children the best chance of growing up to be fulfilled citizens who can take part in democracy. We cannot expect them to vote and be politically engaged as adults if we do not give them skills, opportunities and experiences when they are children. The school system just does not do that.

Citizenship is optional in primary schools; you do not have to do it. It is taught badly, if it is taught at all, in secondary schools where they are meant to do it. The primary school curriculum has not been reviewed since 2001, when it was introduced. There is no incentive for recruitment of citizenship teachers and no ambition that I know of to build and develop leadership in citizenship education. As far as I can see, there is little engagement with the profession about citizenship. All of that is a problem.

The consequences of this can be seen in what is happening in schools. It is second best and slips by. Schools have not got the message that it is important and that they need to address it, nor have they had help to do that. Both previous speakers have said that Ofsted is a problem here. Whatever noble Lords feel about Ofsted, they should put it to one side for a minute. We all know that its behaviour and words have an impact on schools and, if it does not know the difference between PSHE and citizenship education, we have a problem, and it is a huge blockage.

I was not able to attend the meeting at which Ofsted gave evidence, which I was quite cross about, but I read what was said, and that was not its glory day. As far as I could see, it did not shine on that occasion. The evidence of that is the criteria it uses. Its own report has two sets of criteria: one for national curriculum subjects and the other for personal development. I will not read them out because we all have them in front of us to read if we want to, but it does not assess impact. It says of its personal development criteria, “We know that we can’t assess impact because the impact will be later on in life”. As a teacher, you always hope that the results will be there in later life, but it does not stop you looking at the results—the impact of what has happened.

The fact that Ofsted used the wrong set of criteria to evaluate a national curriculum subject is a problem. Is there any other subject on the national curriculum that is assessed by Ofsted using the personal development criteria, rather than the quality of education criteria? If there is, I do not know about it; I have never heard it mentioned.

That is a problem but, to tell the truth, what is more of a problem—and no one is perfect—is that, having had the time to engage with the Liaison Committee and to read the evidence and what good citizenship teachers said, Ofsted has made no change. It has given not an inch. No wonder people get fed up with Ofsted; not an inch has it given towards that strong bank of evidence. That is the problem: it is not necessarily that we do not always agree on the way forward but that nothing has been done to look at these recommendations. We know that things are not well, and when things are not well and there are some good recommendations, I cannot for the life of me see why you would reject them all.

Lastly, the Government have promised not to review the national curriculum until the next general election. I am really glad that our debate is taking place on the day the Prime Minister announced his review of mathematics. If you want an example of how best to get a subject to the top of the agenda, we have seen it today in the Prime Minister’s words on mathematics.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market Portrait Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD)
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My Lords, following a speech such as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is the nightmare slot, so I am just very pleased that we had the Division.

This is the fifth follow-up that has been carried out by the Liaison Committee since the new system was introduced in 2019. As a new member of the Liaison Committee when this follow-up inquiry was agreed and held, I was really pleased to be involved, partly because it is a topic that interests me but also because I was keen to get a sense of how well this process works. It feels to me that, given the resource, in all senses, that goes into producing a committee report, it is absolutely right that we do not just leave behind what we have done. To take an updated look at the committee’s excellent initial report and how the Government have responded, the second would not have taken us very long; it is bitterly disappointing. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris: I found the evidence session with Ofsted one of the most unsatisfying witness sessions I have undertaken in more than 20 years in the House.

I was just having a look at the evidence we took in February last year for the follow-up inquiry, and it was striking how many witnesses referred to the levelling-up White Paper—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market Portrait Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD)
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As I was saying, when we were taking evidence for the follow-up inquiry, the levelling up White Paper had fairly recently been published. It was clear from the evidence that we took that a lot of people saw this policy intent, this drive for levelling up, as a vehicle for citizenship and, the other way around, that citizenship would be driven by notions of levelling up. There was a lot of good will and aspiration for levelling up, and most of us had a lot of sympathy with the policy intentions in the White Paper. It well described social capital as,

“the strength of communities, relationships and trust”.

It described institutional capital as,

“local leadership, capacity and capability”.

I think that we would agree that all these are intrinsically linked with notions of citizenship, as it is set out in the original report of the committee to this House. These themes were picked up by witnesses to the follow-up report.

Yet as the levelling up Bill is grinding through your Lordships’ House, there is no sense of any of these ideas and policy intents in the Bill. Somehow, it has become a morass of technicalities and legal argument, in which the essence of levelling up seems to have disappeared. I understand that between policy intent and legislation there is quite often a gulf, but it ought to be there somewhere. We ought to have in the Bill a sense of what levelling up means to citizens. I think that the revolving door of Ministers last year has something to do with the lack of coherence in the Bill, which points up the recommendation of the original committee report that the Government need to appoint a Minister with responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement. It really feels as though this coherence is missing from the levelling up Bill.

I also feel that the lack of a Minister with that sort of clout, that sort of responsibility, is also playing a part in the very real problems that are being felt by the charity, volunteering and community sector. Volunteering is something that the NCVO described as a “powerful expression of citizenship”, and I think that we all would agree with that. Here, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board for the Institute for Volunteering Research and as a trustee of Community Action Suffolk, which supports the charity and voluntary sector in Suffolk.

