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Citizenship Education in the UK (England)

David Kerr

/ 10 Minuten zu lesen

Take a deeper look at the situation of Citizenship Education in the UK (England) with a focus on the history of CE, the definition, the non-formal sector, the legal environment as well as on stakeholders and challenges. For a better understanding, the history of CE in the country is discussed shortly.

United Kingdom (© bpb)

1. Background Information

Despite its global reputation for promoting parliamentary democracy, it is surprising that England does not have a long track record in citizenship education. Citizenship did not become a formal curriculum subject for 11 to 16 year-olds until 2002. Prior to this, there was no official national policy to guide teaching and learning in this area.

Citizenship was introduced following a review by the Citizenship Advisory Group (CAG) chaired by Professor (Sir) Bernard Crick. It declared that:

    'We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting.' (QCA/ Crick Report 1998)

For the CAG, the goal of this policy reform was to increase political literacy and active, responsible participation, both in the political and in the civic spheres, and at community, national, European and global levels. The CAG report and its recommendations initially received support from across the political spectrum and policy field.

However, the content of and context for citizenship education has evolved considerably since 2002. One of the key drivers has been the changing emphases in education policy brought by successive governments. This has seen the introduction, over the past decade, of community cohesion, integration and the fight against extremism as central goals of the Citizenship curriculum alongside an emphasis on the development of political literacy and active citizenship. This new focus emerged in part as a response to the eruption of racial tensions (and riots) in Northern England in 2001 and to the terrorist attack in London by so-called ‘home-grown’ bombers in 2005. These events prompted a review of the place of diversity in the curriculum. In 2008, following the Review’s recommendations, the new National Curriculum revised and updated the Citizenship curriculum, adding a fourth aim in the guise of a new thematic strand entitled Identity and Diversity: Living Together in the UK. In addition, a series of additional school policies were also introduced, such as the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion, establishing a legal study in schools to promote cohesion.

The current Conservative government has continued this policy shift with an added emphasis on Citizenship’s role in countering extremism and terrorism. To this end, the then secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, announced that from September 2014 onwards all schools would be required to promote fundamental British values (FBV). The move followed concerns about the values being promoted by some schools, particularly perceived concerns about strict Islamist values in some schools in Birmingham and London. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Nash, in a March 2015 letter, explained that the changes were designed to:

    'Tighten up the standards on pupil welfare to improve safeguarding, and the standards on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils to strengthen the barriers to extremism'.

This has been allied with the introduction of a new National Curriculum in 2014 with an emphasis on promoting a core ‘canon of knowledge’ for pupils through core subjects. For some time, Citizenship was under threat of removal as a statutory subject but survived. However, the new Citizenship National Curriculum has a strong emphasis on political, legal and economic knowledge and on volunteer work, at the expense of the development of skills and active citizenship elements.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

The nearest thing to a definition of citizenship education is the Purpose of Study statement for the 2014 Citizenship National Curriculum which states that:

    'A high-quality citizenship education helps to provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society. In particular, citizenship education should foster pupils’ keen awareness and understanding of democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld. Teaching should equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments. It should also prepare pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens, manage their money well and make sound financial decisions.'

3. Non-formal Citizenship Education

There is not a great emphasis on non-formal citizenship education. The closest has been, between 2002 and 2015, the host of additional initiatives and policies introduced to encourage student participation and ‘pupil voice’ in decision-making in schools and in local government. For example, schools were strongly encouraged to establish student councils. At the same time, there has also been an increased emphasis on encouraging young people to get involved in their local community and to undertake voluntary work. There was also a short-lived Post-16 Citizenship Programme to promote citizenship education in 16-19 education, including in Further Education colleges between 2005 and 2010. This trend has been maintained by the current government through their National Citizen Service (NCS) for young people to encourage them to volunteer and build skills in their local communities.. However, the reception of NCS has been mixed across the country.

4. Legal Environment

Citizenship is a statutory National Curriculum subject for all 11 to 16 year-olds in state secondary schools, with all students having an entitlement to Citizenship teaching and learning. It is part of a non-statutory framework alongside Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) for all 5 to 11 year-olds in primary schools. . Also, since 2007, schools have had a legal responsibility to show how they are developing community cohesion and since 2014 how they are promoting fundamental British values. As part of their inspection of schools, Ofsted, the schools’ inspectorate, can report on how well Citizenship is being promoted in schools as a contribution to community cohesion and British values. The progress of Citizenship in schools has been the subject of a government-commissioned longitudinal study (CELS), which ran from 2001 to 2010, as well as three reports from Ofsted .

5. Stakeholders

There are a range of key stakeholders who have evolved around the renewed emphasis on citizenship education since 2002. They include: NGOs such as the Citizenship Foundation (CF) (recently rebranded as Young Citizens (YC)), Amnesty International, UNICEF, CND, Oxfam and the Red Cross; professional organisations and networks such as the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) and Citized, a network of teacher educators and researchers; exam boards developing citizenship qualifications at GCSE level at age 16; and bodies linked to the government and politics such as the Parliamentary Education Service and DfE Citizenship Expert Group.

6. Challenges

The strong evidence base developed for Citizenship around the CELS study and the Ofsted report highlights many of the challenges that have faced this area since 2002. Perhaps the greatest challenge is that concerning the consistency and coherence of links between policy, practice and vision. The CELS report of 2010 showed that citizenship education is most effective for young people over time: where they encounter it regularly in the curriculum (starting in primary schools); where the curriculum time for Citizenship is planned and taught by trained specialist Citizenship teachers; where there are quality teaching and learning materials; where there is a clear assessment of students' learning and, finally, where Citizenship has status in a school along with the active support of school leaders.

Ensuring that these conditions are being met has proved challenging in England, largely because of the government’s constantly changing education policies and societal priorities. These have given mixed messages about the focus on and value of Citizenship in schools and have prevented Citizenship from firmly taking root in the school curricula, the school community, as well as having hindered a firmer establishment through links with wider communities. The research base shows that the progress of Citizenship has been bumpy, patchy and inconsistent, with excellent practice being mixed with less good. As a result, Citizenship remains a work in progress in England, with the on-going key challenge being how to translate ambitious policies into ambitious practices and how to meet the vision of the Crick Group in effecting ‘a change in the political culture’.

There has recently been a boost to the value of and need for effective citizenship education for all young people in England. This development has occurred in the following ways: the response of society to Covid, and the strengthening of community links and ties; the social and moral responsibility shown by many people in their actions; the increased use of social media to discuss and debate political issues; and, calls for reform of politics to give more people, particularly young people, a stronger voice in their communities. As a result, stakeholders and organizations who support and promote the reenergization of Citizenship have been strengthened in their efforts to build strong professional networks of Citizenship teachers, to produce up-to-date resources that engage with current, topical issues and to press politicians and political parties to be more consistent in their support for citizenship education as part of the rebuilding of trust and democracy to help the country move forward together. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see the extent to which this reenergizing translates into more effective policy and practice in Citizenship in schools and into more consistent cross-party political support for this area.

7. References

QCA 1999. Citizenship: the National Curriculum for England Key Stages 3-4. London: DfES and QCA.

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