Colleges treat citizenship education as part of their general effort to make their students employable, HM Inspectorate of Education has found.
Its report, Citizenship in Scotland's Colleges, says drama, sport and the visual arts are also good vehicles for encouraging students to play active roles in society. In one social science programme, inspectors saw a parliamentary-style debate which aimed to develop reasoning and communication skills. Even students' associations were promoting citizenship in informal ways.
Not all FE programmes include citizenship skills, however, says the report, which drew evidence from 20 inspectorate reviews of colleges in 2003-05.
Colleges' evaluation and planning needs to be more systematic to ensure that they do.
Citizenship education is a wide concept; the inspectorate report makes clear how wide-ranging it is expected to be. "Awareness of learners' rights and responsibilities as members of their community and then supporting them to take an active interest in the democratic process" is at the heart of the drive.
It says citizenship education "is not narrowly based on political literacy or the introduction of a new subject area, but rather on a broad, cross-curricular approach. It should not be static and conformist, but responsive and dynamic."
The college view is that educating citizens is best done if students can see the relevance through developing their core skills and skills for making them employable. The incentive to get a job is the basis for becoming an engaged citizen, in other words. But there are also specific citizenship education programmes.
How successful colleges are in these endeavours is not clear because achievement is difficult to measure, the inspectorate acknowledges. This is especially so because of the range of activities being used to develop skills for citizenship.
The report suggests that possible approaches for measuring success could include looking at achievements against targets agreed with tutors; using blogs as evidence for tutors to judge students' progress; and peer review so students can see each other's contributions.
Colleges are urged to step up self-evaluation of citizenship education to check on the impact it is having on their local communities.