Charities and volunteering have never in my mind found a natural home in government, and they very rarely have a real champion at the centre of government. This is not a debate about charities, but we all know that this is a sector which is facing some very real challenges at the moment. Most charitable organisations are reporting a significant fall-off in volunteers. Many older volunteers left during the pandemic, and they are not going to come back. Younger retirees are helping adult children with the costs of childcare. Others have gone back to work. People are working longer hours to make ends meet, and others are reporting that they can no longer afford bus fares or petrol to get to their volunteering opportunities. I am sure that there are things which government could do. However, and this is not a party-political point, successive Administrations have not understood the charity and voluntary sector. We have these big national campaigns, which can be effective at generating interest in volunteering, but they consistently fall flat because the skills needed for the next stages—matching volunteers with the right role, managing them when they get there—are often non-existent. Volunteers can be permanently deterred by a bad experience of their first time in volunteering. We saw this a decade ago with the Do IT campaign, and again during the pandemic. I fear that we are making the same mistake with the Big Help Out.

In Suffolk, we have decided that we want to do it better. We know that a lot of good will is being generated by the Coronation and that we have many leaders in communities, and many causes in the county, which collectively come together enthusiastically to pledge something not just for one day but for the longer term, really to promote the concept of volunteering. Therefore, we are running a campaign which will last several weeks. Organisations right across the county, including the county council, the high sheriff, the lord-lieutenant, voluntary organisations and the business sector, are coming together to create something which will add to the civic life of the county.

The key here is the existence of an effective infrastructure body in Community Action Suffolk, which uses its unique position to act as a catalyst, co-ordinator and champion. If aspirations of levelling up are ever to be met, this sort of organisation needs to exist throughout the country. Returning to the theme of the report, if we had a government champion for the sector in the form of a Minister, this sort of thing could perhaps become a reality.

Lord Norton of Louth Portrait Lord Norton of Louth (Con)
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My Lords, I join others in commending my noble friend Lord Hodgson on introducing this important debate. I also commend the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, which he chaired, for producing the report, and the Liaison Committee for its follow-up report. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about the role of the Liaison Committee in producing such reports. They are an invaluable exercise.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, I will focus on the recommendations of the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement on citizenship education. In chapter 3, it makes a compelling case for citizenship education and for greater resources to be devoted to ensuring its delivery. It produced several valuable recommendations, but nothing has happened. I quote from paragraph 162 of the report:

“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency”.

Here we are, almost five years to the day since the report was published, and the situation, if anything, is more parlous. The Liaison Committee pursued recommendations made by the committee, but they have fallen on barren ground. The problem is not just one of government but, as has been reiterated this afternoon, of the inspection regime. As the committee made clear, Ofsted’s approach is inadequate and fails to understand the distinct significance of citizenship education. The committee argued the case for Ofsted to stop assessing citizenship education through personal development and for it instead to form part of the quality of education. This was taken up by the Liaison Committee which, at paragraph 72, addressed

“Ofsted’s disregard for citizenship as a statutory curriculum subject and its insistence on assessing it through personal development”.

It continued:

“Citizenship is an academic subject and when taught properly should involve the development of knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils need to become active and responsible citizens. Citizenship should not be treated solely as part of pupils’ personal development. To do so is to misunderstand the nature of the subject in its entirety”.

In the next paragraph, the committee goes on to state that, based on the evidence it had received,

“Ofsted is misinterpreting the Government’s policy and assessment criteria for Citizenship”.

Among its other recommendations, it says at paragraph 77 that:

“Ofsted should review the support and training given to their inspectors and should ensure that the inspectors are able to understand and effectively assess citizenship as a curriculum subject”.

Ofsted cannot do that effectively if it fails to understand the nature and significance of citizenship education.

The evidence that Ofsted gave to the Liaison Committee demonstrates the nature of the problem and Ofsted’s inability to grasp what is required. It is clear from Robert Jenrick’s response to the letter from the then chair of the Liaison Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, that this remains the case. I would be grateful if my noble friend Lady Barran can tell us what action is actually being taken to ensure compliance with the recommendations of both committees.

Unless there are incentives for schools to take teaching citizenship seriously, it will be neglected. Until citizenship education feeds into league tables, schools will not take it seriously. Whenever there are budget cuts, the trained citizenship teacher is the first to go. This matters for the health of our political system. Core to a healthy democracy, as the report argues, is active citizenship, but that rests on citizens having an understanding—indeed, an appreciation—of the system of government, how it works, what it can do for them and how they can engage with it. The problem is compounded by a growing lack of trust in government; survey evidence is that this lack of trust in now severe.

Politicians are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. Recent surveys have shown a dramatic lack of trust, not so much in our political structures as in the people who occupy them. Remarkably, in an Ipsos survey in February, lack of faith in politics/politicians/government ranked fourth in the list of issues seen as the most important facing Britain today, after the economy, inflation and the NHS. A YouGov poll last year also found that the problem was more with politicians than political structures. As a response to lack of trust in the system of government, some politicians rush to advocate constitutional change. As with the recent report authored by Gordon Brown, the arguments for change are muddled and constitute a form of displacement activity. The problem is with those rushing to advocate change. This is something that I will develop in a debate next week; for the moment, my point is that politicians need to address not only their own behaviour—we need a major strengthening of standards of behaviour—but also the lack of knowledge about our system of government.

