Skip navigation
9th Sep 2016 4:56pm Blogs

Effective Active Citizenship - GCSE Campaigns

Creating interest in Citizenship and giving a voice to students.

Blog – Lorellie Canning

Lorellie Canning is Head of Citizenship at St Bedes and St Joseph’s Catholic College in Bradford. She is also a member of ACT Council.

As a citizenship teacher I always try to find an active link to topics we are studying. In year 7, students write letters to our MP and local council on a variety of issues such as tackling knife crime, the use of child soldiers and other problems within the local community which concern them.

For active citizenship to be successful, it needs to be planned and developed when a current issue ignites a student’s passion. These skills are not innate, they are learned and it is our job as teachers to ensure they are. I have been amazed by the passion, creativity and innovative ideas students have in response to the problems their generation will inherit from adults.

Year 10 GCSE Campaign on Forced Marriage
This year one of my Year 10 GCSE groups were campaigning about forced marriage. They wrote letters, created a photo campaign, twitter campaign, e-petition and YouTube video. All standard campaigning methods I have come to expect from my students.

However, this year they taught a lesson they created to a class of my Year 9 students and sent it to the local university for the PGCE Citizenship Teachers to use. Here is their letter to ACT about their campaign:

“As part of our citizenship GCSE we have created a campaign against something we feel needs to be challenged in the world. We chose forced and underage marriage. Our aims were to get the truth about this controversial topic taught in schools. We have spoken to the teacher in our school in charge of the safety of students and he told us what was taught to the teachers about this on a recent teacher training day this told us what teachers actually knew about the signs of forced marriage. We have created a board in our teachers room with our petition on it (as well as facts about forced marriage) meanwhile setting up social media accounts and an e-petition in hope to get the word put about forced and underage marriage. We have contacted the head of citizenship at Bradford University for his opinion, we intend to contact the Bradford MP and Bradford council we did this so that we would have the support of influential people in our city which will be more impressive than the opinions of 14/15 year old students.

Yet I believe our most influential action in our campaign was delivering a lesson to year nine students about forced and underage marriage. We were able to teach them new things as well as send the letters they made to a campaign called ‘write for rights’. We found out in this lesson that every student said they would like another lesson and some students gave us ideas for improvement. We are currently in the process of contacting our head teacher in hope he shall pass on our lesson to his colleagues.

This controversial topic should be taught in schools as forced and underage marriage happens. It is a violation of that persons rights and needs to be addressed now. We did questionnaires to find out what adults and students knew and we found it was very little. I think that the only way we can make a difference is if we are educated. We are not looking to eradicate forced and underage marriage tomorrow; that’s impossible. We don’t kid ourselves with idea that we could prevent forced and underage marriage from taking place, but we can teach the future generation what is a key stepping stone to make the difference and eventually eradicate forced and underage marriage.

It will end eventually, let’s begin now.”

As you can see they are clear in their idea that education on this topic is key. By sharing their success in teaching a lesson with the other GCSE groups I teach, they started a trend of students teaching younger (Year 9) students about their topic (e.g. Equality & Racism). At the end of each of these lessons the year 9 students gave their peers’ feedback on their lesson.

“Interesting, lots of interesting facts, good activity that makes you think. Have more information on people’s stories so it makes people feel more strongly against forced marriage.”

In the reflective writing the students did after the forced marriage lesson they were quite perceptive.

“After holding a lesson for year nine students I feel that it went well because they all voted to wanting another lesson. The lesson had activities such as writing a letter to ‘write for rights’ campaign about how they sympathise with the victims of forced marriage. We went through facts, watched a video about a victim-who went on to set up a charity in the area (Bradford) and concluded with a quiz. I think these activities allowed each student to have a connection with the victims (and not just see them as a statistic) as well as educate them. To improve the lesson we should add more physical activities-as suggested by a student and use more stories/quotes of victims. Overall I believe the lesson went really well and am glad that we asked for advice from the students as it is clear how we can move forward.”

They have asked for their PowerPoint to be shared with teachers nationally. They have also done further research and found another thought provoking campaign video ‘65 Year Old Man Marries 12 Year Old Girl! (Child Marriage Social Experiment)’ that ties into their campaign topic.

We teachers and heads of departments need to clearly include time for such active citizenship in our busy SoW. Active citizenship needs to become an organic element within our curriculum so that students feel empowered and are able to strive for the higher levels of GCSE. I know this from my past experience of teaching a cohort of 143 students a full course OCR GCSE on one hour a week, of whom 67.13% still achieved an A*-C grade. This couldn’t have been achieved without student engagement, and that is achieved through strategies such as the ones discussed above, Spiral learning and revisiting the active citizenship ideas in different topics/forms so that students develop their confidence to use these skills independently of the teacher.

Succeeding as a citizenship teacher is about more than developing characteristics of drive, community spirit, resilience and ambition. It is even more than assessment and having enough evidence to justify your grading of that student. To me it is about enabling that quiet student, who often feels like no one is listening, to have a voice.

As Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Citizenship is the core subject that teaches students the skills they need to do this and in my opinion they have the right to both exercise their democratic rights and learn the skills to do so effectively.