School leaders need a national strategy for citizenship education if they are to build on the excellent practice of those who have grasped citizenship as a tool for school transformation argues Tony Breslin, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation

Whether one looks to the involvement of young men, born and educated in Britain, in the London bombings, the rise of the far right in local politics or the suggested emergence of an ASBO generation and its close relatives – teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and binge drinking – the need for a clearly defined and well-resourced social curriculum, centred around the challenge of developing citizens, has never been stronger. The prevalence of young people in so many of these narratives – some of them scurrilous moral panics, others genuine causes of concern – begs real questions about just how much schools can (or should) be held responsible for. More profoundly, it raises doubts about whether the focus on raising attainment alone can deal with these issues and, indeed, whether the constant quest for achievement, as measured by the single indicator of GCSE success, contributes as much to the problems of social exclusion as it does to their solution. There is such a thing as society but we need to prepare young people with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and the confidence to play their role within it, and schools – and their leaders – have a pivotal role in this. It is in this context that we should welcome a number of constructive and instructive reports on citizenship education published in the last 12 months.  These include the latest report of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)’s Longitudinal Study into Citizenship Education, the 2006 Ofsted Report, Towards Consensus? Citizenship in Secondary Schools, and the 2007 Curriculum Review: Diversity and Citizenship, led by former Deptford Green headteacher Sir Keith Ajegbo. Most recently, these have been added to by the report of the Education and Skills Select Committee’s investigation into citizenship education, to which the government is in the process of responding. It is in the same context that the Commission on Integration and Cohesion is about to offer its final report, the proposed community cohesion duty on schools has been developed, and the current debate around ‘Britishness’ has emerged. And in this context the new integrated Commission for Human Rights and Equality, which replaces the three separate bodies that currently address issues around ethnicity, gender and disability discrimination, begins its work. Taken together, and less than five years after the introduction of citizenship as a foundation subject of the National Curriculum in secondary schools, these reports and concurrent developments in the educational and wider policy agenda offer useful pointers for school leaders. They offer indications as to what works and what doesn’t and to what’s needed and what isn’t. Moreover, they begin to tell us how practice is changing in our classrooms and how that practice is impacting on the learning of young people.

Towards a framework for self-evaluation

As it moves beyond its mid-point, the nine-year NFER study into citizenship gives some pointers and provides a useful typology that might form the basis for a school self-evaluation exercise for school leaders. Such a basis is especially important because of the failure of the SEF form to adequately articulate citizenship as a distinct whole-school concern. This is ironic given the basis of the associated Ofsted framework around the Every Child Matters domains, themselves heavily influenced by the policy context that led to the introduction of citizenship to the National Curriculum. No matter; the NFER model is useful: ‘progressing’ schools are providing both a strong taught curriculum and multiple experiences for students to develop their citizenship skills through participation in the life of the school and the wider community. ‘Focused’ schools are offering a sound curriculum but are less inclined to provide the participation opportunities through which skills and confidence are developed. ‘Implicit’ schools offer much of the latter but do not build this around a clearly identified curriculum entitlement to citizenship learning and ‘minimalist’ schools have barely got off the launch pad – citizenship is one more burden and one they hope will pass. Let me nail the last point: citizenship, as the report of the select committee and the recent comments of David Bell and Andrew Adonis indicate, is here to stay. The varied quality of current provision is to be expected for an area of learning that is not simply a new subject but a new type of subject. Indeed, the focus on developing skills and dispositions alongside knowledge – so central to effective citizenship education – is something that established ‘academic’ subjects would have done well to explore in their subject-building days.

Building and leading the citizenship-rich school

At the Citizenship Foundation we have begun to develop the concept of the ‘citizenship-rich’ school. We have done this in partnership with a group of partner secondary schools working on our Citizenship Manifesto project. As part of this, schools develop concise public manifestos setting out their citizenship offer and the multiple ways in which they seek to develop the citizenship skills and knowledge of the student, school and wider community.