Ensuring that citizenship education is embedded in our schools is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for restoring trust. Parliament gets a bad press, one that it does not necessarily deserve. It suffers from what I would term the arrogance of ignorance. People pontificate about Parliament and parliamentarians with a self-assuredness that is not grounded in any serious knowledge of the subject. There is a tendency to generalise from an N of one or two. We need to address the behaviour of politicians to ensure that there is not one or two—or more—from which people can generalise, but there also needs to be wider public awareness of the structures, processes and behaviour and of what Parliament can do for them and how they can have some input into what it is doing. This is becoming more and more of an uphill task because of the unwillingness of politicians to acknowledge and address it. For the past few years, there has been a bunker mentality. Parliamentarians need to come out of the bunker and proactively take steps to address the problem, otherwise it is not going to go away.

The stance taken by the Government is self-defeating. It is in their own interest to take this seriously. I would like to hear from my noble friend not only a recognition of the seriousness of the problem, but a commitment to ensuring that citizenship education is embedded and that schools are incentivised to take it seriously. Some years ago, the House resolved that Select Committee reports should be debated in the House, ideally in prime time. Debating this report in Grand Committee does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue. We are debating a subject that is crucial to the health of our political system. It is a false economy on the part of Government not to recognise that and to act upon it. What the Prime Minister has said today about maths applies also to citizenship education. An anti-maths mindset may be damaging the economy. A failure to educate citizens about our system of government is damaging to the health of the British polity.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I begin by paying tribute not only to the Liaison Committee for a very thorough job of work, but to our parliamentary system which provides for such committee. Its very existence and the reports that it produces make it more likely that important recommendations are put into effect, for it can show whether a Government have taken them on board—or not, as the case may be. Sadly, in the case of the recommendations of The Ties that Bind, it is the latter. What our Select Committee originally revealed—a very unsatisfactory situation—is shown by the Liaison Committee still to be highly unsatisfactory and very far indeed from what our committee thought it should be.

I believe that the need for citizenship and civic education highlighted in our 2018 report is even more pressing now than it was then, for we live in a world where there are not only dictatorships but managed democracies, democracies where human rights are not observed, and democracies where the rule of law is made subservient to political expediency. It is more important than ever that pupils coming out of our schools should have some grasp of the political system in which we live, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, and a sense of responsibility to live as an active citizen. That is, for the most part, simply not happening at the moment. Our report showed why, and the Liaison Committee’s report discloses the same fundamental failures.

The first issue, of course, concerns someone to take responsibility for this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, put it so powerfully: there must be a Minister in overall charge. It is only when someone such as that is in place that things happen—when there is someone who is accountable. Our original recommendation was that this person should be located in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but it has a very broad remit. Of course, so much of citizenship education is actually academic education, so if the Government continue to be very resistant to the idea of putting somebody in charge in that department, perhaps they would reconsider and see whether the Minister of Education themselves should be responsible for this area, with particular responsibility to relate to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for that aspect of the work.

Secondly, as so many of your Lordships have emphasised, the situation as far as education itself is concerned is absolutely appalling. In so many schools, citizenship is taught only tangentially and in so many it is simply subsumed into PSHE. I will not repeat what has already been put so powerfully by other noble Lords, but imagine a school giving a wrong answer—as wrong as the answer we have disclosed—to Ofsted. Our recommendation is worth repeating:

“Citizenship should not be treated solely as part of pupils’ personal development. To do so is to misunderstand the nature of the subject in its entirety.”

Suppose a school gave an answer that totally misunderstood what it meant. What would Ofsted do about it? There would be black marks all over from any kind of examination system that gets that kind of report.

One aspect of democracy, and therefore of citizenship education, has to do with values—what has been termed fundamental British values. In its original report, the committee expressed concern about the wording of “fundamental British values” as originally conceived and suggested an alternative. Since then, I have tried to press this issue with a Private Member’s Bill, which sadly was not selected, and with amendments to the Schools Bill, which the Government sadly were unwilling to accept. The purpose of what I proposed was to give a much clearer definition of what should be taught under this subject. I will briefly repeat what I put forward:

“British values

(1) In any statement relating to British values for education purposes in England and Wales, the Secretary of State, OFSTED and any other public authority must include—

(a) democracy,

(b) the rule of law,

(c) freedom,

(d) individual worth, and

(e) respect for the environment.

(2) Any statement in subsection (1) must refer to British values as ‘values of British citizenship’.

(3) In subsection (1 )(c) ‘freedom’ includes—

(a) freedom of thought, conscience and religion,

(b) freedom of expression, and

(c) freedom of assembly and association.

(4) In subsection (1)(d) ‘individual worth’ means respect for the equal worth and dignity of every person.

(5) In subsection (l)(e) ‘respect for the environment’ means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and the planet as a whole, for present and future generations”.

I will continue to look for a legislative opportunity to bring about this change. If achieved, this will help give a much clearer notion of the nature of the democracy in which we live. The word “democracy” means everything and nothing. The majority of countries claim in some sense to be democratic, so it is necessary to state what we mean by the word; otherwise, pupils will grow up with an extremely vague and sometimes misleading idea of what it means, such as it meaning only elections. It means a great deal more than that.

