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

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Department: Department for Education

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

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Excerpts
Monday 17th April 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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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.

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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.