60 second interview with Tony Thorpe
After working for more than ten years as a teacher, I joined the Law in Education Project, funded by the Law Society, and set up to develop law-related teaching material for secondary schools, for use by teachers with little of no legal background. With Project Director, Don Rowe, we devised a wide range of materials, designed to raise students’ understanding and interest in the law and to encourage teachers to look at issues of civil, as well as criminal law, as they were accustomed to do.
The project directly led to the development of the Citizenship Foundation under its founder, Andrew Phillips, with the aim of establishing citizenship education in both the primary and secondary sectors. In 2002, citizenship education became a statutory subject for 11-16 year-olds. Although the focus of the Foundation has broadened since the early days of the LIEP to include political and economic literacy and community involvement, my work has continued to centre on materials’ development and training.
How does citizenship and law-related education (LRE) improve levels of skills and knowledge?
I think that good citizenship education – and LRE in particular – is invaluable in helping people, both young old, make sense of the world. It can be an excellent vehicle for discussion, and one to which people of different ages and backgrounds can all relate.
Although the law is sometimes flawed, and outcomes are not always satisfactory, LRE nevertheless provides a number of points of access for discussion. It also generally gives students an outcome, such as an accurate summary of the law, details of compensation, or the verdict or sentence in a particular case. All of these provide some sort of closure, but also give an opportunity for further discussion and debate about their relative merits.
What do you think works well?
Co-operative activities work well, particularly based around a scenario or story whose outcome is open to debate.
It also helps if there is something of “added value” – an experience, information, or an idea that students have not previously encountered.
What are the biggest challenges?
- To keep citizenship education as part of the National Curriculum; and to retain it in a form that is genuinely useful to young people.
- To convince more schools of the value of having a specialist team of citizenship teachers, just as they do for any other National Curriculum subject.
- To provide effective and on-going training in citizenship education at both CPD and initial teacher training levels.
What is your top tip?
Law-related materials and activities that tend to work best seem to contain practical, intellectual and emotional elements.
Keep it simple, and try to write for the student’s agenda – 'what’s in this activity for the student?' can be quite a helpful question to ask.
Tony Thorpe is a freelance writer and consultant for the Citizenship Foundation and has written many of their most popular publications including 'Understanding Citizenship', Young Citizen's Passport' and 'Your Rights and Responsibilities'. We highlighted the excellent OCR book on Citizenship Studies for GCSE here where you will also find more information about citizenship education.