The government is committed to the teaching of citizenship in schools, education minister Baroness Blackstone told the lords last night.
In a debate initiated by Lord Phillips of Sudbury - against a background of reports that Ofsted chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead was opposing the implement of the recommendations of the advisory group on education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, chaired by Bernard Crick - the minister said the government would consult when it brought forward firm proposals.
The overwhelming number of peers who spoke in the debate - including former Conservative education secretary Kenneth Baker, a member of the Crick advisory group, and former speaker of the commons Lord Weatherill, who established a commission on citizenship - favoured the adoption of the Crick recommendations.
it was an indictment to be proposing a specific and compulsory subject within the curriculum, to be measured and inspected by Ofsted. 'It has always been the case that good schools and effective parenting make good citizens. It is implicit in the very way a good school operates. Voluntary activity is very real in this country', she said.
Baroness Blatch said there was no consensus about the aims and purposes of teaching citizenship - or what citizenship education was. She asked what 5% of the curriculum was to be sacrificed for it, who would fund teacher training, additional inspection hours and curriculum materials.
And to peers who had held up the United States as an example of how to teach citizenship, Baroness Blatch commented: 'All I can say is that turnouts for elections is lamentable. There is an extremely poor turnout of citizens to vote for their judges, their education boards and politicians. I would not look to America for an example of citizenship'.
But education minister Baroness Blackstone said: 'The government see citizenship education as central to our drive to create a modern and inclusive society where everyone has a stake in its future and the opportunity to contribute. It will help us to give our young people the understanding and motivation needed to survive in community life, to fulfil their responsibilities and to make political and economic decisions.
'Most importantly, it will help them to understand that in a democracy there are different points of view which should be respected; it will help them to appreciate that their actions have effects on others and that they should care about the consequences of their actions, and it will also help them to recognise the actual value of democracy as a means of resolving the competing interests which exist in all complex sociaties'.
The UK was alone among its European partners and many other developed countries in not having formal citizenship education in the curriculum. Yet there were worrying indicators of a democratic deficit which could not be ignored - for example, as many as 90% of people in one or two of the most disadvantaged areas of the country did not vote in last May's local elections.
She assured Baroness Blatch the government would address her concerns about resources and teachers' time, and added: 'I want to make absolutely clear that citizenship will not replace other areas such as history, religious education or personal, social and health education. It will complement them'.