Current conceptions of citizenship favour public involvement in dialogue on controversial issues such as GM food. 'Students with higher levels of civic knowledge are more likely to expect to participate in political and civic activities as adults' (Kerr et al., 2003, p. 4). Young people need to be aware of the nature of controversy and be able to see how arguments are constructed to sway our opinions if they are to be fully scientifically literate. A survey of the literature suggests that the principles and methods relating to the teaching of controversial issues are themselves controversial. This irony is more relevant to teachers now than ever before. In England, the teaching of 'Citizenship' has been compulsory for students aged 11-16 in the state sector since September 2002. As it is currently framed, 'Citizenship' includes education for sustainable development and the teaching of the nature of controversy. This paper explores the issue of teachers' readiness to use controversial issues in the classroom, and reports on research involving focus groups and questionnaires. We suggest that many teachers are under-prepared and feel constrained in their ability to handle this aspect of their work. We conclude by offering a set of foci for developing support materials to help teachers be more effective at teaching controversial issues.
Bibliographical noteM1 - 4