Forget the politicians: it’s school leaders that can make the difference to citizenship learning

A recent Ofsted report says citizenship education needs more support and strong leadership. So, as the government weakens its own support for the subject, it’s the perfect time for school leaders to step up in their place.

According to the report, citizenship is outstanding in many schools and contributes substantially to student development. But, says Ofsted, the subject is less than perfect where teachers lack training or knowledge, or haven’t grasped how it embeds in their own curriculum subjects.

The report highlights the importance of properly trained citizenship teachers and of strong commitment from senior leaders. Initial teacher training, too, it says, needs to concentrate more on the key concepts that underpin effective citizenship teaching.

Clearly there is a need for more support and a higher profile, yet the Government is taking citizenship out of the primary curriculum from 2014. Even though Ofsted is glowing about citizenship in primary schools, and of its contribution to children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, the Government is sending out the signal that those teachers are on their own; that there is no requirement to bother and that there is no room for a coherent approach to citizenship spanning all key stages.

With such luke-warm endorsement from Government, it’s not surprising Ofsted found that senior leadership support for citizenship was merely ‘satisfactory’ in a third of secondary schools.

Yet the report is clear that such support is vital. Without it, teachers are ill-prepared or untrained, opportunities are missing from the school environment, and there is no sense that the subject has any merit.

It’s hard to tell how Michael Gove views citizenship: he’s backing it on the secondary curriculum but taking it off the primary one. He’s only ever made one public statement on it that we know of, and that was only when pressed by David Blunkett across the House of Commons floor.

However, it’s clear from Ofsted that good schools have outstanding citizenship education. School leaders, not political leaders, are the people that can make a difference; they have the power to feed young people’s appetites for taking charge of their world, whether the politicians like it or not.

The Citizenship Foundation has spent more than twenty years helping schools and teachers prepare students for life after exams. Find out more about our school support.

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

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