It’s time we stopped being shocked when we meet enthusiastic young citizens, says a teacher

Guest post

Government members are delighted when they meet young people that are informed and enthusiastic citizens, one teacher discovered when she took a few to the Conservative Party Conference. Yet, citizenship education is often undervalued in schools. This must change, says Sarah Maile.

Public petitioning power comes to Parliament

School students and society both benefit from good citizenship education.

In this second guest post about her trip to last month’s Conservative Party Conference, teacher Sarah Maile worries that schools do not take citizenship education seriously enough.

Taking three students to a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference was an incredible experience, and I was beyond honoured to go and represent Active Citizenship in schools.

The girls were beyond excited, and spent the weeks approaching the event coming to me on a regular basis with different suggestions, comments and a general sense of glee!

These are 15 year-old students, who, without exception, were not only fully knowledgeable about the conference as a whole, and the role in which they were to partake, but were also genuinely delighted and enthused to be involved. They spoke maturely and knowledgeably with CEOs, managers and even Rob Wilson MP, and the one comment we kept hearing was ‘I can’t believe you are only 15′. The girls shared the work they have been doing with these people, who were genuinely shocked and impressed.

Therein lies my concern: we must nurture this enthusiasm and open the way for more and more students to be offered these opportunities and fully understand the importance of citizenship in their education. Why were people surprised by the students’ work? It shouldn’t be a minority who have these chances and enjoy these chances, it should be the majority of our young people. Young people standing up and making a difference should not be a shock.

When initially told I could select two students for the role of ambassador for Giving Nation and the Citizenship Foundation, I literally could not choose only two, indeed, the choice of three was hard enough. I am very lucky to work with an incredible group of students, if I were to pick only from the students I have direct contact with on a regular basis, I know that I could have selected three from at least 400 students and all would have been delighted and honoured.

I worry when I read of schools not embracing all that citizenship has to offer, through lack of enthusiasm, specialism or funding. This must change. Citizenship education grows progressively more and more important as our culture and country develops and adapts. It prepares our students for the ‘great big world’ and can be the roots for tackling prejudice and discrimination, as well as promoting a generation of socially responsible young people. I believe some members of our current government give it the backing it needs, but really we need to whole government to realise it’s significance in the classroom and the wider setting.

Our students deserve the very best education we can give them, we give them the chance to access an education which will open the doors to a future they want through university, apprenticeship and work place; however, do all schools actively prepare them for the issues Citizenship tackles? Do they have the support, the funding to do so? And to do so well? I currently feel this is not the case (but I would love to be proven wrong).

The Conservative Party Conference fringe event had an excellent focus on the wonderful work the National Citizen Service (NCS). Our young people are very lucky to have this incredible opportunity to access, and often with funding for those who can not necessary afford it.

The fringe event had representatives form many youth groups across the country and in speaking with them I learned of many groups promoting active citizenship. I would have loved to have heard more about how we are planning on embedding citizenship education in schools as well as from other sources. What worries me, also, is programmes like the Citizenship Foundation’s Giving Nation are losing their funding, and they are such a positive influence on citizenship education in schools.

Whilst citizenship education remains compulsory how it is covered is a school choice, and it can be done so in such a way that students and staff alike begin to grow rather cynical about it’s importance. With recent numbers showing that less and less students are taking formal assessment in citizenship, and groups forced to even campaign for the A Level to remain even an option, this trend of cynicism does not seem to be changing. Ultimately, personally, I would love to see all schools offering a citizenship qualification of some description, and taking part in social action of some description.

I am a passionate religious studies teacher, I love my subject. I feel it helps develop and nurture young people in a way many other subjects do not, (where else can you regularly talk about death, sex and extremism – sometimes all in one lesson?) but I feel citizenship is equally as important, and delight in my role as whole school coordinator, I feel that by understanding how citizenship is taught through all subjects students grow to appreciate it’s significance and its flexibility. I really hope that the positive impact citizenship education (and those who support it) has is appreciated more in our government, and in our schools; and I hope that, given time, it will receive the funding, resources and support it truly deserves.

Sarah Maile teaches Religious Studies at Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College in Cheshire, and coordinates the school’s Pupil Voice and Citizenship programmes.

Sarah also blogged for us immediately before the conference. 

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

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