Progress report

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Citizenship teaching is patchy and uneven according to an NFER survey.

Patrick McNeill reports

"Citizenship: what do you think of it so far?" might have been a snappier title for the first report in an eight-year longitudinal study of the impact of citizenship education at key stages 3 and 4, where it became a statutory curriculum requirement in September 2002 (details at researchcitlong.asp). Given that the National Foundation for Educational Research survey was carried out for Year 7 in November 2002, it establishes a benchmark against which progress can be measured at two-year intervals (in Years 9, 11 and 13).

The report focuses on two key questions: what types of citizenship education are being provided nationally in schools; and what factors have influenced their development? It identifies three components of citizenship education, and four categories of school in terms of the stage they have reached - useful tools for analysing and reflecting on progress. The three components are: * citizenship education in the curriculum;

* learning about citizenship through participation and belonging in the school community;

* learning about citizenship through participation and belonging in the wider community.

It is their approach to these three components that differentiates schools from each other and leads the researchers to identify four categories, based on the 112 schools in the final sample survey and on nine case studies carried out in 2003. The categories are:

* progressing schools, which are developing citizenship education in all three components and are the most advanced in terms of their provision;

* focused schools, which are concentrating on citizenship in the curriculum but missing out on the other two components;

* minimalist schools, which are at an early stage of development in terms of citizenship with a limited range of delivery approaches and relatively few extra-curricular activities;

* implicit schools, which are not yet focusing explicitly on citizenship in the curriculum but provide opportunities for active citizenship.

About a quarter of schools were in each category. While the report stresses that there is no necessary linear progression from, for example, "focused" to "progressing", it will presumably be a disappointment if the 200405 research doesn't find a higher proportion of schools in the "progressing" category.

The last chapter of the report begins to identify the factors that influence the type of citizenship education provided in a school and, particularly, the factors that underlie successful provision. There are no great surprises here (a good understanding of what is meant by citizenship education, a supportive school ethos, strong senior management support, a dedicated and enthusiastic co-ordinator, time and resources, staff training, a dedicated slot somewhere in the timetable... much the same list as for vocational education, key skills and other curriculum innovations) but the list provides schools with a valuable self-assessment tool.

Finally, the report identifies some key messages and action points for policy-makers, school leaders, citizenship co-ordinators and teachers, young people and researchers. As Tony Breslin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation, says: "The schools that still have some way to go have much to learn from the pace-setters identified in the NFER study. The challenge is to spread practice beyond this group."

Overall, the report paints a fairly gloomy picture: "provision is uneven, patchy and evolving" and "there is considerable work still to do in the majority of schools." But there would be, wouldn't there? Many schools were tackling citizenship from a near-standing start, and every curriculum innovation in the past 30 years (and there has been no shortage of them) could have been described in similar terms only a couple of months in. The important findings will come from the second report, based on a survey of the same cohort of students, now in Year 9, which will be carried out later this year, and from subsequent reports. Tony Breslin again: "The longitudinal study is itself evidence of the commitment to citizenship education. More than anything, it demonstrates that the introduction of not just a new subject but a new type of subject is a long-term project without quick fixes."

* Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study Report: Second Annual Report: First Longitudinal Survey. Making Citizenship Education Real. DfES Research Report 531. National Foundation for Educational Research May 2004. ISBN 1 84478 222 0

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Patrick McNeill is an education and training consultant


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