Responsible generation

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
Stephanie Turner says primary citizenship is blossoming

In Luton, in a timely new project run by the Institute for Citizenship, children aged five to seven have been busily discussing and debating, making class and playground rules, and voting by secret ballot for class leaders (with 100 per cent turn-out). Five Luton primary schools were involved in the pilot stage of a project to introduce citizenship into the classroom at key stage 1 and develop resources for teaching it.

Good practice traditionally present in many primary schools is now acknowledged in the non-statutory guidance for PSHE and citizenship. From the traditional topic of helping, pupils considered who helps them at home, at school and in the wider community. It was then a small step to help provided impersonally by the local council. One school visited the council chamber, and another invited a school governor, who is also a local councillor, to visit the class to answer the children's questions.

Large photographs of children as active citizens were used to stimulate discussions with the classes and to develop citizenship activities. Pupils role-played the scenes in the photographs, devised questions to ask the pupils in the pictures and later came up with answers.

In one class, pupils devised a long list of draconian rules. Later when rules were again discussed, few had been remembered. The value of a small number of easily remembered rules became clear, and these were framed as positive statements of what pupils would try to do. The teacher made the connection with laws in society and how society enforces its laws.

In another class in an unstructured discussion, it became clear that it was difficult for all pupils to have their say. A simple debate was organised to demonstrate the role of a chairperson and time limits for speakers. The teacher made the link with debates in local council chambers and in parliaments.

For pupils to experience democracy, schools oganised elections for a girl and a boy to be class leaders for a week. Their responsibilities included leading the class into assembly, putting out materials for each table and setting up the computer at the start of each day. Pupils also discussed the responsibilities of representing others including those who did not vote for them. The teacher made the link to voting in the local council and in parliament.

Progress has continued in Luton. In some schools, citizenship has been successfully integrated into circle time. Here the contribution of each individual is valued, matters of fairness and appropriate behaviour explored and good citizenship acknowledged by awarding certificates.

Children learn by participating in the life of the class and school, and by being given responsibility appropriate to their age. Some schools have set up school councils, with elected representatives from each class. Recently members of three school councils addressed a Luton Teachers' Citizenship Conference. They explained the work of the councils in their schools and answered the teachers' questions. The children's enthusiasm, self-esteem and confidence in speaking to a large gathering were evident.

Stephanie Turner is a consultant in citizenship and environmental educationE-mail:, and was formerly education manager for the Institute for Citizenship, tel: 020 7935 4777. E-mail: Web:


THE Institute for Citizenship is a non-partisan charitable trust promoting informed, active citizenship and greater participation in democracy and society through education, debate and encouraging voter participation.

The Infant Citizenship Project, launched in Luton by Professor Bernard Crick is available from Nelson Thornes as "Citizenship for Primary Schools Years 1-2" Teacher's Resource Book, pound;13.50, and large Flip-over Book of 16 photographs, pound;41.25. Tel: 01242 267280.

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