Social Education 58(7), 1994, pp. 442-443
National Council for the Social Studies

The United Nations and the National Curriculum of England and Wales

David Barrs
Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter call on member states to promote "educational cooperation"; a "respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms"; and "conditions of economic and social progress and development." All member states pledge to take "joint and separate action" in pursuance of these Articles. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was one of the founding members of the United Nations.
When a survey was conducted throughout the European Community countries in early 1990, 93 percent of those surveyed in the UK had heard of the UN, whereas 50 percent thought it was doing a good job; 82 percent of Britons, however, said they were taught nothing about the UN at school-the lowest figure in the European Community. This article addresses efforts to change that.

The National Curriculum of England and Wales
By the late 1980s, a consensus had been reached within the educational community in England and Wales about the principle of a common curriculum. It was agreed to define it in terms of three core subjects (math, English, and science) and seven foundation subjects (technology, modern foreign languages, geography, history, art, music, and physical education). Religious Education was protected in law and was regarded as an additional compulsory subject. It is part of the basic curriculum and is defined locally by the Standing Advisory Committees on Religious Education (SACREs). These are multi-faith bodies that are empowered by law to draw up guidelines for teaching and assessing religious education.

Each subject is defined in terms of a program of study that covers schooling from 5 to 16 years of age. Each program is organized into Attainment Targets for the purpose of assessment, and assessment in each target is based on a 10-level scale, with 10 being high.

Schools and teachers are also required to take account of the whole curriculum-the assumption being that the curriculum is more than the sum of its parts. The whole curriculum comprises cross-curricular skills, themes, and dimensions that schools are expected to address both separately and through the subjects themselves. These can be seen as the cement binding the ten pillars of the national curriculum wisdom together. Of particular interest here are the five themes of citizenship, environment, health, careers, and economic understanding. The cross-curricular skills are communication, numeracy, study, problem-solving, information-technology, and personal/social; the dimensions deal with issues relating to equal opportunity, namely gender, ethnicity, and social education.

As the curriculum was phased in, it became clear that it was cumbersome, overladen with content, and bureaucratic in terms of assessment. The teaching profession and others reacted strongly, and a review was ordered in 1993. At the time of writing, new plans for the curriculum have been published for consultation.

From the outset, the United Nations association in the UK saw the National Curriculum as an opportunity to promote deeper understanding of the UN within state schools. They established an Education Committee and published The United Nations Kit. The program of study for history required pupils at age 14 to study a unit titled "The Era of the Second World War," which included reference to the formation of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the post-war refugee crisis. The cross-curricular theme of citizenship also specified that pupils might study the UN, human rights, and other related issues.

The United Nations Kit is a set of photocopiable resources that provide materials for each teacher of a National Curriculum subject. The very breadth of the UN's work makes it possible to identify appropriate contexts for each of the subjects, for instance, English and the plight of refugees, geography and the UN's work in disaster relief, math and the UN budget, etc.

It may be that the new plans for the National Curriculum remove the necessity for history teachers to teach about the UN. Nonetheless, the UN will continue to provide classroom teachers with topical, interesting, and flexible materials, particularly if they are to meet their cross-curricular responsibilities for citizenship. The Kit materials will continue to be developed and will be available worldwide in 1995 as a mark of the UN's Fiftieth Anniversary.

The arguments for teaching about the UN are both moral and, this writer suggests, legal. The key issues facing this and future generations are not confined within national or even supranational boundaries-they are global. Such issues are relevant in preparing young people for life in an increasingly independent world. Member states have an obligation under the UN Charter (Articles 55 and 56) to promote "a respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms" and "conditions of economic and social progress and development." Our own government advised schools in 1981 to "help pupils to understand the world in which they live and the interdependence of individuals, groups and nations."

Whether we feel that teaching about the UN is a moral or a legal obligation or not, there is no escaping our ultimate purpose. The constitution of UNESCO states that "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." The education of global citizens must have at its heart a knowledge and understanding of the UN.

David Barrs is a Deputy Headteacher at the Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex, UK, and Chairperson of the UNA-UK Education Committee. He is also editor of The United Nations Kit.