As is summarised in a recent text (Breslin and Dufour, 2006), the citizenship-rich school has five defining characteristics:

  1. Citizenship education is clearly identified in the curriculum model, on the timetable, in assessment frameworks, in CPD provision and in the school’s improvement and development plans.
  2. It enables young people to develop their Citizenship knowledge through a skills-based and learner-centred pedagogy.
  3. Citizenship learning, thus, takes place not only within designated timetable space – important as this is – but through a range of opportunities and activities, on and off the school site, that are valued by students, teachers and the wider community.
  4. It encourages and facilitates the active and effective participation of all – students, teachers, parents, the wider community – in its day-to-day activities.
  5. It models the principles that it teaches about in citizenship in the way that it operates as an institution and a community and proclaims this outlook in its documentation.

Why become citizenship-rich?
But why should a school, your school or any school that you identify, seek to become citizenship-rich? Again, there are a number of rationales but we want to summarise these in terms of:

  1. Justice: schools seek to be just communities in which all are equally valued and given voice – a citizenship-rich perspective can help the achievement of this aspiration.
  2. Effectiveness: those schools that involve students, parents and the wider community so as to build a better understanding of the needs of each are better placed to meet these needs – a citizenship-rich perspective places the principles of student participation, community involvement, staff development and family learning at the core of school activity.
  3. Achievement: increasingly research shows that a strong focus on these citizenship-rich principles brings returns in terms of student performance across the curriculum.
  4. Inclusion: The same principles deliver practical inclusion – the breadth of citizenship learning is much wider than that of a conventional subject and reaches a broader range of learners including those often thought of as disaffected, disruptive or both.

Central to the citizenship-rich model is a commitment to the view that the school must both teach and do citizenship; that, in NFER terms, all schools need to become ‘progressing’ schools. Peter Pattisson’s ‘three Cs’ model, developed at Deptford Green School, is useful here:

  • The school’s curriculum provision for citizenship
  • The school’s relationship with its community
  • The culture or ethos of the school

Pattisson’s model underlines the point that citizenship is both a new type of subject and that the citizenship-rich school is a different type of school to lead, teach and learn in. Latterly, in the absence of clear citizenship referencing on the SEF form, we have begun to encourage leaders, teachers and learners to pose the questions ‘How citizenship-rich is my school?’ and, more tellingly ‘How citizenship-rich could it be?’

Rebalancing achievement and inclusion

Those that have grasped the gauntlet thrown down when the citizenship order was first published have used citizenship-rich principles to change practice across their schools, nurturing, as noted above, both achievement and inclusion, critically the former flowing from the latter. The participative, community-engaged and community-engaging citizenship-rich school builds inclusion; included students achieve. By comparison a narrow ‘achievement first’ strategy can conversely contribute to exclusion. Herein lies a tension that I believe lies at the heart of the current educational agenda: the stress between raising achievement and maintaining inclusion. The common-sense response advanced by policy-makers and politicians is that these two go hand in glove: raise achievement and inclusion takes care of itself. The reality is that this has never been the case. As any teacher in a ‘challenging’ school will testify, the more successful we are with the 60, 70, 80%, the more excluded the 40, 30, 20% become and, critically, in terms of the pervasive focus on ‘school improvement’, the more marginal the gains. Citizenship-rich perspectives are less about simple school improvement and more profoundly about school transformation: changing how schools operate as communities and as hubs for communities, producing sustainable gains in achievement and enriching community cohesion in the process.  Indeed, ‘closing the achievement-exclusion gap’ is a key objective of the emerging cohesion literature and is likely to be central to the forthcoming Commission on Integration and Cohesion report. Against this background, the collected reports tell us that a minority of schools (somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of all schools) have yet to really ‘get’ citizenship. Of course, the irony is that those schools that might benefit most from citizenship-rich approaches are often the last to recognise this because of the broader and very real pressures they face. Curriculum development is left to a brighter tomorrow while today’s fire is fought. Citizenship is central rather than marginal to the standards agenda but starts from a different place: the need for the school to work as an effective community and for the learner to develop as a confident, informed, effective citizen.

