Happy Birthday to Us!

Tonight the Citizenship Foundation celebrates its 20th year with a reception at the Law Society. For the past six months or so, those of us who have been working to organise the reception have been referring to it as a ‘birthday party’.

I know many people who don’t see the point of celebrating birthdays. It’s just another day…they don’t like the fuss…etc etc. I approach birthdays with a mix of reflective melancholy (what have I achieved, why haven’t I achieved more) and excitement at the thought of having an excuse to bring together all the people who are important to me for a party. It’s hardly surprising that, as one of the organisers of the Citizenship Foundation’s event tonight, my personal approach to birthdays has coloured what I hope tonight’s celebration will be.

It should be a chance to reflect on three important things: where we’ve come from and what we’ve achieved, who has helped us along the way, and where we see ourselves going in the future. It should also be a bit fun.

Where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved

The Citizenship Foundation, established in 1989, came out of the Law in Education Project. This landmark project, initiated by Andrew Phillips (now Lord Phillips of Sudbury OBE and the President of the Foundation), developed teaching materials to introduce students to their legal rights and responsibilities and the role of law in our democratic society. When the Law in Education Project became the Citizenship Foundation, it began by broadening its emphasis on law-related education into mock trial and youth parliament competitions. New projects were begun, looking at primary citizenship, moral education, political literacy and work with alienated groups such as young offenders.

One of the Foundation’s greatest achievements was its involvement with the campaign to make Citizenship Education statutory, which was achieved in 2002. We made the argument that ‘citizenship education’ is sufficiently different from ‘social education’, and must include every aspect of public life, such as law, politics, morality, philosophy and economics. The curriculum as it stands today was shaped by these arguments.

Of course, beyond our advocacy on behalf of Citizenship Education, the Foundation runs a large number of successful, innovative projects that cover economic citizenship, political literacy, legal education and social giving. In the last year alone, we reached over 100,000 young people with our projects. You can read more about Citizenship Foundation programmes here.

Who has helped us along the way

The Law Society Charity is our longest standing strategic partner, offering regular and long-standing support towards the essential work that underpins all our activity. We are proud of the fact that the Law Society has supported us since our inception, and we continue to work together to safeguard the position of law related education in the Curriculum, to promote better education about law and justice, and build positive links between legal professionals, young people, and their wider communities.

The Citizenship Foundation is proud to be a strategic partner of the Office of the Third Sector, working for shared outcomes in effective citizenship and cohesive communities.

And of course there are many other businesses, trusts and partner organisations who have helped fund and shape the work of the Foundation. Tonight we thank them and look forward to ways of working together again.

The future

We believe passionately that every young person should have a right to good Citizenship Education so that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to navigate the worlds of politics, law, the economy and to take part in their communities effectively. Though Citizenship is now statutory in the National Curriculum, it is not always delivered well, and the National Curriculum could also be vulnerable to political meddling in the future, and so we are continuing to make the case for Citizenship publicly and working with teachers, schools and youth workers to ensure they have the tools they need to teach Citizenship well.

As an organisation we want to develop our understanding of young people’s attitudes towards politics, the law, the economy, volunteering and their communities. To mark our 20th year, we commissioned YouGov to survey nearly 4000 young people just last week. The results of that survey will be analysed in depth elsewhere on our website, but it’s worth briefly dwelling on the results here. Our questions were themed around politicians, participation and power: we wanted to know what young people want from their elected representatives, what drives them to take part in initiatives like the UK Youth Parliament and school councils and where they locate power in our society.

The responses, by and large, depict a group of young people who have nuanced, sophisticated views on politics and society at large. As an organisation that comes into contact with young people all of the time, this nuance and sophistication was not a surprise, but it is worth highlighting. Despite seeming to think very little of politicians (85 per cent perceive politicians to have misused official expenses and allowances and 88 per cent think politicians make promises they can’t keep), 64 per cent of the young people surveyed said they were likely to vote when they were eligible to do so. Counter to the popular perception that all young people are celebrity obsessed, ‘celebrities or sportspeople I admire’ did not receive high ratings for trust and, if given the chance, young people would not vote celebrities to lead the country over mainstream parties. The X Factor judges – if they were to form their own political party – would fare particularly poorly with young people: 85 per cent would be unlikely to vote for Simon, Louis, Dannii and Cheryl, appearing to prefer traditional politicians leading the country.

Young people are clear on who they see as influential in society: business, politicians and the press, but have little trust in any of these. They see the media as especially influential (particularly in regards to government decision-making) but they do not trust the press, especially the tabloid press. This is in stark contrast to the group that 72 per cent of young people surveyed believe should have the most power over government decisions: the public.

The survey is vast and there is so much more of interest to be found if you’ve got the time to take a look. Please do! It can be found in full on YouGov’s website.

But now I’ve got an event to prepare for – I hope to see some of you there.

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

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