As noble Lords have pointed out, it is not only important that Ofsted has a clear understanding of this subject and distinguishes it from PHSE; if the subject is going to be taught, it needs enough properly trained teachers. As we pointed out in our original report, and as the Liaison Committee emphasised and we mentioned again today, the Government have been unwilling to collect statistics on the number of trainee teachers in the subject or to put forward bursaries, as they are for other subjects, to attract teachers. That is another essential failure.

The Liaison Committee’s report several times looks forward to the then proposed White Paper on schools, in which it expected these serious concerns to be addressed. But there has been no White Paper, so where do we go from here? Who will address these concerns? Will the present Government do so? I am afraid the situation is lamentable. Major failings were exposed by our committee and the Liaison Committee has forcefully shown that the Government have not faced up to them. They are still glaringly obvious.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, began by saying that he thought we had failed. We may have failed to achieve our immediate objectives but I hope we will not think that we have failed totally. I mean no disrespect to the present Government but, with an election coming up in a limited period of time, there will be a new Government—speaking as a Cross-Bencher, it may be either Conservative or Labour—coming in with fresh ideas. Already, people are beavering away, writing their manifestos and putting into their party documents the kinds of achievements they want in future. I hope those noble Lords with political influence are already working with the people devising manifestos and future programmes for government to ensure that these absolutely valid recommendations are not lost. They must be carried forward and, somehow, within the next one, two or three years, we must bring them into effect.

Baroness Redfern Portrait Baroness Redfern (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond as a member of the Citizenship and Civic Engagement Committee and to state what a privilege it was to have served on it—as we have heard, it was appointed more than six years ago. I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for being an excellent chair and, to quote my noble friend Lady Eaton, for his diligence and determination.

This evening, we are debating the follow-up inquiry report and the issues it highlights. Revisiting the 2018 report from the Liaison Committee and the Government’s response in May 2022, and taking into account the new policy context, including the levelling-up agenda—policy must be driven intrinsically, to link it and active citizenship—it is important to acknowledge that the 2022 inquiry showed what good progress has been made with the National Citizen Service.

Evidence states how good cross-government co-ordination can be in establishing clear routes and making timely and coherent progress, and creating new ideas for early implementation. Therefore, I support appointing a Minister with active responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the Bill currently going through the House, and for this to be included at Committee.

The levelling-up agenda must take into account consideration of the unequal landscape which we inherit and must challenge the norm to create those elusive opportunities, much harder for those in seemingly left-behind areas. That is where schools come into their own, whether situated in deprived or more affluent areas, as indeed do all educational establishments, which have such a significant role to play in developing essential life skills for our young people. In delivering those skills, timing is of the essence for citizenship to flourish, as is supporting citizens of all age groups and not putting a halt to defending our values for a vibrant society, which is the glue connecting everyone.

I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is being offered to all state secondary schools to access thousands of new activities and what take-up there has been for those areas applying for the £387 million for the youth investment fund and youth service. Which areas of the country have applied and which have ultimately been successful?

I welcome that the DfE recently announced additional resources to support high-quality teaching of citizenship content, as good quality data and feedback is needed to achieve successful outcomes for trainee citizenship teachers to further enhance their roles and responsibilities. I emphasise that citizenship education should be taught without being bundled into other subjects, valued for its importance to society, and delivered on the basis of a non-political bias.

How responsive the Government would seem if the Home Office delivered, as stated, its intention to carry out a major update on the Life in the UK Test as part of wider nationality reforms as soon as practicable. This test is hugely important, because one mistake can make the difference between an application to live here failing and succeeding. The handbook should ensure people know the principles underlying British society. Answers to questions such as how to call emergency services, report a crime or register with a GP seem not to be in the handbook, which is questionable. I ask the Minister whether the Home Office will carry out any consultation on the composition of questions to be asked before an update is reprinted.

Finally, I again emphasise just how important it is to support those vital opportunities to capture and gain real-life skills for our young citizens, wherever their communities are. All of this must play an integral part in the levelling-up agenda, and in enriching their lives and, appropriately, as the title of the report portrays, the ties that bind.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, not least for his tenacity in bringing these reports again and again to the attention of Ministers. I say that because it is particularly galling to see the evident indifference of successive Ministers to these reports, which have been the subject of a great deal of work, thought and consideration. It is really important. Citizenship is becoming increasingly fragile. We have a Government at the moment who, remarkably, in the wake of Windrush, seem to spend more energy and time devising innovative means to deny or deprive individuals of citizenship. I truly believe that citizenship, the ties that bind us, is a crucially important part of a healthy society which lives at peace with itself in all its diversity.

I just want to take my time to pick up on a couple of things. The first is the National Citizen Service. Since its inception, I have been sceptical about the organisation. I have never disagreed with its basic premise: that young people can and should be encouraged to develop their personal skills by taking part in projects or short programmes which benefit communities. Every Government for the last 30 years have had programmes which have tried to mitigate the effects of unemployment and bring about community benefit through volunteering. My objection has always been that the NCS, despite having no intrinsic unique value, just high-profile political endorsement, was awarded royal charter body status, which it neither needed nor deserved, and that in an area where resources are really scarce, it continues to devour the lion’s share of what is available. That is despite a lack of evidence that it either delivers better tangible results than other organisations or is the most cost-effective option.