A national strategy

It is within the context of needing to create the space and resource support that will enable pressurised school leaders to move towards citizenship-rich approaches that we need a national strategy for teaching and learning in citizenship. Such a strategy, which the Citizenship Foundation first proposed in its evidence to the select committee enquiry, would give space to school leaders in this position (through opening up access to resources, advisory support and CPD provision) while forcing the hand of the minority of sceptics who still struggle to see citizenship as a ‘real’ subject. It would do so by providing a framework through which the practice of the best is modelled for others while ensuring that various policy and practice leavers operate in a manner that underlines the enduring importance of citizenship education.

Such a strategy might require that:

  • citizenship is at the core of curriculum and assessment reviews, and that its importance is stressed in advisory papers on curriculum models, time allocation and examination practice
  • the TDA sets out a plan to ensure that every school has a qualified citizenship practitioner by 2010 – while the soon to be launched National CPD Certificate in Citizenship is a welcome move, it is surely wrong that the number of citizenship PGCE places available nationally is to be cut at a time when schools lack subject expertise and existing courses are over subscribed
  • each inspection team includes a citizenship specialist – the move away from subject focused inspection making this more, not less, important, given that a central tenet of this article is that citizenship is more than a subject
  • the SEF form be reworked to include a more overt citizenship focus so as to encourage school self-evaluation in this area
  • each local authority school improvement service has a dedicated and appropriately resourced citizenship adviser to advise on the details of delivery at school level.

Some of the components of the proposed strategy, ambitious when we first called for it over a year ago, are slowly (and with a little less resource than we would like and we think is needed) sliding into place. The review of the National Curriculum that QCA is currently embarked on places the development of ‘responsible citizens’ (we would prefer ‘imaginative’, ‘informed’ or ‘effective’) at its core. The National CPD Certificate programme, which the Foundation has played an advisory role in developing, is recruiting well after a slow start. It is offered by a range of university education departments and, through a distance-learning framework, at Birkbeck College in London where a new centre, in partnership with London’s Institute of Education, the International Centre for Education for Democratic Citizenship, is in the process of being established. The common message from Ofsted, Ajegbo and the select committee is filtering through – a good citizenship education programme cannot be got on the cheap. Success is almost always found where there is a specialist team (often staffed with colleagues drawn from English, the humanities and social sciences) rather than a burdened tutor. A clear understanding of the distinctiveness from and complementary relationship with PSHE (one is about building an understanding of the public sphere – politics, law, economics, society – the other concerned with the personal development of the individual) is also vital. Also required are designated and sufficient space on the timetable – possibly supported by a core GCSE or ASDAN programme of study – and a school culture in which the school adopts citizenship-rich principles both as a community (with pupil participation notable here) and in the community (reflected in its relationships with community and faith groups, the charitable sector, local businesses and, of course, parents). A national strategy reflected in well-resourced specialist provision in schools: is this too much to ask? Consider that such an appeal was made on behalf of numeracy or literacy or science or ICT. Consider the investment that has rightly (if not always effectively) been made in these areas. Think again about the apparent levels of political disengagement, about social exclusion and about anti-social behaviour in our communities. Observe the apparent fragility of our diverse, multi-cultural society and the confusion around our identity and what it means to be British in the 21st century. Citizenship education is not an option and cannot be merely an add-on. Rather, it needs to sit at the centre of the curriculum and at the core of how schools operate as institutions.

This article builds on and draws from earlier articles and papers featured in the Times Educational Supplement and the Journal of the Centre for the Study of Comprehensive Schools and from various chapters in Developing Citizens: A Comprehensive Introduction to Effective Citizenship Education in the Secondary School, edited by Tony Breslin and Barry Dufour, published by Hodder Murray in July 2006