Citizenship, Political Liberalism and the National Curriculum

Best Essays
Citizenship, Political Liberalism and the National Curriculum

I shall maintain in this essay that the civic education proposed in the new National Curriculum subject called Citizenship is not in harmony with the educational aims and principles stated in The Education Reform Act, 1988, in which the National Curriculum itself was established. I shall argue further that the present institutional arrangements for the whole of education are contrary to the spirit of the civic education outlined in Citizenship.

To pursue the argument I shall draw on John Rawls’ insight that, in a modern democracy such as that in the UK, the idea of a democratic state with a single generally agreed moral or religious doctrine is no longer useful. In Political Liberalism he writes about this notion:

That conception of social unity is excluded by the fact of reasonable pluralism; it is no longer a political possibility for those who accept the constraints of liberty and toleration of democratic institutions. (p.201)

He uses the notion of justice as fairness to indicate how the state may deal justly with its citizens in a pluralist society. He defines justice as fairness in terms of two principles of justice. The first is that all people must have the same political rights and liberties. The second principle is that of equality of opportunity. Rawls then restricts the sphere of influence of these principles to that of political, social and economic institutions. This position he calls ‘political liberalism’.

He maintains that this political liberalism should be seen as a freestanding moral system applicable only to political, social and economic institutions. This is somewhat difficult to swallow if only in terms of exactly how this limit...

... middle of paper ...

...ply to all pupils. Pupils do not receive the same civic education. Fourth, the institutions are not freely available in terms of fair competition although both systems are state controlled.

If, therefore, equality of opportunity is indeed

One of a broad set of common values and purposes which underpin the school curriculum and the work of the school

as the Secretary of State claims, then I submit that both our current National Curriculum and our current institutional arrangements are not in line with this value, and that, therefore, the aims of Citizenship are unlikely to be realised.


RAWLS, J. (1996) Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, New York, Chicago, Chichester

Education Reform Act 1988: Secretary of State’s Preface and opening sections

National Curriculum Values 2002

Citizenship, Programme of Study Key Stage 4
Get Access