It’s time citizenship education was taken seriously

So, I’ve finally joined the ‘blogosphere’ and I’m starting the lazy way. I’ve pasted below a piece, a summary of which will appear in this week’s Times Educational Supplement. Read until you doze or drop and then give it back with both barrels!

Developing Citizens: Developing Schools

We need a National Strategy for Citizenship Education if we are to build on the excellent practice of those who have grasped Citizenship as a tool for school transformation, argues Tony Breslin.

Whether one looks to low levels of participation in formal politics, concerns about the social exclusion of significant numbers of young people, the involvement of young men, born and educated in Britain, in last summer’s London bombings or the rise of the far right in local politics, the need for a strong social curriculum – centred around the challenge of developing citizens – has never been stronger. There is such a thing as society but we need to prepare young people with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and the confidence to play their role within it. It is in this context that we should welcome the decision of the Education Select Committee to conduct an investigation into how – four years after the introduction of Citizenship to the National Curriculum – practice is changing in our classrooms and how that practice is impacting on the learning of young people.

As it approaches its mid-point the nine-year NFER study into Citizenship gives some pointers and provides a useful typology: ‘progressing’ schools are providing both a strong taught curriculum and multiple experiences for students to develop their citizenship skills through participation in the life of the school and the wider community; ‘focused’ schools are offering a sound curriculum but are less inclined to provide the participation opportunities through which skills and confidence are developed; ‘implicit’ schools offer much of the latter but do not build this around a clearly identified curriculum entitlement to Citizenship learning; ‘minimalist’ schools have barely got off the launch pad – Citizenship is one more burden and one they hope will pass.

Let me nail the last point: Citizenship, as the interest of the Select Committee and the recent comments of David Bell and Andrew Adonis indicate, is here to stay. The varied quality of current provision is to be expected for an area of learning that is not simply a new subject but a new type of subject. Indeed, the focus on developing skills and dispositions alongside knowledge – so central to effective Citizenship Education – is something that established ‘academic’ subjects would have done well to explore in their subject-building days. In putting the doing of Citizenship at the core of practice from the start, today’s best practice Citizenship schools (or Citizenship-rich schools) may be developing an approach not just to teaching and learning in Citizenship but to pedagogy in other subject areas too: (functional) English and (functional) Mathematics come to mind.

If, though, we are to address more speedily the unevenness in current practice we need a National Strategy for Teaching and Learning in Citizenship. Those that have grasped the gauntlet thrown down when the Citizenship order was first published have used Citizenship-rich principles to change practice across their schools, nurturing both achievement and inclusion, some going on to develop Citizenship Manifestos as public statements of their commitment to learning in this area. The participative, community engaged and community-engaging school builds inclusion; included students achieve. But too many schools have yet to really ‘get’ Citizenship and, of course, the irony is that those schools that might benefit most from Citizenship-rich approaches are often the last to recognise this because of the broader and very real pressures they face. Curriculum development is left to a brighter tomorrow while today’s fire is fought.

A National Strategy would give space to school leaders in this position (through opening up access to resources, advisory support and CPD provision) while forcing the hand of those sceptics who still struggle to see Citizenship as a ‘real’ subject. It would do so by providing a framework through which the practice of the best is modelled for others while ensuring that various policy and practice leavers operate in a manner that underlines the enduring importance of Citizenship Education. Such a strategy might require that:

  1. QCA places Citizenship at the core of curriculum and assessment reviews, and stresses its importance in advisory papers on curriculum models, time allocation and examination practice;
  2. TDA sets out a plan to ensure that every school has a qualified Citizenship practitioner by 2010 – while the soon to be launched National CPD Certificate in Citizenship is a welcome move, it is surely wrong that the number of Citizenship PGCE places available nationally is to be cut at a time when schools lack subject expertise and existing courses are over subscribed;
  3. Each inspection team includes a Citizenship specialist – the move away from subject focused inspection making this more, not less, important, given that a central tenet of this article is that Citizenship is more than a subject;
  4. The SEF form be reworked to include a more overt Citizenship focus so as to encourage school self evaluation in this area;

Each local authority school improvement service has a dedicated and appropriately resourced Citizenship adviser to advise on the details of delivery at school level.

Is this too much to ask? Consider that such an appeal was made on behalf of numeracy or literacy or science or ICT. Consider the investment that has rightly (if not always effectively) been made in these areas. Think again about the apparent levels of political disengagement, about social exclusion and about anti-social behaviour in our communities. Observe the apparent fragility of our diverse, multi-cultural society and the confusion around our identity and what it means to be British in the twenty-first century. Citizenship Education is not an option and cannot be merely an add-on. Rather, it needs to sit at the centre of the curriculum and at the core of how schools operate as institutions. This isn’t just about one subject’s struggle to establish itself. It’s about the kind of places we want schools to be a decade or more from now, the purpose that we give to them in our society and the manner in which we prepare young people to play their full part as effective citizens.

Please note: the views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

2 thoughts on “It’s time citizenship education was taken seriously

  1. Your first response should is a positive one.
    As a former head working freelance in this field, I fully support your main points. The resources we received for the development of citizenship ( I refuse to accept ‘introduction’) came to £3000, dwarfed by money for ICT, for KS3 strategy etc. The TDA issue is mad-you were too measured here-. I see that Oxford is re-introducing RE training (linked to citizenship) but it is a mistake to assume that RE specialists can handle this subject. Really the people who teach Sociology, economics, politics,psychology at A level ought to be teaching in this field pre-16.(as well as others.
    Should we term this a ‘subject’ – think not. It is broader than that, but what alternative label can be used?
    The national strategy has to include leadership and management. It is not just about covering the model schemes of work produced by QCA, it runs right through the whole institution.
    Jeremy Cunningham

  2. Thanks for your response Jeremy. I’m new to this blogging game and not quite up to giving the regular responses I should! But two things. I completely agree with your point on drawing on the expertise of social scientists to inform Citizenship delivery and not just because I’m a sociology teacher by trade!

    However, I’m not sure that I agree with you on the matter of Citizenship’s ‘subject’ status. A decade as a cross curricular theme taught us that ‘everywhere is nowhere’. We need the anchorage point of the subject to get onto the timetable, into the mindset and into the budget. But we should be arguing that Citizenship is a new type of subject and, as you say, more than a subject. Indeed, with the introduction of a range of newer areas – Citizenship, Enterprise, Functional Maths – we should concern ourselves less with whether these areas are subjects – they need their ticket to ride – and more with what we mean by a school subject at the start of the twenty first century. Perhpas Citizenship gives us some pointers!

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