In both of our reports, we talked to the representatives of the NCS and also to Ministers to try and understand what it was doing and where it fitted in with everything else. We were so alarmed about the lack of resources for training and for schools. We particularly talked to both about the role of the NCS. We got a reply from the Ministers that said that the

“National Citizen Service Trust’s primary function is to provide and arrange for the provision of programmes for 16 and 17 year olds in England. National Citizen Service Trust works closely with hundreds of schools through the Skills Booster initiative to deliver, or help deliver, curriculum resources to support young people’s personal development, volunteering and social action”.

I spend a lot of time looking at the NCS’s reports; I recommend that people do that. If you look at the latest available report, the NCS says that it facilitated the return to education of 60,000 young people in 400 institutions. As far as I can see, that was about support to young people trying to return to it after all the difficulties of lockdown. It cites itself as working on issues such as communication, teamwork, goal setting and planning. Well, that is fine, but quite why the NCS should do this, as opposed to any other educational support services, is really not clear to me. I really have to question the work of the NCS.

A point that I have made before is that the NCS commissions its own evaluation, and the evaluations which it has had are not comparative in any way, so it marks its own homework. You get lots and lots of statistics which, in and of themselves, are very interesting, but they really do not prove that this body is the best way to deliver outcomes. So I yet again ask the Minister when there will be a review of the NCS which is undertaken independently and which places it within the context of the two reports that we have produced. Its reports talk about it being part of a sort of ecosystem of youth support, local government and all of that, but it really does come across when you go to see it as much more of a lone ranger pursuing its own objectives.

The second thing that I, too, want to talk about is the Life in the UK test. I commend the work of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of my formidable colleague, my noble friend Lady Hamwee. On 28 June last year, it wrote Kevin Foster MP a letter which I would say was polite but firm. In it, it was very clear; it said that the stakes for anybody taking a Life in the UK test are “very high”; if you fail that test, you may find yourself being deported, losing your income, and failing to get your indefinite leave to remain, so it is a really important and profound thing. It also said that it was really important that

“social cohesion, education, active participation, and the celebration of prospective citizens and permanent residents”

should all be at the heart of demonstrating sufficient knowledge about life in the UK. But it has said, and members of the committee have endorsed this, is that frankly, to people sitting that test, it is baffling. They are asked questions which they simply do not understand, and they do not understand why they are being asked these questions and what they will do to help them be any more fully engaged in society.

The committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that yet again we were having a promise of a review. It has been years since this review has been promised but what we really need and I am glad the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, has had an email, I do not think I have—

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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I am sorry, I think I may have imagined or misread an email from earlier in the day, so I am sorry if I have sent hares running. I apologise.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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Okay, I am not going to go chasing hares. We need a timetable for the start of this review and for its completion because it has been dragging on for so long, it is an embarrassment.

I was particularly taken by the description that said that the history section of the Life in the UK test is insensitive and embarrassing. It truly is. It is so full of subjective views of our history. As the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern said, all sorts of practical information that every individual might need to live life in this country is not there.

One other thing that nobody has yet talked about is the lack of availability of centres to take the test and the not inconsiderable cost of sitting the test. By the time you have bought the book and booked everything up it can be in excess of £300 to do this test on which your future rests.

All roads round, I think it is quite clear that the Government have for far too long just dragged their heels on this. I think it is an initiative that was started by a Labour Government. It was always going to be contentious but everybody accepts it could be an enormously valuable contribution to citizenship for communities. I do not know whether Members have gone along to a local citizenship ceremony but it is a lovely thing to watch communities celebrating and welcoming people to come and live.

I simply say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, that she is on a very unfortunate wicket this afternoon but I hope that she will not be, like a long line of her predecessors, somebody who bats us off with very little detail and no commitments because we do ourselves an injustice if we let this go any further.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest, as my husband, who is Norwegian, is currently studying towards the Life in the UK test which is mentioned in the committee’s report and to which I will refer during this debate.

I add my words commending both committees for their important work and their unceasing commitment to holding the Government to account over many years. As the report and several noble Lords have said during the debate this afternoon, there is a long way to go when it comes to supporting members of the public to have a thorough and rich engagement in civic society. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and say that in his opening reflections on the work of the committee he was probably a little too harsh in his school report card on the impact of the work of the committee but spot on on the continued importance and need for young people to understand how to be good citizens and make their voices heard. There clearly is a need for the Government and Ofsted to take citizenship more seriously.

What struck me and has been evident in this debate is that is clear that there have been missed opportunities in the citizenship test, the National Citizenship Service and teaching citizenship in schools. It is evident that there are multiple serious deficiencies in the Government’s approach and I seek assurances on some of these today.

My noble friend Lady Morris and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, were clear that where the Government value things, they have the option of assigning a Minister. I agree that this is normally the case. Will the Minister tell us in her remarks if this is going to be addressed?

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, like many of those speaking, described citizenship teaching in very strong terms, I think calling it “appalling”. I was particularly struck by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on the teaching of citizenship in schools and the downgrading of subjects, leading to an ever decreasing number of teachers.

