In his regular column, Dr Graham Haydon argues that, despite appearances, PSHE as well as citizenship has a role in education for democracy.

In this column I have looked at topics that are relevant for both PSHE and citizenship. If there is one topic that might seem to belong just to citizenship it is democracy. After all, the Crick Report of 1998, which had so much influence on the decision to incorporate citizenship into the National Curriculum, was called ‘Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools’.

I am not going to claim that democracy should be an explicit topic in PSHE as well as citizenship, but I do think that what young people do in PSHE can help them to be better democratic citizens. Preparation of our citizens for their role in democracy is too important to be left to citizenship alone.

To see this we need to think about what we mean by ‘democracy’, and why we value it. Decisions can be arrived at democratically at many levels, but one thing that all cases of democratic decision-making have in common is that there is some reason why a collective decision should be arrived at, rather than individual decisions being made by individual people.

The limits of voting

Suppose six people are ganging up on one individual. Should what happens next be determined by a majority vote of all seven? Of course not, because the one person has a right not to be bullied and that can’t be overturned by a majority against her. Even so, when a school needs an anti-bullying policy, it may make sense for the whole school to be involved in formulating that policy. The main reason is so that all can feel they are involved, and are able to identify with the decision reached.

This doesn’t have much to do with majority voting. Suppose the senior management of the school comes up with two possible policies for the students to decide between. Even if the students can vote for their preferred option, they will not have played a part in formulating the policy. Why should they identify with it (especially if they are in the minority)?

That is one of the problems with democracy on a larger scale too. People get to vote, but feel they have not had much say in the policies that are put to them.

This is one of the reasons behind the apparent apathy that partly motivated the Crick Report.

Deliberative democracy

How is it possible to get citizens, not just voting, but involved in deliberations with their fellow citizens on what sort of policies – indeed what sort of society – they want to see? In the United States one suggestion has been a regular Deliberation Day – a public holiday from everyone’s normal work – when citizens meet in local venues for a day of discussion on political issues.

The sort of scenario suggested – presentations of information, small group discussions, plenary sessions, and so on – will not seem unfamiliar to anyone working in schools. Even if the idea of mass deliberations among citizens seems unrealistic, we do have the possibility on a small scale of getting people in schools involved in discussing the kind of issues on which collective decisions are needed. Citizenship education can help get people accustomed to the idea of discussing public issues, and give them practice in doing so.

PSHE as education for democracy

What has this got to do with PSHE, if PSHE is more about the kinds of issues on which individuals have to make personal decisions for themselves (see my article in the October 2005 issue of PSHE & Citizenship Update)? First, PSHE, like citizenship, often deals with controversial issues. Young people need to get used to discussing controversial issues, finding out how it is possible to discuss such issues in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. Any practice in the skills and attitudes needed, even when the subject matter is not directly about politics or public affairs, will be contributing towards the education of citizens.

More specifically, what is often common to the topics brought up in both PSHE and citizenship – and what makes the topics controversial – is that people’s thinking on these issues is underpinned by their sense of values. As I argued in the October issue, most people do not have one set of values for thinking about personal issues and a quite separate set for thinking about public issues. There are underlying values that are relevant to both.

To appreciate and understand values – our own and other people’s – in all their complexity we need to be able to reflect on our values, and to do that we need to be able to discuss them. Enabling people to reflect on and discuss their values is a vital contribution that PSHE can make to education for citizenship, and indeed to all education.

Some values that underlie issues in PSHE and citizenship

PSHE can help students appreciate the importance of good health; the same value underlies discussion of society’s responsibility for health care.

PSHE can help people get a secure sense of their own identity. Realising the importance of this for everyone is one basis for respect for other cultures in a plural society.

Freedom of choice
PSHE values people’s ability to make their own, informed, decisions. The importance of this for everyone partly explains why a liberal society values freedom of choice and also the responsibility that goes with it.

Financial security
PSHE encourages people to be sensible about their own finances. Money is important, not for its own sake, but because of its contribution to quality of life. The importance of this is one of the motivations behind a fair society’s concern with social justice and inclusion.

Further information

British Humanist Association
Institute for Global Ethics
Living Values Education
Values Education Council
Dr Graham Haydon is course leader, MA in Values in Education, Institute of Education, University of London.