The Citizenship Foundation, responding to the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, said the subject ideally should be taught from infant school, with about 5 per cent of the timetable set aside in secondary subjects.
The White Paper identifies citizenship as an area of personal and social education which needs more work. It says schools should help pupils feel they have a stake in society by teaching "the nature of democracy and the duties, rights and responsibilities of citizens".
It has encouraged campaigners at a time when a consensus is starting to emerge on the importance of citizenship in schools. Both the Conservatives and Labour have supported it, and the idea gained considerable momentum with the call last year by Frances Lawrence, widow of the murdered London head Philip Lawrence, for a national citizenship campaign.
The Citizenship Foundation will invite interested parties to talks next month.
A collective response to the White Paper has already been made by the Local Government Association, Charter 88, the Institute for Citizenship Studies, and Rock the Vote and Operation Black Vote, which aim to encourage the young and ethnic minorities to vote.
In the paper, Educating for Active Citizenship, they say that any curriculum should empower as well as educate, through classroom debates and exercises.
Don Rowe, director of curriculum resources at the Citizenship Foundation, said the whole of personal and social education should be restructured. "We are asking the Government to put up money and to allocate a clear slot for this," he said. "PSE has abjectly and manifestly failed - it's a complete muddle at the moment."
The personal elements of the subject, such as careers, sex and drug education, should be taught - as now - by form tutors with specialist back-up, he says, while social elements should be developed into a new subject: civil, social and political education.
Part of the foundation's complaint is that much of social education is taught by teachers who are unhappy or ill at ease with teaching the subject. "We need specialist teachers, or teachers willing and skilled and not afraid of handling controversial issues," he said.
"Schools need to be required to do it. There are so many other pressures on them at the moment that they are almost forced to concentrate on league tables. There is no money, very little time and inspectors only look at it in passing. "