The Liaison Committee’s follow-up report finds that, despite warm words, citizenship education is not yet a priority for the Government’s schools strategy. Damningly, as highlighted by many noble Lords during this debate, the report finds that Ofsted does not take citizenship education seriously. I agree with noble Lords that PSHE is not the same as citizenship, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is right in differentiating between the “I/me” of PSHE and the “we/us” of citizenship. They should be treated as separate and distinct subjects.

I was particularly struck—I think someone else also noted this—by the quote in the report from James Weinberg, who said that

“those in the top quintile for household income are five times more likely to participate in political activities”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said, the removal of barriers to democratic activity is vital. She is right that this is an issue for the levelling-up agenda and for government. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also noted that this is lacking from the levelling-up Bill, while the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, noted the opportunity this Bill might present to government as it goes through the parliamentary process. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, on any other subject, the inadequacies pointed out in the quote from James Weinberg would have been addressed. If active citizenship means anything, it must include active participation in civic life, including political activities of all types, whether party-political—as most noble Lords have chosen—or issue-based activism. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, noted, active citizenship can also extend to volunteering and the voluntary sector, the growth and health of which we would all want to encourage.

I was concerned that the Government’s response to the report said that many of the recommendations on Ofsted were “a matter for the Chief Inspector”, although I note that their response to recommendation 12 acknowledged engagement between the department and the inspectorate. How will the Minister ensure that, going forward, Ofsted is equipped with the right training to assess the quality of citizenship education effectively? Labour is committed to reforming statutory citizenship provision within the national curriculum, placing a particular focus on practical life skills and employment skills, for example.

I turn to the Life in the UK test, which, as has been noted, is a gateway to becoming a UK citizen or having a permanent right of residence, and which is rightly being criticised. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, queried some subjective choices of questions. As someone who studied literature, I would say that all choices of questions are subjective; but there is an active choice to be made and at the moment, the questions as outlined are probably not most the appropriate.

As recently as last week, Durham University published a study that found that prospective candidates are being asked to memorise ridiculous trivia such as the height of the London Eye, and that the test is riddled with errors such as an incorrect date for the death of the late Baroness Thatcher. As I mentioned, my husband is Norwegian and is studying for the test. When I test him on the questions, he sometimes corrects me. He was clearly right when adamant that the answer to a model test question on the Vikings was incorrect. As the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, noted, one “wrong” answer can make a difference to the applicant. I would struggle to persuade my husband to give the wrong answer to a question about the Vikings.

While the pub quiz is a very real and valuable aspect of British culture, I cannot believe that the Minister would agree that it is the best model for testing whether people seeking to become British citizens understand what this means. Can the Minister tell us either the height of the London Eye—or why this type of information is relevant? Can she tell us when the handbook might be updated, rather than simply repeating what the report says: that the Government are committed to setting out their plans to update it? I would be grateful if she could explain why the Government cannot just get on with updating the handbook, and if she could press her government colleagues—accepting that it is a different department—to avoid kicking this into the long grass.

Finally, the last we heard from the Government was that the Inter-Ministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities has not met since 2019. Notwithstanding the fact that we have had a pandemic—we are no longer at its height—will the Minister say whether the group is still not meeting and, if so, whether it has been wound down or replaced with anything else? It is too crucial an agenda to be allowed to drift.

It is clear from the debate and everything noble Lords have said that citizenship matters, not simply because of legal status but because of values—values of loyalty fostered through feeling as though you belong. In this context, I found an article on the Migration Observatory website, Citizenship: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?, particularly thought provoking, covering both the legal status of citizenship and ideas of belonging. Surely, we want people of all ages, and our new citizens, not just to know that they are legally British but to be proud of our country and of the contribution they can make to its future, and to be proud because they feel that they belong. We want them to feel this pride irrespective of what language they speak at home or where they were born.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for mentioning the NCS, because we did not cover it very widely in the debate. As she noted, it could do more to foster citizenship. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on her proposal of a review.

In today’s challenging world of online conspiracy theories, culture wars and, notably, the prohibitive voter ID laws from the Government, a firm commitment to building a strong and resilient society that builds up trust in politics and politicians must be at the heart of public policy-making. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, said that politicians are part of the problem, but he was absolutely right to say that they are also part of the solution. I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government are committed to being part of the solution, taking the recommendations of both committees seriously and acting on them sooner than the formal response suggests that they might.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for securing this debate and for his skilful chairmanship of the committee and all noble Lords who contributed to the report and who have spoken today.

The Government agree with the committee that citizenship education and civic engagement opportunities are essential parts of a well-functioning democratic society. My noble friend focused in particular on curriculum and teaching and the Government’s role in that and in relation to Ofsted. I agree with other noble Lords that those things are fundamental but need to be linked to opportunities for young people to explore citizenship in practice or in real life. In terms of our approach, linking those two things is the golden thread that runs through the Government’s policy.

A number of your Lordships, including the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, questioned the absence of a dedicated Minister. That might be worthy of debate in its own right. As your Lordships know, the Government currently do not have plans to appoint a Minister in this area. Responsibility for chairing the Inter-Ministerial Group on Levelling Up sits clearly with the Secretary of State in DLUHC, and that group oversees delivery across the 12 levelling-up missions, with a real focus on empowering local leaders. A number of your Lordships raised the importance of this being owned locally. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for reminding the House about the different “capitals”, in particular the social capital pillar, with its focus on the strengths of communities, relationships and trust.

