LONDON (Reuters) - Schoolchildren should take part in a “coming of age” ceremony at the end of their studies to mark the transition to adult citizenship, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said on Tuesday.
The ceremony could include, for example, an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
Goldsmith also proposed a new public holiday to celebrate “Britishness” along the lines of Australia Day.
“We already teach schoolchildren what citizenship means,” he told BBC television. “But it would make sense to have a coming of age ceremony which marks the moment they move from being a student of citizenship to being a real citizen in themselves.”
Goldsmith was asked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last July to conduct a review of British citizenship.
He said it would be up to the government, if it accepted his recommendations, to decide the details of the ceremony, such as whether it should include an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
But he said he personally was in favour of such an oath.
“The point is to find a raft of different ways that we can create a greater sense of shared belonging in this country .., for people to understand more clearly what it means to be a citizen of this country, what the rights are and what the responsibilities are as well.”
But a leading teaching union, the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC the proposed student ceremony was “a half-baked idea that should be left to go mouldy”.
Civil rights lawyer Baroness Kennedy told BBC radio she had groaned when she heard the proposals.
“I see this as an empty gesture. To ask 16-year-olds to troop into a hall and like Americans put their hands on their heart and take an oath of allegiance is risible.”
Goldsmith said cynicism about his plans was unfounded, adding that similar doubts had been raised when citizenship ceremonies were introduced for new immigrants in 2004.
“I have attended a number of those and everyone else who has too is moved by them and is impressed by how enthusiastic the participants are,” he said.
He said a national day had worked extremely well in other countries, like Australia.
“It would be something we don’t have at the moment, which is an opportunity to celebrate ... that we do belong to a nation.”
Goldsmith told Sky News he had found that many people wanted to talk about what being a citizen means.
”The research I had commissioned bears out what people probably anecdotally feel, which is there has been some diminishing sense of attachment, some diminishing sense of national pride.
“I think we can take some practical measures to create greater opportunities for people to feel this national pride, to feel they are part of a shared project.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Hough; Editing by Steve Addison