Citizenship, Empathy and Mutuality.

Anyone can be a citizen, but what’s involved in citizenship? What sorts of attitudes, skills and abilities are needed for someone to become an active citizen?

The official practice UK citizenship tests are concerned solely with items of knowledge and information – nothing required at all in terms of what 3Di thinks of as social intelligence – a sense of identification, empathy, caring for others, desire to make a contribution to the common good, and so on.

In last Saturday’s post we lamented the erosion of mutuality in our society, as evidenced by the decline of the cooperative movement and the building societies. [“What happened to the whole concept of mutuality and profit-sharing?”] It was a very bad day for ‘society’ when the decision to allow the building societies to de-mutualise and become banks was taken – for a whole number of reasons. From that moment onward banks became the biggest players in the mortgage market, which led to the sub-prime and self-certification debacles. From that time on we’ve seen the sale of toxic financial ‘products’ and ultimately the great financial crash of 2007-8.

It was inevitable that most individuals with building society accounts would say ‘yes’ to the notion of trading in their membership and their mutuality for a fistful of moolah. It was impossible for most financially-strapped people to see (or to care about) the downside of the destruction of building societies. This was an issue for the whole of society, and our so-called representatives in Parliament must take responsibility for what happened. It was outrageous that one generation of mortgage holders and building society savers were asked to vote on whether or not to destroy something unique that had taken a hundred years to evolve for the benefit of would-be home owners and society as a whole.

So now we are where we are, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. Do we care at all?

Which brings us back to Bob Diamond. Last week Mr D said he cares about ‘citizenship’. Really? Hmmmm. It’s possible, and for all we know he uses his 100 million in ‘bonuses’ to support worthy causes and charities that look after the less well off. He could even be funding schools to develop their citizenship curriculum.

So how do schools enable pupils to learn about citizenship – the theory and the practice? Because even those schools that refuse to take the subject seriously nevertheless form children’s ideas about the kind of society they live in just by having them as members of a school community. What sorts of informal learning take place?

Consider this. School A is very traditional and highly competitive. It strives to be high in its local league table of academic attainment. Its pupils sit in classrooms that are arranged in the tradition rows and columns of desks, with everyone focused on the teacher who stands at the front. Student talk is strongly discouraged, as is cooperation and collaboration. Everyone learns individually, and strives to attain high marks from their own efforts. “Copying” is forbidden. No-one feels responsible for anyone else’s learning. Self-esteem and status depend on individuals’ grades and test results.

School B strongly encourages a sense of mutuality and a sense of responsibility for oneself and also one’s peers. Pupils enjoy joint problem-solving and project work. Collaboration enables students to develop communication skills and social intelligence. Empathy is highly valued, as is mutual support and respect. No child feels left behind or inferior, even though it’s clear that there are innate differences in capabilities, in skills, and in the ability to retain factual knowledge. The needs of all pupils are catered for, and every type of achievement and attainment are provided for.

So whose pupils are best prepared for life, for the world of work, and best prepared to be active citizens in a decent society? If you’re the kind of business or workplace that insists on staff working mainly in silence and isolation, then you might look for pupils from School A.

The vast majority of sensible employers, however, need people who are good communicators, good listeners and good speakers – people who are skilled in explaining their ideas, communicating their thoughts and articulating their solutions to problems. These are also skills and abilities we expect people to have in order to be active citizens.

The vast majority of employers look for recruits that have strongly developed empathy, concern for others, a healthy creative imagination and an ability to work within a team on finding solutions to problems. These are also capabilities we need in active citizens.

Active citizens need high levels of self-confidence, as well as respect for others. They also need integrity – or ‘moral compasses’, if you will. It’s good that people like Bob Diamond see the need for citizenship education. We’re looking forward to hearing some more about his ideas for how to develop it.


UK Citizenship Test

Research on the citizenship test shows that there are no questions about attitude or values. It is totally based on factual information.

For example, in order to be a UK Citizen you should know:

· Which country provided the biggest number of immigrants to the UK in the 1980s
· Alternative names for the Church of England
· How many parliamentary constituencies there are
· When in history UK women were granted the right to divorce their husbands
· In which places the European Parliament sits (NB one of the correct answers isn’t an option in the test!)
· Who is exempt from prescription charges (which should include  everyone in Wales)

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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