We believe that key to achieving this is that empowerment of local communities, which is why there has been such a focus on devolution. Not only do we have an interministerial group but we also have an independent advisory council, advising the Government on their approach to place-based policy, including the role of local communities and social infrastructure in levelling up.

On education specifically, as your Lordships have put more eloquently than I can, a high-quality citizenship curriculum gives extraordinary opportunities for pupils to understand their place in the world, in their local communities, in their country and globally. Citizenship is an important national curriculum subject at key stages 3 and 4, and all schools are encouraged to teach it as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, was not the only person who painted a bleak picture of the state of citizenship education. I will shed a little light on that bleakness. We saw a 5.9% increase in the number of GCSE candidates taking citizenship studies in the summer of 2022, compared to 2021. That was up 19.5% from 2018, to just under 21,500 students. On teacher numbers, my noble friend Lady Eaton—forgive me if it was another noble Lord—suggested that teacher numbers had halved. Actually, since 2018, teacher numbers have declined slightly, but from 4,451 to 4,152 in 2022—not the dramatic decline that was suggested.

We also now have the Oak National Academy, which became an arm’s-length body in September 2022 and provides adaptable and optional support for schools. New curriculum packages are being developed, including in relation to citizenship, so that every school can be confident that there is a high-quality and well-sequenced curriculum that it can follow if it wishes.

Your Lordships also made a number of recommendations on the inspection of citizenship teaching. The department expects citizenship to be considered a significant part of Ofsted’s routine inspections. In contrast to your Lordships’ remarks this evening, we are satisfied that the current approach achieves this in a proportionate way. Ofsted has confirmed that evidence on citizenship is considered in every inspection, including the extent to which schools are preparing pupils for life in modern Britain effectively, through relationship education, citizenship and the promotion of fundamental British values.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth asked what action is being taken to make sure that there is compliance with the committee’s recommendations. Of course, Ofsted is an independent arm’s-length body of the Government, but I am happy to ask His Majesty’s chief inspector to respond to your Lordships’ various suggestions and reflections on citizenship not being properly understood within the curriculum or adequately covered within Ofsted inspections.

In response to my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the approach that Ofsted uses, I think it would be unfair to suggest that Ofsted does not have high expectations for citizenship in schools. As with other subjects, Ofsted expects the curriculum to be structured to enable pupils to build knowledge through clear sequences of lessons and any other activities that schools may organise.

I turn now to teaching. The report, as your Lordships reminded us, made recommendations relating to investment in the school workforce. Obviously, the Government are very focused on recruitment and retention of all teachers, including in relation to citizenship, and recruitment to citizenship initial teacher training courses is unrestricted for providers. Citizenship teachers are of course eligible for tuition fee and maintenance loans, but we have focused on particular shortage subjects in relation to bursaries.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, talked about the amendment he put down to the Schools Bill, and a number of the elements he set out clearly in that amendment are explicitly covered in the citizenship curriculum. More broadly, your Lordships will be aware that the department published its sustainability and climate change strategy, which was developed together with young people. That really sets out how seriously we take climate change and the environment, which is an important part of the sense of being a citizen for many young people, within the department. As part of that, we have announced a national education nature park and climate action awards scheme, which will give educational opportunities for young people to take part in citizen science as well as a number of other activities.

On the National Citizen Service, as I said in my opening remarks, our vision as a Government is not only that young people have opportunities to learn about citizenship and gain the knowledge that they need in order to be responsible and active citizens but that they are given opportunities to, if you like, do citizenship and participate. That is why the new National Citizen Service is investing more than £20 million over two years in community experiences with a real focus on social action, volunteering and civic participation.

I was quite surprised at the tone of the remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, because the National Citizen Service has evolved its delivery model, partly in response to your Lordships’ recommendations. I thought it might have got a green tick for its response. First, there is a much greater focus on partnership—working with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector—as well as much greater engagement with schools through the skills booster programme, which the noble Baroness referred to. That programme has now been accessed by about 7,000 schools—about a third of the schools in this country—which is major progress from the figures the noble Baroness mentioned.

Officials within DCMS and the Department for Education are continuing to explore opportunities to improve access to active citizenship, including through promoting the NCS. Over 100,000 young people took part in NCS experiences in 2022, with the new, reformed programme starting this year. The new programme is open to all 16 and 17 year-olds, with support available for the most disadvantaged.

My noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about the impact of NCS. The independent research undertaken by the Behavioural Insights Team showed that completing the National Citizen Service programme leads to a 12% increase in participation in politics, so, if that were to be modelled across all 16 to 25 year-olds, they would be the second-highest participating age group, as opposed to the second-lowest, which is where they are today. Research by Kantar also showed that the NCS statistically increases levels of social trust, which your Lordships, including the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, rightly highlighted as a matter of importance.

