Some schools still have a limited understanding of how to make citizenship education effective, according to a new report from Ofsted. David Gordon looks at the background to the report and describes a tool that governing bodies can use to evaluate the teaching of citizenship in their schools

Citizenship is perhaps the part of the school curriculum that school governors should feel the most affinity towards. After all, volunteering your time and expertise to help the children in your local community gain the best education possible is a shining example of active citizenship and being a governor gives us a chance to demonstrate to children what the subject looks like in action.

For this reason, governors should be particularly interested in a recent Ofsted report which looks at the progress schools are making in establishing citizenship as a secure part of the school curriculum.

Citizenship was introduced as a National Curriculum subject in 2002. It was built on the findings and recommendations of a report by an advisory group, chaired by the late Professor Bernard Crick, who was a committed and persuasive advocate of the subject.

In his final report promoting the introduction of citizenship teaching in schools, Professor Crick wrote:

‘We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and to extend radically to young people the best in existing traditions of community involvement and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves.’

As an overview of citizenship, and a standard against which to measure the progress of the subject, that statement is still both relevant and thought-provoking.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) has its own ideas about what citizenship teaching is. It believes it is:

  • about exploring a series of deep and meaningful concepts and processes around justice, democracy, rights and responsibilities;
  • a statutory subject, a different kind of subject and more than a subject;
  • about building young people’s knowledge, skills and conviction to have an effective role in public and political life;
  • about helping young people take action to change their communities for the better.

But the association also has clear ideas about what the subject is not. It suggests that citizenship education is not:

  • about making young people more courteous and respectful;
  • simply about raising money for charity;
  • teaching young people about ‘Britishness’ and how to get along;
  • just a classroom-based subject.

The idea that citizenship is not just a curriculum subject but a way of life was reflected in Ofsted’s findings. The inspectors reported that, in the schools where citizenship was well established, the quality of the provision reflected the determination of leaders that it should permeate all aspects of school life. This included:

  • the distinctive aims of the school;
  • day-to-day systems that governed the way teachers and students worked;
  • the curriculum;
  • the standards students achieved;
  • the links between the school and the community locally, nationally and globally.

Ofsted observed that the best schools do not just teach citizenship in classrooms, but help pupils become active citizens as well, by giving them opportunities to take on leadership roles in their school community, through volunteering or community action, or as part of a school council.

It also reported that the best examples of citizenship education are often found in schools where citizenship has dedicated and regular space on the timetable. It warned that schools that rely too heavily on suspending the normal timetable to provide occasional time for citizenship are most unlikely to meet National Curriculum requirements.

The report outlined that developing a detailed programme for citizenship is the responsibility of the subject leader, backed by a senior leader with a good, broad understanding of the aims and purposes of citizenship education and what good practice looks like.

In its survey, Ofsted found good examples of very effective subject leadership. It reported:

‘In the context of a school’s particular aims and based on a sophisticated understanding of the requirements, the effective subject leaders were advocates for high-quality citizenship education.

‘They produced policy statements, schemes of work, a handbook and resources to support their colleagues and provided training and monitoring to raise the quality of teaching and learning.

‘They communicated the nature and purpose of citizenship to governors, senior managers, other staff, students and parents. They sought and maintained external contacts to promote continuing improvement, keeping up to date with developments.

‘They were in the vanguard in taking up new ideas and trying them out, for example moving very quickly to adopting an eight-level scale for assessment.’

Although Ofsted reported that the teaching of citizenship was improving, it also found that some schools had a ‘limited understanding’ of what is required to provide effective citizenship education. Governing bodies wishing to evaluate the effective of the provision of citizenship in their own schools will find the self-evaluation tool produced by the Association for Citizenship Teaching is a very useful resource.

Using case studies and a detailed matrix of standards across six areas, the tool is designed to help schools assess where they are in the development of citizenship and to identify where they need to go next.

The School Self-Evaluation Tool for Citizenship Education in Secondary Schools can be downloaded from www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/dnloads/secondaryset.pdf

A version for primary schools was produced, but this cannot currently be downloaded as the place of the subject in the primary curriculum is uncertain in the face of changes being made by the new government.

The ACT website also has a wide range of other useful resources at www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk

The Ofsted report provides further material for schools looking to evaluate their own provision of citizenship education and its recommendations for schools summarise many of the principles used by schools that have been successful in introducing the subject over the past eight years.

It recommends that schools should:

  • establish a clear view of the standards expected in citizenship and identify any aspects of provision which detract from high standards;
  • develop the quality of citizenship teaching by taking advantage of existing expertise in the school, capitalising on training opportunities and recruiting specialist teachers when the opportunity arises;
  • continue to develop an explicit citizenship curriculum with appropriate assessment arrangements;
  • ensure that all their staff understand the principles defining citizenship and how these relate to other subjects, particularly the humanities and PSHE education;
  • ensure that the citizenship curriculum and opportunities for participation and responsible action are available to pupils of all ages, backgrounds and abilities;
  • establish a clear link between citizenship and community cohesion, in particular highlighting the contribution that pupils can make to their local community;
  • consider the broader implications for all subjects of the new National Curriculum aim of developing ‘responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society’.

Citizenship established? Citizenship in schools 2006/9 can be downloaded from www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/090159

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: David Gordon is an author, writer, editor and qualified lecturer and has also been a parent governor. He has been the editor of School Governor Update since its launch in 2000

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