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24th Nov 2023 9:00am News

House of Lords Conference highlights Citizenship as the key to Education as a Human Right

On Wednesday 15 November, parliamentarians and invited speakers discussed Education as a Human Right and the key role of Citizenship Education.

On Wednesday 15 November, representatives from ACT attended a high level parliamentary conference Education as a human right and a cornerstone for any democratic society

The Meeting was chaired by The Earl of Dundee and considered Human Rights Education and education for democratic citizenship within the context of international trends such as technological change and international crises, with contributions from the First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine and the Chair of the Education Select Committee Robin Walker MP. ACT were represented at the conference by Scott Harrison, Trustee and Liz Moorse, Chief Executive.

Sarah Keating, Head of the Formal and Non-Formal Education Division at the Council of Europe, referenced in-depth case studies by ACT illustrating how four schools across the country have taken different approaches to building democratic citizenship and human rights education through their curriculum, culture and communities. She noted the key features of successful citizenship in schools include citizenship as a separate subject taught by a trained community of teachers, student-led projects, and support from senior leaders. Keating concluded that as a result, students felt they could participate in positive changes such as “treating others well, raising awareness about social justice, and taking inspiration from change makers”. 

In the UK for instance, the Association for Citizenship Teaching identified how schools take different approaches to promote democratic citizenship through the curriculum, school culture and in the community. In their research, the key features of success include citizenship as a separate subject taught by trained and committed teachers along with student-led projects and support from senior leaders.

Sarah Keating
Head of the Formal and Non-Formal Education Division at the Council of Europe

Kate Moriarty, Head of Human Rights Education Programme at Amnesty International, cited the overwhelming majority of schools surveyed who recognised the importance of human rights education, and Sarah Keating built on this, highlighting the need for sufficient time in the curriculum. 

In response to a question raised by Scott, Robin Walker MP, former Schools Minister and Chair of the Education Select Committee spoke of his concern that we are not seeing enough Citizenship in schools, not enough pupils have the opportunity of studying for GCSE Citizenship Studies and more should be done by Ofsted to inspect Citizenship as a subject.

In terms of the importance of citizenship education, I've paid tribute many times to the work of Lord Blunkett in pressing the case for that and introducing space in the national curriculum. I think the big challenge comes with that too few people are able to take an exam in it and therefore it is often squeezed out in the exam focused curriculum in secondary schools, and that is where I have indeed raised your point about Ofsted and the way it is inspected. I agree more space needs to be allowed. Also, something else my select committee is looking at is financial education. A huge amount of the useful content around financial education is in the citizenship curriculum, but not enough pupils are accessing that. So your point about making more space and time for citizenship would be extremely welcome from that perspective, and I think something we need to work on.

Robin Walker, MP
Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee

Representatives from ACT referenced successful schools where citizenship is effective, and cited barriers including lack of recognition by school leaders of the importance of citizenship, and Ofsted’s treatment of citizenship within ‘Personal Development’ rather than ‘Quality of Education’. 

Chair of the Education Committee, Member of Parliament Robin Walker, noted he has raised the same point regarding Ofsted in his select committee, especially regarding financial education which often falls under citizenship. He continued that not enough people are accessing the citizenship curriculum, and made the point that “more space and time for citizenship” is welcomed, and is something that needs to be worked on. 

The informative Parliamentary Conference conveyed the importance of implementing changes in education in both privileged and unprivileged spheres. Leaders across different organisations came together recognising education not only as a fundamental right but as a cornerstone for fostering democratic citizenship. ACT proudly used its national research findings to support this belief with substantial data pointing to schools where citizenship is successful, and others where barriers such as a lack of recognition by school leaders of citizenship education and Ofsted’s treatment of citizenship hinder the mission. The Conference served as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and collaborative initiatives to further Citizenship education in the future.  

As we have done so for over 20 years, we will continue to advocate and work across the country to improve the quality of teaching and the status of Citizenship so that every child benefits from rigorous and engaging Citizenship teaching.