We are making excellent progress against the national youth guarantee commitments, which my noble friend Lady Redfern asked about. Since September 2021, government funding supported over 11,500 more young people to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in school. Some 2,000 more places have been created for uniformed youth groups in cold spots since September 2022, and £90 million of the £300 million youth investment fund has been allocated to 43 organisations to rebuild and renovate youth centres in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas. The new NCS programme has, in effect, double the investment in 53 priority areas, providing the same focus on those areas that need support most.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, mentioned Community Action Suffolk. I remember my very happy visit with her to Community Action Suffolk to see its great work. However, we know that volunteering more broadly is one of the top three priority activities identified by over 6,000 young people in the 2021 Youth Review. The National Youth Social Action Survey 2019 found that young people were eager to make a difference, with 88% saying that they

“cared about making the world a better place”.

Last year, 434,492 votes were cast by young people engaged in the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign, which was up 18.5% from 2020. The national youth guarantee is supporting local youth volunteering opportunities via the #iwill fund, through which it is projected that over 695,000 youth social action opportunities will be created by March 2027.

My noble friend Lady Eaton asked about the percentage of the funding in the national youth guarantee that goes specifically towards citizenship. It is genuinely quite difficult to separate that out, because, as the report described, there is a civic journey, and the plan with the national youth guarantee is to encourage young people along that journey.

On the Home Office’s Life in the UK Test, your Lordships’ report recommended that the Government set up an advisory group with a diverse and expert membership to review the test within 12 months. The Government are clear that the Home Office will need to engage a range of experts and stakeholders when undertaking the review, but at this stage they cannot commit to setting up such an advisory group. My noble friend Lord Hodgson and others asked about the timing of when the plans will be published to update the Life in the UK handbook, and I can confirm that that will happen in the second half of this year. In response to the critique of the test from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I say that 91% of candidates who took the test in the last 12 months said that they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the service they received.

What I heard from your Lordships this evening was very critical of the Government in our response to specific recommendations in your Lordships’ reports. Your Lordships expressed a real concern that there needs to be a coherence and a focus on how the Government are tackling the important issue of citizenship. As I have acknowledged in my speech, there are absolutely areas where the Government have not adopted the recommendations made in your Lordships’ reports, but I hope that your Lordships will also acknowledge that, while we may not approach it in exactly the way they have recommended, there is a coherence to what we are doing to try to bring together that knowledge of the curriculum, the rigour of inspection and the practical experiences that we offer young people.

We know that we need to offer young people a range and a choice of activities and focus on those which we know, from evidence, make the most difference to civic participation. Of course, that includes volunteering and activities that, by design, bring young people from different communities together, as well, of course, as giving young people the knowledge and the confidence to think independently, to think critically, and to be responsible citizens. I genuinely thank all noble Lords for their engagement on these incredibly important topics. My noble friend talked about tying the pink ribbon around the report. I reassure the Committee that we are not tying any pink ribbon yet around our work in this area: we will continue to strive to deliver on the aspiration of your Lordships’ reports.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, the Order Paper for today says that the Committee will rise at 7.45 pm. It is now some way past 7.45 pm, and it therefore behoves the chairman not to detain the Committee any longer than is strictly necessary. Therefore, let me just make a couple of quick points. First, I thank my noble friend for a very full and thoughtful reply. There were lots of statistics in there, which I look forward to having a chance to read and inwardly digest—I could not very well take them on as they came at me, but they all sounded very impressive.

When a chairman gets things wrong, he ought to say so. Well, “the pink ribbon” was not about giving up on the subject. I think we should go on with the subject until the walls of Jericho fall and we sound the trumpet. I think we should definitely do that—the pink ribbon is just that the committee has now really run its course, and that is why I used that phrase. Secondly, I wrongly attributed “me” and “we” to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I should of course have attributed it to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, so let me correct that.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, took slight issue with my use of the word “failure”. They are probably right. Probably, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, got it right in saying “indifference”. I think that is the right word, rather than failure. We have lit a bit of a fire, but it is really only sputtering along, and indifference remains the prevailing view of it, I think—though, as I say, we must read carefully what my noble friend the Minister said.

We had some powerful speeches about the Minister, the importance of the Minister and the importance of education. Among them, as would befit an ex-Secretary of State for Education and a current professor at a university, were powerful voices from those who know what is really going on on the inside.

I shall just take a slightly querulous point of view about the Life in the UK test. My noble friend Lady Eaton may have set a hare running, but there is no hare: we are no further forward than we were three, four, five or six years ago. It is always going to be “in the autumn”, and this autumn never comes. I do hope we can now make it happen, because if you read the reports, it is always, “We are about to set up a group”, “We are going to do it”, “It is very important”—blah blah blah—“but it will take a little time, and we will come back to you when we are ready”. I do think we need to get that right.

I do not doubt my noble friend’s commitment to this—absolutely, she showed that this evening. Where I felt that I was listening to a very strange set of words was when she was quoting Ofsted. I think that Ofsted talks the talk, but it does not walk the walk. I really do not. It sends wonderful messages to the Minister and her officials, and the result is that that is regurgitated to us. I understand why that happens, but I do not think it is happening down on the ground, unless Ofsted has gone on a Damascene conversion in the last 12 months. All the interactions that we had with Ofsted showed that it was not interested, not committed and did not really care about this. If I add a last request, it would be for my noble friend to act as Dyno-Rod in connection to Ofsted and citizenship education.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 8.10 pm.