Literacy, Citizenship and Education

  • Kenneth Levine


The principle that all the capable adult members of a democratic society should be able to read and write was a major consideration in the framing of the Education Acts of the 1870s which established universal basic education in Britain. Since most contemporary theories of citizenship, ranging from the commonsensical through to the systematically philosophical, continue to presuppose (albeit sometimes implicitly) adult literacy, educationalists have been able to treat it as an uncontested objective in schooling. The major official reviews of school English, including Newbolt, Bullock and Kingman, have consequently been mainly preoccupied with framing or defining a syllabus that, together with other ingredients, will maximize pupil attainments in reading, writing and spelling. At this point, though, the consensus has tended to fall apart. While the reassuring rhetoric of such reviews tends to imply that the abiding concern of all interested parties is to select approaches and materials of undoubted educational effectiveness, on more than one occasion the process of drawing up the syllabus for English has become professionally divisive and politically contentious. Indeed, for an extended period in the early 1990s, the English syllabus became a political football at the end of an especially muddy and bruising contest in which the sides continued to struggle conscientiously without knowing where the ball was, who belonged to which side, or whether the referee was still on the pitch.


National Curriculum Standard English Standard Language Literary Tradition Attainment Target 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Kenneth Levine

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