A change for the better

Will Ord argues that citizenship education is much needed in today's society and suggests how to get the most out of it

Education has long been acknowledged as an agent of social change. The briefest glance at a newspaper leaves us in no doubt that change is desperately needed. Ignore the maps: we are no longer an island, but members of innumerable communities in increasing need of good communication, tolerance, understanding and active participation in decisions that govern the future.

Citizenship education? About time. But with only four months to go until the subject becomes statutory in secondary schools across England, there are justified concerns. Where are the resources, the training, the time, the lesson plans? Here are some suggestions to reduce anxieties and maximise the subject's potential.

What is citizenship education?

"Soundbite definitions" run the risk of excluding key areas, but a fair starting point might be that citizenship aims to make pupils more thoughtful, informed, and empowered, particularly in communal contexts. It is as much about responsibility, participation, and communication as it is about political structures or national law. This is therefore a unique subject for the whole school. It should not be confined to discrete lessons led by "those in charge of citizenship"; everyone should be familiar with the programmes of study. This not only spreads the burden, it allows schools to take full advantage of the very flexible requirements. With an emphasis on pupil empowerment and participation, it is not necessarily all "up to the teachers" either.

Apart from scanning governor reports or annual school reviews, a year group and departmental audit should also demonstrate that schools are already doing a great deal. It may take time at first, but some shrewd adaptations of existing schemes of work or school activities can cater for significant chunks of citizenship across the curriculum.

Most schools, for example, run fundraising projets for local, national or global charities or contribute to a voluntary scheme in the community. These are citizenship events and may simply need identifying as such.

However, there is a danger in assuming that citizenship is only a matter of labelling. The audit should also be used to identify potential gaps in provision; for example, in the "entitlement for all" aspect, or the political, global and legal topic areas.


The cornerstone of success is a practical management structure. There's plenty to manage: time-tabling, planning, progression, schemes of work, differentiation, evaluation, reporting, training, resources, assessment, accreditation (GCSE short course?), community activities and so on. If citizenship co-ordinators have a "specialist team" (with PSE perhaps), they should try to enlist some senior teachers to boost subject status, but ensure that all other staff are aware of their role in the provision.

Schools using this model often argue that it greatly increases efficiency, but also allows willing colleagues to employ unused expertise and enthusiasm.

If citizenship is going to be taught by form tutors, consider creating a sub-management structure by inviting a colleague - or students - from each year group or department to act as a "citizenship support".


Careful planning and innovation can dramatically reduce the need for discrete citizenship lesson time. Note that sections 2 and 3 of the programmes of study involve developing "Skills of enquiry and communication" and "Skills of participation and responsible action".

These skills can be advanced in many different contexts across the curriculum, and yet still fulfil the requirements of different subjects at the same time. Planning is the key here and year group teams or departments could spend time usefully mapping the citizenship programmes of study on to their pastoral or subject provision and identifying areas that complement or overlap.

Maths teachers, for example, might use the figures for the last American election (Maths 4a; handling data) to "research and discuss a topical political event, showing an awareness of the use and abuse of statistics" and "different electoral systems" (sections 1e, 2a, b, c and 3c). Or, again, design and technology teachers might focus on the creation of environmental or access for the disabled Damp;T projects for the school or local community (Damp;T sections 1-4 and possibly science, mapping onto citizenship Sections 2a, 3b and c).

Resources, funding and support

Each secondary school receives about pound;1,600pa for this and last year (dependent on pupil numbers) to introduce citizenship if LEAs take up and match the full Standards Fund allocation. LEAs may also provide schools with training opportunities and local resources. Local businesses may host specific events or sponsor materials, and local councils can often assist with community projects or political education.

Publishers are racing to provide resources; some that reflect the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work and others that cater to "citizenship with other subject areas". Some examining bodies have also published their GCSE (short course) and AS materials including specimen papers and mark schemes.

Some schools have very successfully used peer education projects where "expert pupils" are trained to share their learning with other pupils lower down the school or in feeder primary schools.

Is it working?

Judging the success of citizenship will require new structures, due to the broad, participatory and discursive nature of the subject. Established methods of evaluation, such as journals, project work, video, and beforeafter assessments and so on can obviously contribute, but other, more innovative approaches should be introduced. For example, pupils could contribute something to the local media, involve councils or MPs, and make the method of assessment a citizenship objective in itself.

The Office for Standards in Education is about to release final details on the inspection of the subject. However, it has already indicated that it will be inspected and reported on like any other subject. Schools should ensure that inspectors are aware of where citizenship is taking place during inspection week (also in school and departmental policiesschemes of work etc) and make evidence of other citizenship activities available where possible.


Citizenship rightly places great emphasis on communication, participation and enquiry skills (what good is information without the ability to use it fairly, sensitively or wisely?). There are many methods of improving these skills through debate, class discussions, school councils and group activity work across the curriculum, in or out of the classroom.

The "Philosophy for children" approach to teaching and learning in this area is particularly useful and may be used to focus on how people enquire and communicate as well as on the discussion topic itself. This emphasises "learning to learn", involves pupils in their own education democratically, and provides teachers and pupils with practical methods of dealing with sensitive issues. ICT and the literacy strategy provide natural contexts for citizenship "enquiry" areas, and pupils can benefit from selecting exciting topics from contemporary issues.

Will Ord was head of RE at Cockermouth School, Cumbria before becoming an education consultant and author, specialising in citizenship education, RE and thinking skills.


Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you