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Rather than citizenship ceremonies, easier access to English language classes is what is needed for new citizens, University of Leicester expert affirms

On the occasion of the first British citizenship ceremony for immigrants held at Brent today in the presence of HRH the Prince of Wales and the Home Secretary, the Director of the Centre for the History of Religious and Political Pluralism at the University of Leicester, Professor Richard Bonney, commented: “Citizenship ceremonies are a good idea because it is important for new citizens to this country to recognize that the day they are granted British citizenship is a really significant event in their lives. Other countries have practised such ceremonies for years and there is much to be said for a simple ceremony where the new citizen’s rights and responsibilities are affirmed on oath.”

But Professor Bonney said there were disadvantages to the scheme. Because of a prior commitment to introduce citizenship ceremonies with effect from January 2004 there had been insufficient time for the preparation of the essential materials for so-called ‘light-touch education for those making a home in the UK’.

Sir Bernard Crick’s Advisory Group had suggested an agenda which would include everyday Britain including the NHS; schools and how people get help or support; employment in Britain, including their rights and the minimum wage; the basics of the English or Scottish legal system and the
rights and duties of a citizen’; the basic history of our institutions such as the role of the Monarch, Parliament and government; the face of Britain, particularly its modern history as a multicultural society and its principles of equality, fairness and justice.

All of this is unexceptionable, Professor Bonney commented, but we need to see the detail: we need to know that what is being taught in these citizenship classes helps people towards an intercultural understanding of history, identity and contemporary issues and is not simply a mish-mash of current political correctness. He continued: “It was a matter of regret that the promised website information had not been prepared in advance of the first citizenship ceremonies.

The really important and burning issue is the provision of English language teaching for new immigrants, Professor Bonney added. If new immigrants are to have a real chance to make their contribution in our society then both partners in a marriage need opportunities for English language instruction. What has tended to happen is that the opportunities for women to learn English have been restricted. If you go and ask the Principal of your local Community College what new immigrants want, it is above all access to affordable English language classes. The Crick Advisory Panel recommended free language classes, but this idea seems to have been ruled out on grounds of the alleged very high costs involved.

I can think of nothing that is more urgent or helpful to new immigrants in giving them an opportunity to make rapid progress in our society than to help them get started with English where it is not their first language than free or subsidised language classes. 

This problem will not go away and is a matter of much more serious concern than the exact form of a Citizenship Ceremony. You can’t have an integrated society or social cohesion if the people with the greatest need are unable to gain access to the language training which alone offers them brighter career prospects.”

For more information contact Professor Bonney on 077409 44269.

Professor Robert Colls from the University's School of Historical Studies said: “I have nothing against it being taught in classrooms - but since when did kids believe things they were taught in classrooms? You learn citizenship by living it, not reading it”.

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Last updated: 26 February 2003 15:45
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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